Getting Visual with Natural Catastrophes and Business Continuity

As part of the business continuity insights from Hurricane Sandy, the American National Hurricane Centre is reviewing the way that it makes warnings about storm surges (abnormal rises of sea water). The problem was not in the accuracy of the predictions but in the perception of the information by the public. There was a disconnect in terms of the language used. The forecasters talked about depth, when many people in the areas at risk expected (albeit mistakenly) to hear about height – as though the danger would come in the form of a tsunami, rather than water being continually driven towards the shore by high winds. The answer? A more visual representation of the information.

The forecasters plan in the future to use a technique that borrows from other areas, such as marketing. Given that the human brain sometimes reacts best to simple visual stimuli, the idea is to offer colour-coded maps showing where storm surge damage may occur. The added advantage is that this immediately gets people to focus on the zones affected, which may also include inland waters and lakes. A change in the terms used from ‘depth’ to ‘height’ of water is also planned. After all, if you can’t beat ‘em, you might as well join ‘em!

Good colour coding (quite possibly red for high risk, orange for medium, and so on) should also help drive home the message that pain of taking precautions and making preparations will be less than the pain of the damage suffered otherwise. This kind of basic-level communication works, not because people are unintelligent, but because it taps into a fundamental reflex inside people to seek out safety if they perceive they are in danger. Similarly, colouring the parts on an org-chart of a business according to their importance for business continuity would make people more aware of the importance of BCM. So would ‘painting a picture’ of business life after a catastrophe, with or without adequate BC planning.