In terms of natural disasters for 2012, the “big one” for many people was Hurricane Sandy. The storm affected individuals and enterprises as it knocked out power lines and punished buildings, roads and infrastructure on the US East Coast. After the fact analyses of the hurricane took different standpoints. Some praised the decisions taken by those in charge, while others criticised. However, one point seemed to be made more frequently than others: the availability of information prior to the event. The real business continuity lesson may be in how that information was communicated and interpreted.
In terms of weather forecasts, Hurricane Sandy was predicted well in advance and with considerable accuracy by the US National Weather Service. However, whether or not the gravity of the situation was really made apparent to those affected is another matter. “Strong winds and high waters” was the extent of the warning, according to some observers; a message at odds with the reality of the catastrophe that then arrived. Many on the receiving end were not only ill-prepared, but continued to be so. They failed to make the connection with the ravages caused by other storms, despite frequent media coverage of previous catastrophes and their effects.
In business continuity terms, the lesson is therefore that “plain vanilla” factual information isn’t always easily assimilated by the audience that needs to hear it. It needs to be accompanied by some helpful down to earth interpretation; whether in terms of reformulation (“there is a very high risk to your personal safety and your property”) or comparisons (“this may be as bad as Hurricane Katrina from 2005”). While being fully prepared is better, at least organisations should know how to communicate the full impact of a coming event so as to get all concerned to make the most of the time remaining before it hits.