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Expect the worst, prepare for the worst

Expect the worst, prepare for the worst

Observing others react to (or fail to confront) the devastating 2005 hurricane season angers me.

Observing others react to (or fail to confront) the devastating 2005 hurricane season angers me. Lately, we've gotten the idea that an effort to study, discuss, and extract useful knowledge from a tragic event, even as it unfolds, is a necessary element of compassion. Learning all we can from horrific events, internalizing those lessons as individuals and organizations, and making those lessons change the way we behave, plan, and react makes us stronger. It's a prophylactic against individual and organizational paralysis in the face of extraordinary circumstances.

There is a practice in law enforcement referred to as "mindsetting." Mindsetting is discussing, studying, and playing through your mind the terrors you fear most, the life-threatening situations you're sure you won't ever have to face. You act out the high-risk scenarios, your possible reactions and the potential outcomes, all based on studies of real scenarios. If you've already played through an event when something like it goes down, you, your management team, your department or whatever your most cohesive decision-making unit is won't be any less terrified or confused, but if you manage to break through the haze that is our natural response to disaster, you'll know what to do next.

By putting this in the context of hurricanes, I'm not suggesting that every management team, IT organization, and individual strategize responses to tropical storms. The purpose is to use the uncertainty as a platform for tackling issues that you haven't planned for because the topic is too squirmy. Discussing a response to a wholesale theft of customer data or vital intellectual property, a hostile takeover, organized piracy, the death or incapacity of the company's icon becomes easier at a trying time for the same reason that working through tragedy resolve it more quickly. When you're feeling hopeless and without control is exactly the time to develop an organization mindset to counter the unthinkable.

To close with an example closer to home, imagine that you operated in an area vulnerable to a hurricane, that your base of operations (human as well as technical) was at imminent risk. Closing the building and sending everybody home is the easy and common solution, but getting back in operation after some horrible event is expensive and time-consuming. Your staff will scatter, your customers will think you're done for, and everyone will be asking, "How can you think of business at a time like this?"

Instead, what if, when you saw trouble coming, you chartered buses, reserved hotel rooms, and conference facilities at a safe location, and told staff that if they want to bug out, you'll get them out of harm's way, feed them and help them back on their feet.

The company has a temporary base of operations, maybe at the Holiday Inn, but at least it's something, and people will have work and your business will go on.

What if employees show up at the bus-loading location with relatives and pets? Confront that, but realize that now's the time to have those talks and make those plans that to date have been unthinkable, because unfailingly, we face the unthinkable. Planning for any situation you're afraid to face makes responding to any other far easier.

Go do it. -- InfoWorld (US)

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