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12 November 2019

Emergency response plans need to put people over profit

After 22 years policing at the highest level, including frontline crisis negotiating and as National Advisor for New Zealand Police Negotiation Teams, Lance Burdett now consults with businesses on all aspects of personal resilience and intervention communications, as well as corporate emergency management and disaster response.

As lead coach and consultant for WARN International, Lance is clear on one particular aspect of disaster planning and emergency response: regardless of the magnitude of the event, the primary focus of any situation must always come back to people.

“Staff have to come first, and sometimes that singular aspect of the business gets lost in the business continuity plan,” he says.

“I ask people what is the first thing that they think of when they are involved in, or hear of, a disaster? It’s always their family.

Therefore, this needs to be a major consideration in the planning and response phases.

“If you have experienced a major event, where are your staff? Are they okay? Can they get home? The response is critical; the recovery can come later.”

WARN International's Lance Burdett

WARN International's Lance Burdett

Lance believes that planning according to the size of the event is key. A workshop fire or a staff member having a traffic accident are different emergencies than a natural disaster. Of course, for New Zealand businesses, it’s the latter scenario which is perceived to bear the biggest risk.

“Disaster recovery plans need to be very well thought out; all the best fail-safes in the world might come to nothing if one particular aspect of the emergency overrides all others,” he says.
“This was well demonstrated in the aftermath of the February 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, when the CBD was effectively closed off for two weeks. It was unprecedented and as a result, many businesses had to scrap any continuity plan they might have had in place and start again.”

Recovery an opportunity for regrowth 

Lance also believes that a major upheaval to business continuity can sometimes work as an opportunity to refocus and reformat, as well as recover.

“The psychology of event recovery is very interesting. As humans, we are hardwired to try and rush back to what we consider ‘situation normal’.

We can often be mistrustful of change, but when change – in the shape of a natural disaster, for example – is forced upon us, I feel this is often the perfect time to take a deep breath and look hard at the bones of the business.

“After recovery comes regrowth. Growing in a different direction, whether that be in a different location or with different systems in place, can be energising for the business.”

Lance hosts WARN International workshops focusing on emergency management. The objectives of the presentations include understanding how the brain behaves in an emergency or while under stress (fight-or-flight equates to stay-or-go) and identifying and managing actions immediately following critical events. Lance says his parting gift to seminar attendees is a single blank piece of paper. It’s up to the leadership within the business to work on a disaster recovery plan that suits their circumstances, so that everyone knows intuitively what to do in the initial stages.

“There is no simple cookie cutter solution when it comes to emergency management and response planning. Every scenario is different and every business is different,” he says.

“But looking after your people is key. If they are the backbone of your business in good times, then they need to be the backbone of your business when the unthinkable happens and treated as such.

“You might have experienced a momentous event, but you can use momentum to respond, recover and regrow.”

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