Business continuity starts with people

The concept that people are the most critical part of a business continuity plan at a time of crisis was the key message of the Cayman Islands Society for Human Resource Professionals members’ meeting last Thursday.

Mike Barcroft, Brac Informatics Centre’s manager of business continuity planning and management, was the guest speaker at the meeting, which was the CISHRP’s first since Hurricane Ivan.

‘Without people, you will have nothing,’ said Mr. Barcroft.

‘Many companies consider that business continuity planning and management is all abut IT – data security and data back up,’ he said.

‘To be blunt, these companies delude themselves if they think they have effective continuity plans. All they have is one part of the overall picture, and… they do not necessarily even have the most critical part of the picture.’

Mr. Barcroft had a 29-year career as an officer in the United Kingdom Royal Air Force. He said the military uses many aspects of business continuity plans, although they are called things like ‘operate to survive’ plans.

Although people are a critical part of organisation, they can also be one of the prime sources of business problems.

‘In a disaster, above all else, we need people to react and respond correctly to any incident or crisis,’ he said.

The key to getting people to respond correctly at times of crisis is to train them properly.

‘Any company, which on one hand fails to invest regular time and effort in staff training for incident or crisis response, cannot on the other hand expect an ordered and disciplined reaction or crisis,’ he said.

Mr. Barcroft said many businesses will go to the trouble of developing a written business continuity plan, but the exercise stops there.

‘A lot of plans are just binders on a bookshelf. They are not living documents.’

In order for business continuity plans to be effective, they must be rehearses, practiced, learned and rehearsed again, Mr. Barcroft said.

Just because companies have elements of disaster plans, does not mean staff members know how to implement those elements, Mr. Barcroft said.

‘Ask yourself these questions: Are you totally confident that you and all your staff know how to use a fire extinguisher correctly? Which fire extinguisher to use in what fire? How long a fire extinguisher last? How far you stand from a fire when using a fire extinguisher?

‘I could place money on it that a good percentage of you couldn’t honestly answer ‘yes’ to the question,’ he said.

Another key element of business continuity planning is how staff is handled after a disaster occurs, Mr. Barcroft said.

‘In the run up to Ivan and in the aftermath, many companies went to extreme measures for their people,’ he said. ‘Others did not.

‘However, company consideration for staff should not only emerge in a disaster; it should be there 24/7.

‘People won’t necessarily be impressed if consideration only starts with a disaster. Staff will think ‘Oh, you need us now, so you’re going to be nice to us.”

Mr. Barcroft said that ‘lessons learned’ reports were very important aspects of business continuity plans, not just after major disasters, but with anything that goes wrong at a business during the course of operations.

Human resource professionals play a key role in the formation and implementation of business continuity plans.

Often, executives of a company see exercises like training for disasters as ‘needless expenses and a waste of time and resources.’

‘It is incumbent upon you, as the HR managers, to convince higher management that adequate training for crises and emergencies is an essential provision for personnel safety, protection of the facility and continuation of effective business operations.

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