Getting Started on a Emergency Management/Business Continuity Program

The disaster domain is huge. The level of detail and specificity to which you can get is almost infinite. As such, it can be an overwhelming experience for businesses and nonprofits to get started with preparing their organizations for disasters.

In response to an email I just got from a former MPA classmate, I wanted to share some helpful thoughts on how to get started.

The Actions to Take

When discussing this topic, there are four main actions that organizations can take:

  1. Prepare for a Disaster (through planning, training, exercise and equipment)
  2. Plan for Response/Continuity of Operations (responding in the moment/maintaining operations, if possible)
  3. Plan for Recovery (getting back to normal)
  4. Mitigate Impact (stop things from happening in the first place)

Implementing into the Organization

There are many approaches and models to implement these actions (think program management vs. project management). However, the process typically starts with leadership forming a disaster committee of some sort to begin addressing the organization's disaster needs and corrective actions.  The committee then establishes a path forward.

Typical agendas are a variation of the following:

  1. Identify Risks and Gaps
  2. Develop Plan(s) to Address Risks and Gaps (keeping in mind the four actions mentioned above)
  3. Train and Exercise on Those Plans and Purchase Required Tools/Equipment
  4. Redo Steps 1-3 annually (or at designated intervals).

Given the typical resource constrained environment of organizations, there is a lot of potential to address "low hanging fruit" once risk and gaps are identified.  This is not perfect as the approach should be as comprehensive as possible, but it is helpful nonetheless.

The important thing is to not fall into a false sense of security because you have only addressed some of the risk and gaps.  The coordination of effort and understanding your strengths and weakness is vital to a successful disaster management program.

High Value Resources

Here are a few high value resources on what nonprofits can begin to do. Grant making institutions should consider baking some of these principles into their grant requirements.

Domain Headings

If you are looking to do more research in this area, especially as your disaster management program matures, you should look for resources in the following domains:

Getting Started

As a starting point, I highly recommend the following priorities:

  1. Develop a disaster committee led by someone willing and able to champion the effort
  2. Decide if it is best to shut down, continue operations at full or reduced scale, and/or respond to the disaster (i.e., support the community)?  This will help clarify how detailed the planning should be for all scenarios.
  3. Identify 3 targets for the next year (i.e., establish committee, develop a program plan, develop a plan)

It is easy to get overwhelmed.  Focus on establishing realistic goals and moving forward.  Any forward movement is better than no movement at all.

Can Evernote be a Planning Tool? Training? Evaluation?

I am usually very excited when new tools disaster tools come out on the market. But I am equally excited when everyday tools can be applied to the disaster context to better meet our needs and more often than not achieve significant cost savings.

In the past year, I have used Evernote religiously to capture my thoughts, research and any other type of information I can think of. I can then search Evernote with its powerful search features to inform my blog posts, support my PhD research and consulting clients, manage class assignments, and take notes...for everything.

Evernote has an easy capture tool for clipping things from the web (including PDFs) and an easy to use architecture that can easily link and/or publish notes within the program. Additionally, I can use it on ANY of my devices with online and offline capabilities and integrate it with MANY other applications. Needless to say, I am a big fan of the tool.

But I really wonder if Evernote can be used as an emergency response or continuity planning tool. According to Wikipedia:

Evernote is a suite of software and services designed for notetaking and archiving. A "note" can be a piece of formatted text, a full webpage or webpage excerpt, a photograph, a voice memo, or a handwritten "ink" note. Notes can also have file attachments. Notes can be sorted into folders, then tagged, annotated, edited, given comments, searched and exported as part of a notebook.

To put this a bit into perspective, Evernote 's motto is:

Remember everything. Capture anything. Access anywhere. Find things fast.

Hmmm....sounds a lot like a lot of our fundamental planning needs for disasters? We need to collaborate well and then access our information easily and fast. Evernote Business provides many of the collaboration features missing in the consumer product.

The incorrect approach, though, would be to ask Evernote to do everything our word processor does. Conceptually, it is an entirely different tool  that must be approached in a new way.

For example, what if we could have each note represent a chapter and all linked back to a Table of Contents note?  What if we could create a notebook solely for our base plans and then have other notebooks dedicated to our functional annexes? Add supplementary or supporting PDF, Word, PowerPoint, Excel Documents with ease?

In another case, what if your incident commander could easily look up and reference relevant procedures and protocols directly on his or her phone or tablet?  Better yet, can it provide a checklist for action within seconds?

Or what if you could get real time information back from the field by having them taking pictures, record audio or mark up a screen shot of a map directly from their phones and tablets?

Evernote is such a powerful repository of information that it can do all the things mentioned above.  I am just wondering what the workflow is for organizations with emergency response and business continuity planning needs.  Does it end up being more expensive than other tools or are there any work arounds?

What are your thoughts?  Would you consider Evernote for your organization?  Why or why not?