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Incident Command System and Emergency Management Resources

10 Ways to Improve Project Initiation and Management

10 Ways to Improve Project Initiation and Management

As the foundation of Business Continuity Management at your organization, a solid program initiation can help you to avoid many structural issues later on.  While you may be eager to demonstrate progress, investing sufficient time and energy into program planning will help to avoid costly delays and remove obstacles. This article will outline ten tips that can be used to improve your program initiation and management.    

Tip # 1 Assess current state of the business continuity program

You must be able to clearly describe where your business continuity program currently stands. Clarify whether any business continuity plans exist and when they were written. Examine how your organization currently manages corporate risks and how this is evolving. Determine how comfortable upper management is with their risk management maturity level. Outline what has changed in the risk and business environment that warrants a change in the company’s business continuity program. Find out what peer organisations are doing and whether the public, regulators or shareholders would be satisfied with your entity’s current state of business resiliency.  The executive sponsor will need this information in order to grant robust support.

Tip # 2 Establish an executive mandated business continuity program

Successful business continuity planning must have executive level support from the beginning.  Without this any program is doomed to failure. The business continuity program must have a designated executive sponsor who will sign-off as each milestone is reached. Ideally the program should be visible to the board of directors or to the deputy minister through annual or quarterly reports. The project sponsors name must carry enough political weight to open up key doors throughout the organization.     

Tip # 3 Develop a strong policy and governance structure

The policy must contain every aspect of the program including a:

  1. Risk and threat assessment
  2. Business Impact Analysis
  3. Comprehensive set of plans (including emergency response, recovery, restoration and crisis communications)
  4. Training and awareness program
  5. Annual Exercise
  6. Audit
  7. Maintenance program

The business continuity program scope and objectives must be included in the policy. Policy language should spell-out the classical plan–do–check–act cycle and indicate that business continuity management is a continual process.

Do not forget to perform a risk assessment. Before you start looking for risks to the organization’s critical processes, look for risks to the success of your business continuity management program.    

Tip # 4 Tie program objectives to the organization’s strategic priorities

Understand the strategic goals and operational priorities of your establishment. The business continuity program objectives need to fit into these goals and priorities if you hope to obtain wide spread upper management support.

Tip # 5 Control scope and clarify objectives

Never allow the program to become unmanageable due to a scope that is too broad or objectives that are ambiguous.

Tip # 6 Obtain strong commitments and adequate funding

Again, successful business continuity planning must have executive level support and commitment from key staff. This is a corporate investment and must have a budget that reflects the scope of the program. Include in your budget money for adequate exercise and maintenance programs. Include in your requirements staff time commitment requirements which should include any additional staffing requirement or workload redistribution where business continuity planning responsibilities are added to existing staff.

Tip # 7 Lay out a roadmap for implementation of the program

Frame the implementation. It doesn't need to be a detailed program plan (that can come later) but it has to demonstrate that you have thought things through. Outline the program sequence including what needs to happen first and when projects will begin and end. Show how will they rollout across your organisation and who will be responsible for each rollout. List any ‘quick wins’.

Tip # 8 Set realistic target dates and clear accountability for meeting them

Set realistic target dates based upon consultation with your key partners and obtain their support for meeting them.  Performance measurement is often missed by many business continuity programs as they overlook establishing critical success factors. Demonstrate the value of your program. Indicate how you and your stakeholders will measure success. Determine where you need to be in six months, one year, or even five years in order to achieve your overall goals. Verify how often and in what manner you will report results to your program's stakeholders.

Tip # 9 Establish clear communication channels among project members

Do not allow the program to get off course due to poor communication among members. Try to set up regular team meetings in the same location and at the same time.  If possible, book the meeting room for the next year.  Establish an escalation process if team members are encountering roadblocks, are not meeting target dates or are missing meetings. 

Tip # 10 Ensure your planning team has the necessary technical expertise

The business continuity program manager should obtain comprehensive business continuity management training. They should have the skills needed to share their expertise with the team members.  Project management experience or training can be a very useful but is not absolutely necessary.   Designated members of the planning team should have the technical expertise needed to represent their business unit.

What differentiates the amateur from the business continuity planning professional?  The professional has a clearly formed plan to create and manage the business continuity program.  The amateur does not. Effective use of these ten tips will improve your program initiation and management and help you to avoid many structural issues, costly delays and obstacles and further demonstrate your dedication to professionalism.

Cynthia Wenn

By Cynthia Wenn, MA ABCP CRM

10 Tips to improve Integrated Communications

10 Ways to Improve Integrated Communications

Incident communications are facilitated through the development and use of a common communications plan and interoperable communications processes and architectures. The ICS 205 form is available to assist in developing a common communications plan. This integrated approach links the operational and support units of the various agencies involved and is necessary to maintain communications connectivity and discipline and to enable common situational awareness and interaction. Preparedness planning should address the equipment, systems, and protocols necessary to achieve integrated voice and data communications.

Tip #1 - Avoid Inadequate Communications

Structured, consistent means of managing communications resources are necessary, particularly during incidents involving multiple agencies.

Tip #2 - Use more than one Scribe
Tip #3 - Get a fast copier that collates
Tip #4 - Guard Incident Status Display Boards
Tip #5 – Early establishment of a communications unit

Communications is integrated into ICS based management systems by the early establishment of a communications unit during incidents and involvement of the Communications Unit Leader in incident action planning. This is not only to ensure that the response is well supported by communications, but also to reinforce chosen command structures and operating principles generally embodied in ICS, such as management span of control.

Tip #6 – Have separate channels for individual functions

Having all responders on a single radio channel during an event of any significant size would be chaos. Likewise, conducting command, operational, and logistics tasks on a single channel during a sizeable emergency is a recipe for disaster. Separate channels for individual functions are crucial to maintaining command and control.

Tip #7 – Try for a single channel assigned to the ICS span of control

Ideally, a single channel is assigned to support and enforce the standard ICS span of control of one manager or supervisor over three to seven subordinates. That may be the operations section chief communicating with three functional group supervisors or a group supervisor communicating with five tactical team leaders, for example.
The most common response heard from communications and incident managers faced with the need to maintain a channel span of control is that limited channel availability prevents this from being implemented. The result is too many people on too few channels—and communications overload.

Tip #8 - Delegated and dispersed decision-making reduces communications demands

Communications and incident managers must look for opportunities to reduce radio traffic when channel availability is constrained. This can be done procedurally and/or through adaptation of technical capabilities. In the former case, procedures can be implemented to reduce the amount of traffic contending for limited channel space. Greater communications discipline is needed as incidents grow in size, somewhat limiting raw demand for channels. Similarly, teams of responders able to communicate directly among themselves, without resorting to radio transmission, may have to do so in order to release the channel for more pressing needs.

Tip #9 - Simplify communications, where possible

Use of direct, simplex radio channels in tactical operations, for example, can release wide-area, repeated channels for more appropriate use. Such localized use allows the channel to be reused elsewhere in the jurisdiction outside of the geographic range of interference between radios.

Tip #10 – Use the Communications-Order Model

In its simplest form, the communications- order model—as practiced by many emergency response agencies—occurs between two individuals. It is initiated when the intended receiver indicates readiness to receive a message. The message is transmitted and the receiver restates the message to confirm that it was understood. If correct, the original sender confirms, completing the communications sequence.
For example, an exchange between an incident command post and an outer perimeter security team would follow these five steps:

  1. "Front Street Road Block, this is Command Post."
  2. "Command Post, Front Street Road Block."
  3. "Allow the Centerville Tactical Team through and direct it to River Road Staging."
  4. "Centerville Tactical Team to River Road Staging."
  5. "Affirmative."

For more tips and practical ICS training attend the Vanguard ICS 100 through 400 level training!

Current Course Dates Registration or call our office toll free at 1-866-275-3941

IMS and ICS Links
10 ways to Improve your Emergency Response and Operations

10 ways to Improve your Emergency Response and Operations

After business continuity strategies have been developed, it is time for the professional to take a look at how the organization is prepared to deal with the emergency itself.  While the continuity of operations is key to the continued financial well-being of your organization, emergency preparedness saves lives and therefore can be the most rewarding aspect of your career. 

Two priorities dominate the emergency preparedness and response area: protecting your people and property and establishing command and control. Emergency teams lead by an incident response commander will immediately begin protecting people and property at the affected site while the command and control team moves to the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC).

Tip #1 Gain a broad understanding of potential in-house emergency resources

Perform a gap assessment. Create an emergency resource register that lists what resources your organization has that could be used during an emergency. Each section of the register would consider one aspect of dealing with an emergency situation at that location. List the resources that might be useful in the event of a fire, flood or other emergency. Determine what should be surplus to your response requirements and could be useful to others. Find out what you are missing but might need in an emergency and how it should be obtained. Use the register to train all members of the emergency response team.

Tip #2 Promote wide spread first-aid training

Most organizations have minimum requirements for first aid training under Health and Safety legislation.  Provide basic first aid training to any employee who is willing to participate and provide annual refresher courses. Advertise this benefit to new employees as part of the orientation package. All emergency response team members must have first aid and CPR training.

Tip #3 Create office “go” bags

Create a grab bag and place it at the main entrance to the building or at the reception desk and ensure the bag is taken out of the building as part of the standard evacuation procedure. The grab bag should contain, as a minimum, a copy of the response plan preferably laminated. You should also consider including essential contact details, any directions to recovery sites and other emergency reference material, recovery plans and supplies to suit your needs. Also include a current copy of the emergency resource register.

Tip #4 Plan for shelter-in-place scenarios

Often the evacuation scenario blinds us to the idea that our staff could be trapped inside our facilities. Create plans for securing the building, turning off heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems and dealing with inevitable communication issues.

Tip #5 Develop the ability to assess damage quickly

To identify the damage, designate a Damage Assessment Team which could include contingency planners, security personnel, building engineers, branch managers, custodians, and representatives from critical function areas. Quarterly inspections of the facilities should be undertaken by the team members so that they become familiar with potential hazards and the current “pre-disaster” conditions. Photographic documentation during these inspections will help with damage assessment and with insurance claims. Be sure that the damage assessment team is involved in the business continuity exercises.

Create damage survey forms for use during assessments. Damage survey forms should include both a situation damage assessment (a description of what has happened); and a needs assessment (a statement of what needs to be done). Forms can be used to report the information to the EOC as it is needed. For example a Flash Report would be submitted very quickly to briefly describe the event,the steps being taken to cope with it, and to give a first indication of what relief may be needed. The Initial Report would follow the flash report as soon as possible (within a matter of hours). Its purpose is to inform the EOC of the severity of the disaster and to provide the information needed to start mobilizing resources. The report should therefore briefly summarize:

  • the severity of the disaster (without necessarily providing precise figures);
  • actions being taken at the site;
  • on site available resources;
  • the immediate priorities for relief, where it is required and in approximately what quantities; and suggest the best logistical means of delivering that relief;
  • a forecast of possible future developments including new risks.

A reporting schedule should be set-up as the situation, needs and priorities will change over time.

Tip #6 Define the services provided by the EOC

Services provided by the EOC should be based on its mission and continuity requirements. During the planning phase, determine which services are offered only during emergencies and whether services will be performed by the EOC on an ongoing basis. Plan for a worst case scenario with damage to your workplace, data, people and technology. Determine how many people will need to be accommodated and for what length of time. Document methods of changing the scale of the response. 

Tip #7 Perform a risk analysis on the EOC location

The EOC location should be far enough away from your main facilities to insure that it is not affected by the same event.  It should be close enough that a rapid response can occur. Investigate transportation and housing issues.  Determine how long it will take and who will be responsible for the set up. Vendors that supply emergency operations centre should be able to have basic set-up completed by the time your people arrive. Vendor facilities usually have multiple customers who may need the facilities at the same moment.  On a first come basis you find you intended site occupied. Designate an alternate EOC that overcomes limitations of your initial EOC. For example, the alternate EOC may be further away, in the opposite direction or larger.

Tip #8 Determine which conditions require full activation of the EOC

Activation of the EOC can be very expensive. Determine what level of emergency constitutes a disaster for your organization.  Authority to declare a disaster must be understood prior to the event and a chain of command must be established. Determine if other special conditions could require activation of the EOC. For example, you may want to activate the crisis communications centre for specific types of events.

Tip #9 Restrict and monitor access to the EOC

Use coloured vests to clearly identify members of each team in the EOC. Security personal should be put in place to restrict access to the EOC to those who are actively working the emergency. Identification cards may be needed if the response team is large. The media should never be given access to the EOC.  Press conferences should be done elsewhere.  

Tip #10 Support the families of key employees and members of the response team

Employees will need to secure their family before any thought can be given to supporting the organization.  Offer emergency preparedness home kits to key employees and BC response teams. Emergency preparedness home kits are not expensive and can help your employees be available when needed during a disaster. You may save time by purchasing kits produced by the Red Cross or another reliable organization.

Plan to offer relief services to the families of key employees and response teams.  They may need temporary shelter, babysitting services or simply a place to wash-up.  Helping them deal with their home responsibilities will allow them to concentrate on restoring the business. It will also create goodwill and strengthen employee loyalty.    

Emergency preparedness and response is an attempt to bring some order and control into the chaos following a disaster.  As you exercise your plans you may gain some insight into how your response teams will perform.  Confidence comes with preparation, training and exercise. Following these ten tips will help protect your people and property and strengthen your ability to re-establish command and control.

Cynthia Wenn

By Cynthia Wenn, MA ABCP CRM

For more tips on EOC design and operation attend the Vanguard 2 day workshop!

Current Course Dates & Registration or call our office toll free at 1-866-275-3941

10 Ways to Improve Your Awareness and Training

10 Ways to Improve Your Awareness and Training

Now your organization has a thoroughly researched, well written emergency management plan sleeping on a shelf somewhere. Time to get the word out!  All employees need to be aware of their role in the plan.  The various team members need to be given some training before they can start to exercise the plan.

Tip #1 Give them something physical

Wallet cards are a great way to give employees a physical item that continuously reminds them of key business continuity information. Typically wallet cards contain information such as key numbers and tools to use in the case of emergency. Most employees will keep wallet cards with them throughout the day, enabling them to participate effectively in crisis communications and initial response activities. Other great ideas include magnets, desk mats or even emergency bags with key supplies.

Offer emergency preparedness home kits to key employees and BC response teams. Emergency preparedness home kits are not expensive and can help remind your team members of their business continuity responsibilities. You may save time by purchasing kits produced by the Red Cross or another reliable organization.

Tip #2 Get the word out online

Emergency Management should have a website linked to your employee’s homepage that provides ongoing information on business continuity activities as well as phone numbers and instructions for what to do during an emergency.

Provide regular e-newsletters offering a summary of emergency management activities (including testing results) and reminders on how to respond effectively. Make recent and back issues of these available on the website.

An emergency management blog could be an option, but only if you are disciplined enough to maintain it.  Blogs must be updated regularly to keep peoples attention.

In addition to the requisite informational website, new tools allow online training to be developed once and delivered to thousands of employees on demand. This training can be built with your content, your pictures, and your logo, meeting your specific training objectives. These tools can also provide the ability to develop an awareness “quiz” as a method of measuring awareness or compliance. Common tools used for this type of development include Adobe Presenter (formerly Breeze), Captivate and Articulate. 

Tip #3 Present “lunch and learn” live or web-based seminars

The emergency management team can provide “lunch and learn” live or web-based seminars on key topics.  On-demand, web-based training modules are also a great way to provide training on a detailed process to a large group of people.  Many organizations have a training department that can help with the development of these training modules or you can have a third party develop them for you.

Occasionally, set up an information booth at the entrance to your facilities, at corporate retreats or in the cafeteria.  Here you can:

  • Re-distribute or update wallet cards or other physical materials
  • Ask interested employees to complete short business continuity quizzes and award a small emergency preparedness prize for the most accurate responses
  • Advertise upcoming training and exercises

This is also a great time to speak with employees about their concerns with the program.  

Tip #4 Involve emergency management and ICS teams in drills and inspections

Fire drill evacuations are a great time to provide regular employees with additional information on disaster preparedness, emergency response and business continuity. Take advantage of their free time as they mill about the parking lot. It will provide you with an audience already thinking about emergency response and business continuity.

Take fire drills one step further for your emergency response teams and exercise the plan. Instead of a table top exercise try a trunk top exercise or have a team travel to your Emergency Operations Center and perform a set-up.

Damage inspection teams should be present for any inspections.

Tip #5 Take key people on visits to the Emergency Operations Center and recovery sites

Taking key people on visits to the recovery sites will familiarise them with the location, the working environment and the facilities available there. Challenge them to choose a different route or a different time of day for each visit or exercise.  This will make route change requirements simpler during an actual emergency. It will also expose time relative traffic issues.

All members of the EOC team should be taken on a tour of your Emergency Operations Center including the executive and the crisis communications team.  The EOC director and back-up should also be given the opportunity to tour the operations center of another organization and speak with experienced EOC directors.

Tip #6 Provide business partners with a manual that summarizes performance expectations during a disruptive event

To train business partners, provide them with a manual or procedures that summarize performance expectations during a disruptive event.  Involve them during exercises to reinforce lines of communication. Also ensure that business continuity expectations are included in negotiations and contracts during the beginning of the relationship with the third party.    

Tip #7 Incorporate emergency management activities into other processes

Consider activities that embed emergency management into the organization’s processes. For example, incorporate emergency management activities into your change management, and human resources process.

Tip #8 Have ICS and emergency management expectations included in job descriptions of key positions

In the plan you have designated certain responsibilities to employees according to their job title.  Have human resources add these responsibilities to the job description.  This has several important benefits:

  • Job postings will include this responsibility giving an advantage to job seekers that are already trained for this role
  • Performance reviews will include a review of business continuity responsibilities
  • New employees taking over the role will seek out training if they are not prepared for the responsibility
  • Emergency Management will no longer be “in addition to my job” but a part of it

Make sure that you include updating these job descriptions as part of your maintenance program.

Tip #9 Get involved in new employee orientations

Orientations are a great time to provide employees with a general understanding of your emergency management program and to make them aware of ways that they can obtain further information.  Wallet cards or other items should be part of their orientation package.

If you are able to make a live presentation during the orientation, find out if any of the new employees has specific ICS responsibilities.  Be prepared to give these people specific training information including training times and expectations.  A disaster could occur on their first day on the job!

Book time with new executives to provide them with a briefing on the emergency management and business continuity program, the plan and any required training. Make certain to offer a tour of the EOC. 

Tip #10 Conduct an annual executive briefing and an annual report on the state of the program

The best method to keep executives up to date on program strategies is to include this information during executive or steering committee meetings so the same people that make decisions regarding risk management strategies are the ones that implement them during a disruptive event.  This also gives board members or ministers the opportunity to question senior management on their responsibilities during an event.  Be prepared with answers or training opportunities.

Training and testing are intertwined.  After an exercise you may find an increase in demand for further training.  Take advantage of any momentum and schedule training immediately following the exercise while the need is still clear in the minds of participants. 

If you are able to use these ten tips to promote awareness and training in your organization, your emergency management program will start to have real energy, your people will start to possess strong EM plan and ICS understanding, and your teams will be ready for a challenging exercise. Congratulations! Emergency Management is now a serious endeavour in your organization.
10 Ways to Improve Your Exercise, Audit and Maintenance

10 ways to improve Plan Exercise, Audit, and Maintenance

Your organization has now invested valuable time and money developing emergency management plans. As a professional planner, you know that the next steps - exercising, auditing and maintaining the plans - are all important to successful resilience in the event of a disaster.  In this article, I will provide 10 tips to advance your plan exercise, audit and maintenance program.  

Tip #1: Budget for Exercise, Audit and Maintenance

Make sure that you include money for these activities within the initial emergency management budget and document your request for an annual expense for these programs. Don’t spring surprises on upper management after the plans have been developed by asking for a new budget for these essential items.  Before proceeding, validate the exercise, audit and maintenance program and schedule established during the program initiation stage. 


The true value of a plan will not be recognized by an organization until it is exercised. Each exercise can give participants a chance to see the plan in action and recognize its importance.  It will also provide opportunities for training and plan enhancement which will increase the effectiveness of the plan in the event of a real disaster.

Tip #2: Develop a clear scope statement and a set of objectives for every exercise

If you are unable to communicate a clear exercise purpose, you cannot expect to obtain ever-elusive budget dollars, time commitment in key staff’s hectic schedules or agreement from upper management to proceed. A clear scope statement enables the exercise to be structured and organized so that the results can be measured and your plan fine-tuned. A typical scope statement will outline what will be included as well as what will be excluded from the exercise:

      Scope of the exercise

  • Date, time and duration
  • Exercise type: tabletop
  • The exercise players will be:_________________
  • This exercise will be focused on actions found in Section the emergency response plan
  • This exercise activity will be contained within the designated room

Out of Scope

  • The response component found in Section xx.yy of the Business Continuity plan
  • Multiple locations
  • Real simulation
  • Communications outside of the exercise room

Each exercise should have at least three but not more than six objectives. Objectives must be measurable after the exercise. A typical set of objectives might be:

  1. To provide an opportunity to practice business continuity or emergency response skills
  2. To validate specific parts of the emergency management plans (example)
  3. To validate assumptions within the plan document
  4. Determine if the recovery time objective is obtainable
  5. To identify areas for improvement in the plan, strategy, procedures and resources
  6. To validate establish timings for activities outlined in the plans

Discuss and debate these objectives with those managers who have responsibility for emergency management activities and modify or extend them accordingly. Try to engage as wide an audience as possible in this debate as this will help to raise the level of awareness and support for the whole Emergency Management program. Make certain that the list of objectives is approved by the executive sponsor.

Tip #3: Establish a design team

Design team members should be drawn from each of the groups that will be represented in the exercise. The design team leader should be someone who is familiar with the plan, understands the participating organizations and can devote significant time to this project.  The design team leader should not be a key operational member.

Tip #4: Start with a simple straightforward exercise

Effective exercising is about learning to ‘walk before you run’. It is important that the type and scale of exercise is in line with the organization’s Emergency Management maturity. Participants should come away with a positive feeling, believing that they have reached a challenging goal. Raise the bar over time as the skill set of the organization develops.

Construct exercise scenarios using several different levels of complexity. Jim Burtles, FBCI, of Automata Global Business Continuity Services, identifies five distinct levels of exercise complexity:

Level One - Single site; simple scenario involves a single location which is affected by one impact on its premises, infrastructure or systems.
Level Two - Single site; complex scenario involves a single location which is affected by more than one impact on its premises, infrastructure or systems.
Level Three - Multiple site; simple scenario involves multiple locations which are affected by the same single incident or its ramifications. More than one target team is likely to be involved at this level.
Level Four - Multiple site; complex scenario involves multiple locations, which are affected by the same complex set of impacts or their ramifications. Several target teams are likely to be involved at this level.
Level Five - Multiple site; multiple scenario involves a number of separate incidents occurring at a number of sites during the period of the exercise. These incidents may occur more or less simultaneously in different countries and in differing time zones. Many teams are likely to be involved in an exercise of this scale.

As your teams progress through each level, their confidence and their understanding of their role in the business continuity plan will grow.

Tip # 5: Choose a scenario that is stimulating and vivid, yet credible

The scenario needs to explore the exercise objectives and to engage your people. Begin by reviewing your threat and risk assessment and choose a scenario that has a medium to high probability of occurring. If you choose an implausible event such as a meteor impact you will lose credibility and team discussions may centre on the unlikelihood of the event versus realizing the objectives of the exercise. 

Like any action-packed Hollywood blockbuster, an exciting scenario will draw the participants in. In order to create a challenging exercise for the crisis communication team, the story should be one that the media would pick up on. However, the scenario should not be overwhelming and should not contain obscure or technical implications which might confuse the team or open the way for you to lose control or credibility. It should set up a challenge which is likely to stretch the team’s capabilities.

You might want to create your own database of possible scenarios. Research famous events or track unique current incidents. Take note of reported details and understand the effects on the organization, so that you can incorporate realistic details.  Follow the story over several days and note how the organization responded.

Finally, do not forget to use both your reason and imagination in developing the plot of the exercise.

Tip # 6 Create Realism for the Participants

Realism can make a positive lasting impression on the participants increasing their knowledge retention as well as your credibility. Add authenticity by creating news broadcasts, radio weather warnings, or video footage. Be imaginative in injecting details through actual telephone calls or e-mails, or even an interactive web portal. Hold mock interviews with journalists, emergency services personnel, suppliers, customers or other interested parties. Realistic details will make things easier and more relevant to your teams.

Tip # 7 Prepare well researched problem sets or injects

Create injects (a set of problems or complications) that the team may encounter as the scenario plays out. They can be used to create realism or to guarantee certain areas of the plan are tested. If the team seems well prepared to handle the initial complexity of the scenario, injects can create a more challenging exercise. They can also be used to bring the exercise back on track if it seems to be slipping. Have a few extra up your sleeve and use as necessary.

There is no substitute for thorough research prior to the event. Reference material may be required wherever you introduce any aspect of a scenario that may be challenged. If the scenario includes responding to damage caused by a letter bomb, you must be prepared with an authoritative response to any number of questions, including how the bomb was prepared and delivered and the extent of the damage it would have caused. Without an appropriate response, you will lose the attention and support of participants. A good exercise script will also require thorough research on the language and terminology to be used in any given scenario.

You may need to develop checklists, along with reference materials, to support the script. Checklists are a convenient way of collecting data in order to avoid relying on memory alone to cover each detail of the exercise.

Tip # 8 Debrief the participants after a short break

At the conclusion of the exercise scenario, it is always good to allow the exercise participants a short break before proceeding with the exercise debrief. This allows for time needed to get minds and thoughts out of the exercise scenario and focused back in the ‘real’ world.
The purpose of the exercise debrief is to seek feedback regarding:
* What was learned during initial incident response?
* What was learned during the operational relocation, restart and recovery?
* Feedback from observers:
• What happened?
• What went well?
• What could we improve?
* What have you learned about exercising?
* What are the next steps?
Get this information while it is fresh in the minds of participants. You should also follow up the next day. People will have valuable things to add after a night’s sleep.


Tip #9 Arrange an Audit

An audit in the private sector can be powerful for obtaining senior management support for business continuity upkeep and improvement. Executives are familiar with the audit process and are likely to see the merit in the recommendations of an auditor. You can also successfully argue that an audit should be presented by the sponsor to the Board of Directors.

Audits can also be high-profile in public sector organizations. Some have mandatory audits. Your department may post the results publicly, or details of any audit may be requested through Access to Information legislation. Certainly any audit could receive media scrutiny. It is vital that you prepare well in advance for the assessment, given its overall importance.     

Understanding what the auditors or reviewers are looking for will help the audit run smoothly. It will also help you to enrich the business continuity management program in your organization in the process. Ideally, the plan should be audited by an independent auditor to ensure objectivity. During the engagement process, you should review plan expectations with the auditor and determine what set of standards will be used. Together with the auditor, you should set audit objectives and scope, and assess and select the audit method. The audit process should examine the administrative aspects of the EM process, the plan's structure, contents and actions sections, and the plan's documentation control procedures. An audit should be conducted at least annually.


If a proper maintenance plan is not in place, your plans could become outdated quickly.

Tip #10 Arrange to review and update the plan just prior to audits and annual exercises

If the results of the exercise and audit are given the appropriate attention by the organization, those involved in the plan will be motivated to prepare for these events by updating business process information.

If you schedule one minor exercise per business section, an annual major exercise and an annual audit, it translates into three major updates of the plan per year. Add in some method of determining turnover in key business continuity roles and your plan will continue to be relevant year after year. One simple suggestion is a monthly business continuity plan e-mail newsletter sent to everyone named in the plans. When an e-mail bounces back, you should follow-up with your other contacts in the unit for a staffing update.  When other colleagues find themselves in a new role, they will often contact you to redirect the newsletter.

Also try to work with your organization’s Project Management Office and other change managers to play an advisory role in meeting the organization’s business continuity standards before new projects “go live”. The upfront time investment is much less when compared to working on plans and strategies after the project is operational.

Following these ten manageable tips will have a constructive impact on your business continuity plan exercise, audit and maintenance programs. Please speak with us for further information on any of these ideas.

“Mastering Exercise Development”, Jim Burtles, Automata Ltd, March 22, 2005, Continuity Central
10 Ways to Improve Your Crisis Communications

Join us for this discussion on our Blog in April-May 2013

10 Ways to Improve Your Coordination with External Agencies

Join us for this discussion on our Blog in June 2013

Managing the Crisis from the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC)

Many organizations  have more than one crisis management team. Just as governments have federal, state/provincial and municipal response organizations, large corporations also require a tiered response capability. One of the common errors seen when analyzing a crisis response (or conducting practical training for one) is a "muddling" of the roles and responsibilities between these various levels. Typically, the superior level crisis management organization takes charge of the activities that should clearly be a local responsibility, while neglecting the key strategic problems that need to be addressed at the higher level.

This "characteristic" of crisis response within large organizations is also not handled well by many exercise designers. All too often, a corporate organization is defined and resources are allocated for a corporate level exercise which simulates physical damage at the corporate level headquarters requiring re-deployment of the corporate team to a backup facility. This is valuable training of course, however it does not present a crisis that requires a corporate level response - it is a facility level crisis that happens to be where the corporate HQ is located.

Consider the example of a corporate crisis management team in a large national company in the fast food services sector dealing with a natural gas explosion at one of its major distribution centres. The corporate role in this situation would be dealing with corporate wide implications of this loss: the ability to fill existing orders, support for injured employees and families, communications strategies to the public etc. But instead, the team debates for thirty minutes (during the initial stage of the event which is most crucial in terms of crisis response) on where specifically to station company security personnel around the perimeter of the casualty property! In most functional organizations, this would be a facility level problem - and solution.

This lack of separation between levels of command and control within organizations is a natural tendency for several reasons. Many within the corporate group will have come up through the ranks of the company from the facility level. So the problems at a facility (or single location) will be much more familiar to them. Under stress, it is common for responders to concentrate on what they know best. Instead of dealing with unfamiliar issues, there is a tendency to revert back to what they are most comfortable with; notwithstanding the stated roles and responsibilities at the superior level.

Secondly, the role at the superior level is inherently more difficult. At the scene of the disaster, the challenges can be dangerous (saving lives, evacuations etc) but they are usually specific and clear; normally executing emergency operating procedures (which should be pre-defined in most cases) and dealing with immediate problems. The strategic challenges at a superior level are more difficult to define. It will most often mean a longer look ahead and a responsibility to predict what the future effects will be and how to handle them.

In the immediate term, the superior team has to figure out how to provide appropriate support to the subordinate team but at the same time stay out of the way so the other level organizations can fulfill their responsibilities. In all but well trained and experienced teams, the tendency will be to unnecessarily get into the weeds and consequently cause an adverse effect on the organization's overall response effort. The superior level has to concentrate on seeing "the whole forest" and not let their view be obstructed by "individual trees".

The best way to ensure this does not become a damaging flaw in an organization's crisis response is:

  • to define and publish clear and concise roles for each level of response,
  • to train to this standard, and
  • to rigidly enforce these standards during an exercise or a real event.

The superior level role will be one of support and leadership. In the support role, the superior team will normally be responsible for mobilizing whatever resource is required and getting it to the scene of the event, so that the subordinate crisis response team can do its job and directly respond. The superior team will also have authority to allocate resources required to deal with the event which exceed the expenditure limits of the local level. Most superior teams understand these types of responsibilities. Where they run into problems is in staying focused on the overall organizational issues that need to be addressed during crisis.

The Crisis Management Team Leader at each level must be aware of this phenomenon and keep his team focused on the problems that need to be sorted out by that particular level of command. In addition to observing the clear roles defined in the crisis management plan, the Team Leader should also compare the ongoing activity to that conducted by the normal line operation of the organization at that level.

Remember, a crisis management team is simply a group of key decision makers who are brought together to be served the best information available so they can develop good situational awareness and provide effective decision-making. The requirement is for rapid decision making in situations that require immediate action and deployment of resources. But the level of decision-making should be much the same as in normal business operations. If it is not a corporate responsibility to check if a facility shut off its ventilation system in the day to day organization, it should not be a corporate responsibility to order this in the event of a fire or hazmat spill - that would remain a local issue. The corporate issues would be more appropriately focused on public relations, measures to protect employees etc - policy issues that would be a corporate responsibility day-to-day. While not always a perfect fit, it is a good check to ensure the teams focus is at the appropriate level.

The other "trick" the Team Leader has at his or her disposal, is ruthless control of the communication lines. In an ICS  based organization, these lines are very clearly defined and senior personnel within the team cannot simply call whoever they wish at a lower level to demand information. A clear reporting structure must be implemented and the various types of communication and connections between levels must be followed. In doing so, it will be easier for the Team Leader to keep all his Team Members focused on their responsibilities. The alternative; bypassing the reporting chain; adversely affects the information management system you are trying so hard to maintain and degrades the lower levels ability to manage because they are tied up making unnecessary reports to a senior level.

Roles and responsibilities at different levels of command and control within large crisis management organizations can get "muddled". While this is almost never from the bottom up, it is common for a superior level crisis management team to micro manage the lower level, thus neglecting its own roles and responsibilities. Proper training, a disciplined response and an alert Team Leader providing direct control should be enough to ensure that this "characteristic" does not become a crippling problem.

Lunch and Learn

Lunch & Learns can be a convenient and low budget opportunity to get your message out during Business Continuity Awareness Week 2012.
Ideas for you

  • Invite an industry author or expert to speak on each of your top four risks each day and then on Friday run a mini tabletop exercise using one of these events as the incident
  • Offer a 45-60 minute interactive presentation focusing on a specific topic of risk (pandemics, psychology of risk, etc.).
  • Present general introduction sessions to BCM for your organization
  • Create a pep rally for your upcoming BCP Exercise, briefing the organization on your plans and the outcome of last years success
  • Offer a a session on creating a "Go bag" for home or the office

Employee surveys could be performed prior to and following each session to help you gather helpful information on emerging organizational trends and changes.


One of the best ways to gain some interest in Business Continuity is to make the learning fun.

  • Host quizzes to enhance Business Continuity awareness across your organization
  • Hold a Valuable Documents Scavenger Hunt
  • Plan an Interdepartmental "race" to your back-up site
  • Host a "Before the Storm" tournament