The telecommunications industry and business continuity

The National Emergency Communications Plan drawn up by the US Government in 2008 makes interesting reading. In its introductory section, it states that “during the last three decades, the nation has witnessed how inadequate emergency communications capabilities can adversely affect response and recovery efforts”.

How many private enterprises would have achieved sufficient business continuity to survive three decades of inadequate communications in disaster situations? Many companies go under the first time such disaster occurs, either when it happens or at some time thereafter (with the cause of death being linked to the disaster).

It seems that even in countries as advanced as the United States, it takes a catastrophe of major proportions before the relevant, robust, workable business continuity is put in place. For the US, the catalyst was Hurricane Katrina. The White House Report of February 2006 cites Hurricane Katrina as “the most destructive natural disaster in U.S. history”, crippling 38 “911-call centers”, knocking out over 3 million customer phone lines and forcing 50 percent of area radio station and 44 percent of area television stations to go off the air.

The UK on the other hand had the foresight (or the luck) to test telecoms business continuity beforehand. Its “Exercise White noise” was a full-scale exercise on communications failure with a scenario involving a “bug” causing “cascade failure” of the whole of the UK PSTN (traditional voice services network). The exercise took place between government departments and 10 major telecoms operators over two days in November 2009. 96% of respondents to a post-exercise survey believed they had learnt from the exercise, and 60% of the organisations concerned said they would be carrying out improvements in their BC planning as a result of participating in the exercise. An exercise similar to “White Noise” would make an interesting test scenario for other organisations – and best done before the next disaster arrives, which might be sooner than anyone thinks.