Learning from Business Continuity: Insights for Emergency Managers

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Hyper-Reach serves both public safety agencies and businesses that use mass notification. While many of the operations are similar, there are important differences in how public safety/emergency managers use mass alerts compared with private businesses. 

The most obvious answer is about the audience.  Business users are usually communicating with their employees, not the general public.  Public safety users also message employees – both within their agencies and across their county or municipal governments, but there’s a much greater focus on reaching the public, which is harder to do, because of the lack of contact information and other factors. 

That led us to thinking more broadly about how emergency management and business continuity compare as professional disciplines and whether either group can learn from the other. There’s a lot of overlap, but there are also important differences in emphasis that might be useful to think about. 

1. Risk Assessment and Planning

One of the fundamental aspects of business continuity is risk assessment and planning. Before implementing any continuity plan, businesses analyze potential threats, their likelihood, and impact. The objective here is to prioritize, so that resources are focused on the biggest threats. 

Many emergency managers also do risk assessments, especially regarding natural disasters, with the likely addition of pandemics because of COVID-19. But other kinds of disasters, such as those related to technological failures are much less common. And we see less of a focus on prioritization among emergency managers than we see in the business continuity field.  A more comprehensive view of issues and more effort toward ranking risks could enable emergency managers to allocate resources more effectively and prioritize preparedness efforts.

2. Continuity of Operations

Business continuity plans focus on maintaining essential functions during a disruption, including communication, financial, operations and so forth. They want to keep the business going and ultimately restore operations to normal.  

Emergency managers could benefit from ensuring their scope is broad enough to encompass all the elements required to both keep people safe and help get life back to normal. Ensuring the continuity of critical services and infrastructure, such as healthcare, transportation, and communication systems, is vital during emergencies. By identifying key functions and developing strategies to sustain them, emergency managers can minimize the impact of disasters on communities.

3. Communication and Coordination

Effective communication and coordination are essential in both business continuity and emergency management. Business continuity is typically focused on communicating with smaller groups, such as key managers or specific teams. There is a lot of emphasis on knowing who to contact and how to reach them, including failover methods when normal lines of communication are disrupted. Importantly, the business continuity function works on ensuring communication among key constituencies – so they can talk to each other – in addition to communicating with them. 

Emergency managers also focus on coordinating and collaborating with other agencies and organizations and have the additional responsibility of planning for communication with the general public. Our general impression is that EMs tend to see themselves as the hub for these communication efforts and we see less of a concern among emergency managers in making sure that key agencies and departments can communicate with each other. 

By contrast, emergency managers generally have a broader view of what constituencies should be included in a communications plan.  Business continuity managers can take a lesson from EMs and consider what groups outside of the organization can help it recover and restore business operations. 

4. Incident Command Structure

Emergency management relies on a clear incident command structure to ensure efficient coordination and decision-making during emergencies. Business continuity managers tend to assume the existing business management structure, and might consider defining disruption-specific roles and responsibilities within their organizations. Having a well-defined command structure enables swift decision-making and execution of response and recovery plans.

5. Business Impact Analysis

Business continuity practitioners perform business impact analyses to assess the consequences of potential disruptions. This analysis helps in determining which functions are most critical and where resources should be allocated. Emergency managers can adapt this approach by conducting community impact analyses. Identifying vulnerable populations, essential facilities, and critical infrastructure can guide preparedness efforts and resource allocation during emergencies.  

6. Regular Plan Review and Updates

Business continuity plans are not static documents; they are regularly reviewed and updated to reflect changing circumstances and risks. In contrast, we’ve seen a lot of emergency management plans that are two or more years old.  Revisiting and refining emergency plans and procedures regularly is challenging, but valuable, and ensures that plans remain relevant and effective in the face of evolving threats and vulnerabilities.

Conclusion

Emergency managers and business continuity professionals can gain valuable insights from each other. While there are huge areas of overlap, there are lessons to be had in considering how each group approaches risk assessment, continuity planning, communication strategies, training, and ongoing plan review.

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