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Business Continuity Begins at Home

A few weeks ago, we were expecting a big snowstorm:  up to 100 inches on Donner Summit, two to four feet in lower-lying areas. When you live in a place named for people who infamously resorted to cannibalism after getting stuck in the snow, you take this sort of thing seriously.  I gassed up the Jeep, retrieved flashlights and candles, bought food. Knowing I was scheduled to conduct a remote audit, I charged up my electronics, read through all the documents in advance, and took detailed notes. I considered different options for an extended power outage:  There was a hotel within walking distance and several more within a short drive.  One way or another I would be available for the three-day audit.

The audit started at 7:00 a.m. local time.  At 7:07 the power went off.   I dialed into the interviews from my phone and used my fully-charged computer to refer to my notes.  So far, so good, but by 11:00 a.m., the computer was dead and the phone was running on fumes. Within a few more hours, all my contingency plans had fallen apart.

First, I discovered I was hemmed in by three feet of snow. I donned snowshoes to walk to the hotel, which was also out of power.  I tried calling all the other hotels in the area, but no one picked up.  When I checked the power outage map for an estimated restoration time, I was informed that “due to a recent power outage,” the outage map was out. (Ironic!) After a kindly neighbor plowed the driveway, I drove through town and found the one strip mall that still had power, but the Wifi was out because their internet provider had gone down. Out of options, I drove an hour to a neighboring state, over a partially-cleared mountain pass, dodging cars spinning out to left and right of me, to meet my family (traveling from another direction) at an airport hotel with food, power, and Wifi.

It felt like a once-in-a-lifetime event, but the next week brought another “historic” storm, and by the end of December, we had broken records for monthly snowfall. The interstate was closed for three days, gas stations ran out of gas, some neighborhoods lost power for a week, and the only exit point from our neighborhood was blocked by a semi-truck that had pulled off the freeway.  Even the ski resorts closed.

Most business continuity plans cite “work from home” as their first-line contingency.  For a large company with people dispersed across multiple geographic areas, this makes sense. Even if homes in one geographic area are impacted by events, other staff can take up the slack. For small biotechs with limited resources, where most people are already working from home due to the pandemic, we need more options. Now, instead of a contingency plan for one office, we need contingencies for every home-based person.

The New Year is an excellent time to review business continuity plans and assess the risk that climate changes poses to your home-based staff.  What do these team members need to keep operations going in the face of (another) historic storm, earthquake, wildfire, cyber attack, or zombie apocalypse? Generators, battery packs, air purifiers, identified backups, a paper phone tree, alternate heat source, internet hotspot, emergency radio?

It’s never a cheerful prospect, contemplating all the ways the universe could trip us up in 2022, but an ounce of prevention, etc.

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