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The state of uncertainty

Effective preparation will determine your capacity to deal with emergencies


August 17, 2020
By Yves Duguay

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The solution to managing the perils associated with a state of uncertainty lies in your preparedness and response capacity, and how effectively and quickly you will be able to activate and implement your incident management plans.

Time is indeed of the essence. Whether you’re looking at attacks that took place in airports like Brussels, Istanbul or in cities like Paris, Manchester, Nice and Ottawa, most of the damage inflicted by the assailants occurred within the first five minutes. This is also the conclusion of an FBI study1concerning active shooters, in which they found that in 60 per cent of cases, the incident ended before the arrival of the police and in 70 per cent of the cases, the events unfolded within a period of five minutes.

Assessing your preparedness and effectiveness

You can start this analysis by auditing yourself against North American standards for your industry (CSA, NFPA, NIST and CERT), to assess, adjust and improve your level of preparedness. Whether you are dealing with an airport scenario, a conference centre, a company’s headquarters or a cultural event, the same questions apply and must be answered in order to develop a nimble and agile capacity to respond to incidents, by fully leveraging the potential that is found within your workforce and partners.

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Leveraging your workforce and partners

Biologists have determined that we have an innate and natural willingness to help,2 which is influenced by our societal values.

We have witnessed this noble human trait during the response to emergencies and natural disasters. Our challenge lies in co-ordinating and leveraging this collaboration, especially in today’s complex organizations. When an emergency is declared, we rely on the fact that our employees and partners will apply the procedures that were developed to respond to such events. However, more often than not, procedures are not always well understood or complied with, which leaves us vulnerable to more damage, losses and ineffective actions. It is essential for companies and government agencies alike to build a capacity to ensure that the right information will be communicated at the right time to the right person, possessing the right knowledge and skills.

These procedures must be communicated quickly, and ideally through real-time bidirectional communications, pushing information or directions to the employee or partner, who will then be able to confirm that the task was accomplished or that additional assistance or guidance is required. This communication tool can be developed partly through the digitalization of security processes and standard operating procedures (SOPs).

The other part of the solution resides in today’s innovative and enabling technologies which leverage the high percentage of smart phone users and the general preference for data utilization over voice, which also maximizes the bandwidth. These new tools could enable your employees, partners and even customers to access warnings, alerts and other critical information in real-time, with personalized response plans.

This could allow you to push mass notifications to employees and stakeholders and receive communications from them based on their geolocations. We are of the opinion that organizations that are developing this resilient capacity to anticipate, detect and respond quickly and effectively to unplanned events are ensuring their permanence. This is why the C-suite and board members should pay particular attention to this capacity.

However, this leveraging of the workforce cannot be accomplished by technology alone. Human factors and human performance must also be addressed, particularly through communications, training, exercises and simulations.

Increasing situational awareness and compliance

Researchers in the United States who investigated the causes of errors and accidents have discovered that approximately 80 per cent of all accidents or failures can be attributed to human factors.3

As we did with the assessment of our capacity to respond to unknown and unplanned events, we should engage our workforce and assess its preparedness and performance. We believe that this can be accomplished by developing a systematic approach based on training, regular security communications, tests, exercises and performance management. The success of this approach, as with any other strategy, will be determined by its execution and how effectively it can be controlled and adjusted, as required. Investing in resilience during these uncertain and troubled times is investing in the long-term sustainability of your organization. You can learn from past mistakes, training your workforce to recognize and recover from errors and look for system reforms instead of local repairs.4

And indeed, it’s a system reform that is required to better respond to expected and unexpected events. By increasing the speed, accuracy and effectiveness of your response, leveraging new technologies and human performance, you can develop a systematic approach to anticipate, detect, report and respond quickly during these crucial first minutes, as well as better manage and recover from all hazards. Auditing your preparedness to face various sources of hazards, along with your effective capacity to react to unplanned events and incidents, against existing standards and best practices, is certainly under your total control. It will allow you to determine where you are as compared to where you want to be, to fill the gaps, if any, with judicious and efficient investments in your incident management capacity, which will yield high dividends for your organization in the short and long term. The security landscape won’t change anytime soon, in fact it will only increase in complexity. It’s up to you to reflect and manage how you approach and deal with such challenges diligently.

Yves Duguay is the president of HCiWorld, a security consultancy group based in Montreal (www.hciworld.ca).

1. Blair, J. Pete, and Schweit, Katherine W. (2014). “A Study of Active Shooter Incidents, 2000 – 2013.” Texas State University and Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington D.C. 2014.

2. Tomasello, Michael. (2009), “Why we collaborate”, Boston Review Book (MIT).

3. U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Standard, (2009), “Human performance improvement handbook, Vol. 1”, p. 1-10; retrieved from http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2013/06/f1/doe-hdbk-1028-2009_volume1.pdf.

4. Reason, James (2000), “Human error: models and management”, BMJ Volume 320, 18 MARCH 2000 www.bmj.com, pages 768-770.


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