Looking back through the diary, March 2014 was not a normal month of crisis and continuity events. Every month there are ‘surprises’ and new twists and turns but in March the dominant event was Ukraine. By any standard the events and story are extraordinary with many stakeholders, positions and ideologies being brought into sharp relief. Six months ago – I think if you proposed an exercise where unrest events in a European capital would lead to massive falls in reserves, the country at the brink of default needing IMF action, followed by a more powerful neighbour effectively seizing what they see as a strategic points – this would have been viewed as being too extreme in the events scale. The scenario moves on – ‘unbadged’ soldiers wearing balaclavas (sic) seize key points in a region of the country, cutting communications links and surrounding the defence forces, air land and sea. As with Iran, the paucity of options for outside nations and organisations to change the outcome means that the action is defacto ‘complete’.
It is interesting to see how events interlink. The 2012 tsunami in Japan leads to nuclear power stations being turned off in Germany and major change in demand in the gas market. The player with all the cards supplies a large percentage of gas to Europe. It is reminder for the resilient nation that stockpile and basic commodity security is essential and is this a lesson we have failed to really grasp and implement? It also points out the timing of a scenario – had the events been at the beginning or in a severe winter (rather than a wet one!) then the power balance would be more tilted than it already is as reserves would be non-existent in some countries (!). Crises are unexpected events and seem to be a surprise, when in hindsight it was highly plausible?
The second extraordinary event in March 2014 was the disappearance of 239 passengers (of 15 nationalities) on the Boeing 777 of Flight MH370 on March 8th [Wikepedia entry gives the story ]. Over 70 days later and we still don’t know what has happened. My sympathies are with the families and not knowing must be very hard and being at the mercy of any new story, speculation or report. A very nasty feature of this situation for the families are the hoaxes, scams related to the cyber crowd on the WWW. Against this event is truly extraordinary and in preparing for crisis management systems – the extended event is one that not many organisations will practice, it is too demanding on resources and imagination.
These events have overshadowed other events, which would have been major global stories in less extraordinary times. These would be stories like: UK Government shocks (own goals) the UK insurance sector a number of times in March – budget bombshell on annuities (19 March), crisis at the FCA (end of March/early April) – un-thought out review terms on legacy fairness of policies wipes off £7bn of market value! Also on 25 March N Korea fired 2 medium range missiles violating UN resolutions. China deflates it currency and 29 people are killed by terrorists.
In addition the lower level events would be Sahara dust smog in UK, MT GOX extinction, mudslide kills 16 – USA, helicopter crashes, Morrison’s data leak, UK Forex enquiry, gas explosion in New York, IFRS governance failure, Ebola outbreak in Africa, GM car recall $180 m bill, unrest in Venezuela, Egypt etc.
So what is the point of this post? It just seemed to me that March was ‘truly extraordinary’ in recent times – in demonstrating the unpredictability and interconnectedness of our world. Having recently worked with a chap who’s favourite line is: crisis in a lot of ‘uns’ – unexpected, unimaginable, unpleasant, unthinkable etc, he has a well-made point – March was full of ‘uns’. Was it unimaginable that Russia would seize Crimea or a Boing 777 with 239 passengers would disappear?
The ‘so what’ is that we should be thinking very carefully about our risk, scenario and exercise programmes in the organisations environment – and try to ensure we have actually done lead up work (done the basic operational risk ‘heats’) before we leap into the ‘uns’ and not just stay in ‘safe’ exercise territory? Our thinking should be wider.
• Think about the span of risks in the risk register – are they parochial? Are there any macro risks mentioned?
• What scenario planning is being conducted in the organisation to identify uncertainties and the wider spectrum of possible and some ‘un’ cases?
• Does the exercise programme have a coherent longer term capability development programme leading which includes wider events and crises in the organisations environment?
• Where does this sort of thinking about wider unidentified and macro risk mean to your crisis and resilience programme?
• What are the barriers to developing wider exercises or scenario planning activity?