Why business continuity plans need to be rethought

by FM Media
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Total Facilities 2012 speaker, CHRIS HUNT, head of integrated facilities management for Australasia at Jones Lang LaSalle, imparts why there is a need to rethink business continuity plans.

Coming off the back of our own share of natural disasters in the Asia Pacific region over the past 18 months, it is timely to discuss the importance of planning for disaster recovery. The events in 2011 – flooding in Queensland, Cyclone Yasi, the earthquake in Christchurch, and the earthquake and tsunami in Japan – have prompted companies to review their disaster recovery strategies or what is known as business continuity planning (BCP).
Jones Lang LaSalle did an analysis of how its facilities management business responded to the Queensland floods and Cyclone Yasi on behalf of clients. Nearly 150 properties in our portfolio were impacted by these two events, with 11 of these properties sustaining minor or major damage. We learned a number of lessons from these natural disasters, but first I want to look at the concept of BCPs.

It is time to upgrade our thinking about BCP and think outside the workplace. The best practice for BCP a few years back was planning to get staff back into physical premises as soon as practicable and to get the business operations and day-to-day routines of staff back to normal.
Now, we should be more focused on returning staff to productivity, using advances in technology, such as remote connectivity, smartphones and tablets, than on returning staff to a physical workplace. Technology is now the link to getting back to productivity, whereas once it was the physical building office space that was the connection back to productivity. Nowadays it is possible to have instant productivity reinstated, so today’s business continuity planning should have a big focus on this.
Conversely, the other important factor for BCPs is that we need to assess not only the tools that will enable a return to work, but also the actual physical environment of the facilities management site. We saw this as a case in point with the Queensland floods. Only the basements were flooded, but, in many cases, the building services that ran these buildings were located in the basement. This hampered efforts to return buildings back to service as soon as possible.
With the majority of essential services dependent on electricity, think through back-up solutions methodically for each of these services. A BCP should include an audit of where essential building services are located. During the audit it should be considered whether these could be better placed to lessen the impact during critical incidents. This physical audit should also be extended to building materials being used in fitouts or refurbishments.
This seems quite straightforward, but often, when planning interior fitouts or refurbishments, little thought is given to how finishes and fixtures would respond to a natural disaster like a flood. This is why processes are needed to ensure that refurbishment and office fitout projects consider the best materials to suit the climate and environment.
Take, for instance, an example of a bank branch that is located on an island. It would make sense to use concrete finishes for the floors and non-ferrous metals that won’t rust due to the sea air, and the use of plastics should perhaps be considered instead of upholstery for chairs in the event of a flooding incident. These are the considerations that should be top of mind when designing or refurbishing retail and office fitouts.

Australia’s recent experience of natural disasters has given insight into how teams respond to emergencies. This has helped develop best practice preparation for natural disasters in the future. The major lessons we learned were as follows:

  • Prior agreements with preferred suppliers for dedicated resources in the event of an emergency can reduce site closure times. Having a check-list of essential services required and contractors confirmed saves time in an emergency.
  • Placing essential services on standby where forewarning is available proved effective in bringing sites back to operational readiness as soon as possible. Having these services ready to go as soon as the site is declared safe is more effective than waiting for the safety declaration and then ringing around to secure these services.
  • A social media strategy needs to be included in BCPs to ensure restrictions about employee use during business hours don’t impede getting messages to staff in the event of an emergency. Social media proved to be a powerful communications tool during the Queensland natural disasters as organisations lost power, their servers and IT systems.

We also found that, in addition to formulating a BCP, organisations should also prepare a short-term plan for their real estate portfolio. In the case of a natural disaster, the ability to acquire new real estate space quickly comes down to having a short-term contingency plan already in place when the disaster hits.
What we found worked well during the Queensland floods and Cyclone Yasi was our ability to secure short-term accommodation for our affected clients. By having a multifaceted integrated business, our facilities managers were able to liaise with our tenant representation and leasing teams to secure space quickly and also connected with our project and development services part of the business to undertake urgent fitout works for new office space.
Thinking through solutions before an unforeseen event occurs and putting these into a BCP saves critical time during an actual event. Best practice management of disasters or crises comes down to being prepared. Having a proven and robust BCP in place with detailed processes to follow will help to facilitate quick decision-making to minimise the impact to property and business.

Chris Hunt is head of integrated facilities management for Australasia at Jones Lang LaSalle. In 2004, he was appointed by the Australian Federal Government (Department of Industry) to participate in the Facility Management Action Agenda as part of the Strategic Industry Leaders Group as both a recognised industry leader and chairman of the Education and Training Working Group. Hunt is a member of the board of directors of the Facility Management Association of Australia and has specific responsibility for the Learning and Development Portfolio.

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