--> Gill Blog: August 2005

Gill Blog

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Precarious Geology of New Orleans

As the Gulf Coast braced itself for Katrina's arrival yesterday, the media was already on top of the story like a multi-layered blanket. And why not? Barely a day after the Mayor of New Orleans, the Governor of Louisiana and a team of Emergency Management people from FEMA, Homeland Security, and throughout the state gathered in front of a podium to tell residents of New Orleans to expect the worst, the media took over.

In the hours before Katrina made landfall, newsrooms were abuzz with anticipation and raw nerves. Nowhere was this more apparent than on CNN, where a CNN weatherman lost his cool while covering the storm.

Why was this such a particularly big deal? In short, it was about the possibility of losing The Big Easy, as its category 5 designation, combined with its path pointed directly at the city. Other cities could better withstand the effects of a hurricane because they have defined shorelines that can act as breakwaters. For New Orleans, however, it's a different story altogether. In fact, the problems were summarized in this story that was published (ominously?) on September 11, 2001 in Popular Mechanics in the following article appropriately titled "New Orleans is Sinking":
New Orleans sits atop a delta made of unconsolidated material that has washed down the Mississippi River...Think of the city as a chin jutting out, waiting for a one-two punch from Mother Nature. The first blow comes from the sky. Hurricanes plying the Gulf of Mexico push massive domes of water (storm surges) ahead of their swirling winds. After the surges hit, the second blow strikes from below. The same swampy delta ground that necessitates above-ground burials leaves water from the storm surge with no place to go but up.

...During a strong hurricane, the city could be inundated with water blocking all streets in and out for days, leaving people stranded without electricity and access to clean drinking water. Many also could die because the city has few buildings that could withstand the sustained 96- to 100-mph winds and 6- to 8-ft. storm surges of a Category 2 hurricane.

Today, 80% of New Orleans is estimated to be under some amount of water, but the fact that Katrina decided to take a slight turn to the east saved the city from what would probably be an unprecedented catastrophe (although Katrina's force was every bit as intense as predicted and could already prove to be the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history). The clock keeps ticking.


The section above was written early Tuesday morning, when it was thought Katrina had spared New Orleans, and before we learned about levee breaches throughout the city. Shortly after posting, Chad Myers on CNN reported the first break, and since then emergency managers have been doing their utmost to stabilize the area.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Satellite View of Hurricane Katrina

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Connecting Real Estate and Facilities with Business Continuity

Had an interesting discussion with a friend yesterday. We talked about the ongoing "Battle of the Enterprise Silos" (not to be mistaken for the landmark "Battle of the Network Stars"), a battle that asserts that either Business Continuity, Risk Management, Emergency Management, or Emergency Preparedness is at the top of the pecking order when it comes to enterprise, dare I say it, "risk" planning. The leaders from within these silos generally assume that their particular department is the umbrella function that covers all the others.

The answer, at least the one that I believe, is that all functions fall under a category called "risk mitigation" and that all of these functions co-exist along one continuum. Which leads me to an interesting article that was sent to me yesterday. Structured as a Q&A, it begins with the simple question:
What should be included in a "state of the art" business-continuity plan?

The answer seemed quite succinct:
A comprehensive business-continuity plan must enable you to survive as a legal and financial entity in case of disaster. To do this, the plan must address all of the key assets that are necessary to continue operations -- people, process, information, and facilities, as well as technology.

This article really demonstrated how wide planning has become, as well as how many functions play an important role. Given my background, I found it refreshing to see how the real estate or facilities component was handled:
The business-continuity plans of many enterprises deal with physical facility protection as just that -- protection. A state-of-the-art plan, however, should include having agreements in place for occupying other locations from which business can be conducted for an extended period of time.

...Backup facilities should be on different power and communications grids than your data center. To protect your day-to-day operations, you also should have redundant network connections, through different service providers. Authorized employees should have access through a virtual private network not only to E-mail, but to business applications.

Beyond this, it is also important to consider things such as the structural aspects of facilities that are used, how to strategically evaluate a portfolio of properties (which may result in acquisition/disposition activity), as well as setting up leases with third party facility providers for backup operations.

I could go on and on about this one, but something to be mindful of for sure when putting your own plans together.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Toronto Storm Demonstrates Importance of Redundant Communications

Friday afternoons in the summer are supposed to be a time to unwind and prepare for the lazy, sunny weekend that lies ahead. After tending to some final agenda items, it should be time to close up shop until Monday. Unfortunately that’s not always the case. Yesterday Toronto was hit by what could best be described as a freak summer storm that not only consisted of wind gusts in excess of 160 km/hr (that’s more than 100 m.p.h.), but a crazy torrent of rain. There was so much rain in fact, that major arteries were shut down due to flooding (One would think the picture we have posted here is from a Carribean Island being battered by a hurricane - in fact, it's a picture from my neighborhood!).

This would have been an interesting topic to blog about, had I not been right in the middle of the action. My wife and I have a fairly regular routine each day where I pick her up from a nearby subway station, while the kids are at home with a sitter. The trip usually takes no more than 20-30 minutes. Yesterday, I was caught right in the middle of the downpour. As a result, my 20-30 minute trip yesterday took over three hours.

Of the many things I witnessed first hand yesterday was the multitude of motorists caught in the same traffic jam as I was, hopelessly trying to use their mobile phones. My phone didn’t work, so I thought it was nothing more than a case of a faulty phone, but when I heard over the news today that mobile phone networks were knocked out throughout the city, I realized just how big the problem was.

The main issue I had to deal with yesterday was simply informing the babysitter that we were stuck, and the kids should be taken care of. After trying to get through with my mobile, I remembered reading an article a few years back describing the chaos of September 11, and how some people like Jonathan Beyman of Lehman Brothers used Blackberries to stay in touch.
I was trying to figure out who was alive. I'm in a meeting in London, and somebody bursts in, and we all huddle around TVs. "That's my building," I'm thinking. My office was in One World Trade Center, the 40th floor. I can't get anybody on the phone. Everybody there was heading toward the stairwells. I couldn't get anybody on mobile phones, either. Blackberries were working, so we started getting e-mails (as a sidenote, it's interesting to note that the performance of Blackberries on that fateful day demonstrated to the world that it was much more than a vanity communication gadget).

Instictively, I pulled over to the side and used my Palm Treo to send out a couple of messages. One was to a friend who I asked to used his terrestrial line to call the babysitter and give her instructions of what to do, and the other was to my wife to let her know where I was, as well as the situation I was trying to manage. In both instances, the fact that I had a redundant communication device that operated on a different network significantly helped us manage a trying set of circumstances.

Our experience last night, however inconsequential it may have seemed, shows how unexpected events - especially in huge cities – can cause chaos. Managing through such situations requires a well-balanced approach to risk mitigation, and a well thought out communications strategy plays a big part in this. You may wish to look at the preview for the communication component of our Gill BCP program we currently offer in our Campus Continuity program. It will give you a good idea of some of the issues that need to be considered.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Donald Trump's Blog

One of the first challenges we had to tackle when we started the company in early '03 was putting up a website. After spending about a week laying out what I thought was a very intuitive framework, I ran it by one of our senior advisors, who immediately told me I had done nothing except create another web-based brochure. "Interactivity and discussion is key", he told me "instead of putting up another web-brochure, why don't you start a blog?" A blog? Now what the heck was a blog?

I was told that blogs were an emerging trend that "bloggers" would use to post personal thoughts. I was skeptical, but was assured that businesses would begin utilizing the medium in no time. Although few businesses were blogging at the time(remember, this is the spring of '03), apparently it would just be a matter of time.

Blogging moved from the fringes of obscurity to the mainstream when Howard Dean launched a blog as part of his 2004 bid for the Democratic Presidential Nomination. Since then, it seems as though everyone's blogging. Even old school thinkers are realizing the strategic benefits associated with blogging - heck - even Donald Trump has jumped into the game, and seems much more economical in his words than we do at Gillblog:
My career is a model of tough, fair dealing and fantastic success--without shortcuts, without breaking the law.

See what I mean?

Friday, August 12, 2005

History of Emergency Communication

One way we strive to differentiate our consulting services is to try and be as holistic as possible in our approach to risk management and business continuity. One area we often pay particular attention to is communication. If it is well thought-out, it enables an institution to communicate with the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time in an emergency.

Cutting edge stuff, right? Well, maybe not. In fact shoring up lines of communication has been an ongoing challenge for emergency planners, and this dates back to the '20s. The air raid wardens who watched the skies and prepared Londoners for nighttime bombings during the Second World War provided an early example of how emergency communication programs were carried out. The protocols and procedures of communication during this period were organized and methodical, however, new mediums began to emerge that would revolutionize the effectiveness and reach of the message.

The science of "getting the word out" grew by leaps and bounds when planners began utilizing a powerful new medium that could cast a broad communication net over wide areas using electronic signals sent over the airways. Indeed, the “broad-cast”, whether transmitted through radio or a spiffy new medium called television dramatically increased planners ability to reach many more people in a compressed timeframe. Efforts were futher enhanced by the development of “point-to-point” communications such as two-way, and short-wave radios. The timing of these advancements couldn’t have come a moment too soon, as America had entered the Cold War and the era of Civil Defense. Needless to say, planners didn’t waste a moment putting them to the test.

Now, I’m not quite old enough to remember the old "duck and cover" air raid drills where kids would have to dive under their schooldesks at a moment’s notice to protect themselves from a nuclear attack. (I think that’s pretty bizarre, but understandable since the effects of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still classsified.) I am old enough, though, to remember how some organization called the “Emergency Broadcast System” used to rudely pre-empt my weekly platter of Saturday morning cartoons by conducting a test that usually amounted to broadcasting some eerie signal tones and static. I knew that the torture would soon end when the noise stopped and a voice came on saying:
"This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. The broadcasters of your area in voluntary cooperation with the Federal, State and local authorities have developed this system to keep you informed in the event of an emergency. If this had been an actual emergency, the Attention Signal you just heard would have been followed by official information, news or instructions. This station serves the (operational area name - Western New York in my case) area. This concludes this test of the Emergency Broadcast System."

Fast-forward to today, and we are regularly reminded how emergency preparedness can be significantly enhanced using advanced communication technologies including terrestrial, satellite and wireless networks. Cut right to the manner in which the message is structured and communicated, however, and you will find that not only are broadcast mediums are still the same and “point-to-point” mediums now essentially describe mobile phones, but the protocols and procedures used to get the message out still rely on the same principles used by air raid wardens in World War II, Cold War-era emergency planners, as well as the good folks at the Emergency Broadcast System.

It just goes to show that everything old is new again, indeed. Feel like chatting about how the communications component of your plan can be shored up? You can reach us by email or phone, anytime.

This concludes our test. We now return you to the regularly scheduled programming…

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Possibility of Suicide Attacks Put Mall Owners on Alert

As terrorists broaden their scope of places where they can cause chaos, they inevitably set their sights on "softer" targets. The recent bombings in London not only reinforced the fact that transit systems are vulnerable, but so too are other public gathering places, including shopping malls - a fact that is forcing mall operators to address what appears to be a mounting concern. This issue was addressed in Monday's Wall Street Journal in an article by Robert Block:
The recent wave of suicide bombings in London's mass-transit system has heightened fears in counterterrorist circles of similar attacks in America. Federal officials stress there is no specific information that suicide bombers are poised to strike here. After the first London attacks on July 7, the Homeland Security Department raised the terror alert threat level for mass transit.

On July 18, Homeland Security sent federal agencies and state officials a collection of Central Intelligence Agency threat assessments listing malls, banks, prominent companies, and tall buildings as being soft targets most at risk of bomb attacks. Another set of confidential government assessments released in July said that since the London attacks suicide bombings were "a preferred method of attack among extremists."

As much as the big operators would like to institute the same rigorous security measures used by the Department of Homeland Security, their hands are tied because as private entities, they are motivated by the need to drive revenues through the amount of traffic they generate - simply put, they need folks to keep visiting malls to maintain or grow the value of their underlying assets. Heightened security concerns seem to now pose a rather obvious dilemma:
...malls face in miniature what the Homeland Security Department wrestles with every day: How to provide more security to people without disrupting their way of life or undermining commerce. "The key is balancing the need for additional security measures and the public's appetite for those measures."

The task isn't easy. Shopping malls are designed to be open to the flow of goods, services and people. In many towns, malls are more than just retail meccas: They are tourist attractions, entertainment hubs, art galleries, classrooms and meeting places where senior citizens, young mothers and teenagers just hang out.

Mall developers and owners have resisted employing aggressive security measures for fear of scaring customers away. They also want to keep overhead fees for their retail tenants down as much as possible.

So the question becomes what to do? Our contention for some time has been problems like this don't just go away by beefing up security. A security-focussed strategy seems incomplete. Instead, mall owners (like decision makers in other market segments) need to put together a more all-encompassing strategy that provides a blueprint for what to do before, during and after a disruptive event, as well as incorporate a number of other planning silos into the envelope; these might include communications, systems, facilities, mobilization as well as security. Think of it as a Retail Continuity strategy, and one that is carried out with the same degree of thought as a similar program created for a large financial insitution. We'll be sure to keep on top of this one.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Communications Strategy of Flight 358

Never underestimate the power of the message. Yesterday's crash of a fully-loaded Air France Airbus clearly had the potential to turn out much worse than it actually did - miraculously, all 309 passengers and crew were able to escape the inferno that ensued - but the mere fact that a crash of this magnitude took place in the first place immediately threw Air France and Airbus into damage-control mode. The only way they navigate through the situation was to craft a precise communication strategy. I thought about communication and media strategy as soon as I realized the initial press conference - initially scheduled for 5:00 p.m. (some 50 minutes after the accident) - was bumped back; first to 5:30, and finally to just after 6.

Few details were offered in the initial briefing, however, the fact that everyone survived provided event spokespeople the opportunity to frame the media event with a palpable feel-good spin. The challenge of positive spin then shifted to the shoulders of Air France and Airbus to see how a good communication strategy might resue them from a potentially damaging situation. From Air France:
There are no fatalities. All passengers and crew members were able to clear the aircraft before the fire broke out. Twenty two passengers suffering minor injuries are treated in five area hospitals...Air France is paying homage to the entire crew to the Captain, to the First Officer and to the cabin crew. Their calm and professionalism have prevented a drama.

From Airbus:
This is the first ever accident of an A340 aircraft. The A340-300 is a four-engine long range wide-body. The first of the type entered service in February 1993. By the end of June 2005, 304 A340s had been delivered and are in service with 45 operators. To date, the entire fleet has accumulated some more than 7.5 million flight hours in some 1.1 million flights.

It will be interesting to analyze over the next week how this event has impacted the share prices of these companies. The point here is simple: a well thought-out communication strategy is a critical component in a comprehensive business continuity or risk management plan, and if executed properly, can substantially minimize damage to brand or reputation.

If you would like to explore ways your organization can address its communication strategy, feel free to contact our Advisor in this area, Reputation Management Associates.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Financial Impact of Monsoon in Mumbai, India

On the surface, last week's monsoon rains in Mumbai were positioned as just another one of those human interest stories describing how Mother Nature can wreak havoc anywhere in the world - even in its most remote corners. From an editorial standpoint this strategy called for a description of death, dislocation and the effects on animals? From
“Flooding and landslides have killed 924 people in western Maharashtra state in six days. As many as 421 people were killed in Bombay alone, officials said. A record 37 inches fell Tuesday, cutting off the state from the rest of the country...Electricity was gradually being restored to many neighborhoods after angry residents demonstrated on Saturday demanding the restoration of tap water, power and the cleanup of garbage and decomposing animal carcasses. Some 25,000 sheep and goats and 2,500 buffaloes drowned in Bombay, officials said.

Had I not spent a substantial amount of time during my last trip to India in Mumbai, where I saw firsthand the size, scope and the influence of this city, such a description would have been adequate for me. However, given the fact that my vocation predisposes me to continually consider risk, my natural instincts when walking through the financial district, or in the residences and vistas of Malabar Hills, was to wonder how a city on this scale would react to and plan for a massively disruptive event. The monsoon rains of this week have provided me with my answer, and with it, a first hand view on how the city is coping, and testing the resiliency of emergency planners. From the Times of India:
Tuesday's rainfall had literally left Mumbaikars in the dark with large scale enforced power cuts (as a cautionary measure against short circuits and electrocution). While city power utility Reliance Energy started restoring electricty supply to several parts of the metropolis on Wednesday, efforts were still on to rectify power situation in the remaining areas...In the worst-ever scenario in 31 years, Mumbaikars were faced with life in the raw with no trains, jammed cellphones, and to top it all no power...Flights into and out of Mumbai remained suspended due to heavy water logging of the runway and non-availability of landing aids. Many international flight have been diverted to other destinations.

Now, when I come to terms with the fact that India is no longer a place just associated with elephants and eastern mysticism, but emerging global economic power, the impact of the event increases and the equation changes. All of a sudden now, issues such the disruption to the gears of its economic engine (i.e. its increasingly sophisticated, technologically reliant financial system) begin warranting comparison to the financial vulnerabilities experienced in places like New York and London when disruptive events brought those markets to a standstill. Effectively, the story begins taking on a dimension that simply wouldn't have been considered ten years ago and is now even covered by big media outlets like Bloomberg:
Mumbai's trains carry more than 6 million passengers a day. New York's subway, train and bus system carries about 2.4 billion passengers each year, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Web site.

Hotel lobbies in downtown Mumbai were crowded last night as stranded commuters searched for a place to stay.

Vishal Goyal, an analyst at Alchemy Share and Stock Brokers, spent eight hours in a traffic jam before abandoning his car 10 kilometers from his office in Mumbai's south. He spent the rest of the night at a friend's house, and this morning waded through waist-deep water to Bandra station north of the city center.

"It could easily be 24 hours from the time we left the office," he said. `"The bigger concern now is catching an infection or an illness walking through all this water."

Despite the comparisons to financial hubs like New York and London, it is becoming apparent that as India's prominence on the international stage grows, more people are openly questioning Mumbai's ability to handle this responsibility. From the Economic Times:
"The overwhelming downpour that Mumbai has faced over the last 48 hours has plunged the fiscal hub into a financial black hole. The grim state of affairs coupled with the several problems that plague the city only adds to the contention that Mumbai should probably not be the financial capital of the country...Financial experts have written several book on the prerequisites for a successful financial capital. Sadly, Mumbai simply doesn’t measure up.

As the impact of the monsoon rains is magnified by the growing profile of India's economic engine, it becomes apparent that this story moves from the realm of backpage human interest filler, to front page business news that can potentially have rippling effects globally.