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Are Private-Sector Organizations Responsible for Failing to Plan for Natural Disasters? (Part 1 of 3)

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In this three-part series, Leo A. Wrobel and Sharon M. Wrobel address an interesting question: If you're the company's disaster-recovery planner, and you're caught unprepared for a natural disaster (hurricane, earthquake, wildfire, etc.), are you at fault?
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It's no secret that commercial and/or private-sector organizations can be held accountable for all kinds of negligence. This is the fundamental reason that organizations have disaster recovery plans. Most of the readers of this series know this to be true and are probably actively involved in the recovery-planning efforts for a critical computer center, call center, or other business function within their own organizations. Indeed, the hazards to any organization are myriad, including fire, flood, sabotage, computer viruses, disgruntled employees, and so on. We have covered quite a lot of them over the years in this venue. We now pose a totally new question: Is it time for the serious contingency planner to add active and proactive planning efforts geared toward dealing with natural disasters? We believe it is, and we present our rationale in this three-part series.

A Not-So-Rhetorical Question

Can contingency planners in commercial and private-sector organizations be held accountable for failing to plan for natural disasters? As a speaker at a recent Homeland Security Summit, I posed this question to an audience. While it's not by any means a scientific methodology, noting the instant responses and reactions of such a group (comprising security and disaster-recovery professionals) to such a question can be considered a barometer of things to come.

To spur some discussion, I offered several choices to the audience as suggested responses:

  1. No. That's why I pay taxes as a business owner. It's someone else's responsibility.
  2. No. What can I do as a businessperson to prevent a tsunami or steer away a typhoon?
  3. Yes. Sources exist for predicting the possibility of damage caused by natural disaster: hurricane risk, geophysical data, elevational information, infrastructure vulnerability. These sources should be considered by commercial planners when deciding such matters as where to locate production facilities, and when crafting recovery plans.

Much to my surprise, the audience in this non-scientific straw poll vacillated between blank stares (no opinion, or never really considered this question previously) and the strong opinion that planners are responsible, at least in part, for planning against natural disasters. No one expressed a strong opinion that planners are not responsible.

This unexpected response resulted in some additional discussion about the history of contingency planning in general. Stated briefly, the focus of the contingency planner changes over time. Technology and business processes change. Whether someone adds a mainframe, begins to use a call center, adopts just-in-time delivery, or introduces something entirely new to the business process, such changes alter the planning paradigm and introduce new complexity to the recovery plan.

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