Friday, December 17, 2010

Testing! 1-2-3...

Brace yourself; this is going to be a weird one.  Today, we’re going to careen from Duck and Cover to the nation's economy to clown cars.

I’ve wanted to post this one thing for quite some time and today I was afforded an opportunity to have at it.

Cher, my close personal friend at Ask Cherlock, did a post yesterday about her husband telling their grandkids about the old Duck and Cover drills he used to have to do as a schoolboy.  This, of course, put me in mind of the Lewis Black standup bit he did in Black on Broadway:
Seriously, play this.  It’s just over 2 minutes… I’ll wait.  Definitely NSFW though. 

Cher went on to mention how the NY Times had a story on how the Administration is working on presenting preparation plans for a possible nuclear attack.  She went on to wonder if there was something afoot on the global horizon… a legitimate threat from North Korea, perhaps?

I made a comment there that I will bring up here.

Sure, there may be something going on behind the scenes, but I think it’s more a case of exercising good business sense.  My current occupation is based on exactly such sense.

I work in what’s called “COB,” or “Continuity of Business.”  This is something that came to prominence in the wake of 9/11.  The government realized that in the face of national disaster, certain businesses needed the capacity to continue to function, primarily financial institutions, or else the entire economy could spiral down the tubes.  Hence, COB was born and in many cases, federally mandated.

The principles of COB are that businesses have contingency plans for multiple variations of disasters, like hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, blizzards, terrorist attacks, pandemic flu, water main breaks, chemical spills, etc.  Anything that could have a significant impact on the functioning of key businesses would be planned for.

Responses vary from leaving one’s primary office and relocating to a backup site, accessing one’s workstation remotely from an off-site PC, transferring one’s workload to an alternate office, and so forth.

To me, what the government is doing is just good sense.  Having a plan is never the wrong idea, regardless of how it may look from the outside.  NOT having a plan can be dangerous or even criminal.

(Don’t’ worry, the jokes are coming.)

To make sure a plan is solid, it has to be tested.  That’s why they have fire drills, or building evacuation drills.  You’ve probably done those yourself.  Should there be a fire or other toxic emergency in your building, you should know, not only how to get out, but also where to go and how to account for yourself and your fellow associates.

COB testing need not always be physical.  We also do what is called “Tabletop” testing.  That’s where key members of your work group get together and are given a scenario that plays out in stages, much like an actual emergency. 

First, the event is described in the initial stage, like, “the building’s on fire… everybody out.”  So everyone discusses exactly what should happen… where to go, what to do, etc.  But at this stage, the complete scale of the event is unknown.

In the second stage, more details are given, like the extent of the damage and estimates on how long everyone might be displaces.  The group then considers their options regarding how to continue production… from home, a hot site, transferring work… and ensures they have specific plans on how to accomplish that.

In the last stage, the situation is resolved and the group considers how to put their pieces back together and reintegrate the work they did off site back into their normal systems.

OK, I didn’t tell you all this just to give you a bunch of useless information.

A couple years ago, when our company’s corporate office decreed that we all create these Tabletop Scenarios, the job fell to me.  I had to create a Tabletop testing process and procedure from the ground up.  I decided that I would write 10 different Scenarios so that I could rotate them among the different groups as the years went by.

I wrote the first couple pretty straight.  If you’ve read me for very long, I’m sure you know how hard that was for me.  Soon I began tossing some jokes in there every so often.  Like in the one about how the sprinklers were on all night:

*  On the bright side, plants that belong to people that don’t water them very often, look great.

See, it was nothing that would change the process or activity… just little throw-away lines.  I think it’s important to make things fun.  COB can be a very dry, serious affair.  A little levity can bring up people’s energy levels.

So, by the time I’d written about 7 of these Scenarios, I was starting to get punchy and was using more and more bizarre asides.  Like when due to a public workers strike that affected fire, police and transit workers, the city was beset by rival factions of rioting accountants and bankers, who did not disperse until they bussed in squads of jocks in letter jackets to restore order to the bean-counters run amok.
“Am I gonna have to crack some skulls?”

The strike was prolonged because the negotiators on one side clamped their hands over their ears and went “Nsaaa naaaa naaaa… I can’t hear you!

In another Scenario, I had city engineers unable to stop a massive water main break when they tried stuffing the hole with bubble gum, which shot out of the hole and began to ensnare passing cars.

Still, the framework of the problems was there and the business still had to adapt their activities.  My little asides were just amusing decoration.

By Scenario Ten, I’d pretty much lost all my restraint and just let it rip.  It was my masterpiece.  I only used it on work groups that I knew had a solid sense of humor and could handle it.  But even so, I think I only sent it out maybe 3 times.

Then this year, Corporate sent out an online training course about how to construct Tabletop exercises.  I figured I’d better take it and see what it is they actually expected from us.

I was alarmed to learn that they frowned on “over-the-top,” Hollywood-style disaster movie scenarios.  So I had no choice but to retire Scenario Ten, or what came to be known as, the Circus Train Incident.

On the bright side, now that it’s out of circulation, there’s no reason why I can’t share it here.  Remember, this was given to actual business people to help test their recovery planning. 

Note: All scenarios were sent out and approved by the higher-ups, which proved to me that they stopped reading them after the first couple.  It pays to pay attention!

Train Derailment
Part 1
* At 10:30 a.m., a train carrying numerous tanker-cars collided with another train, in the vicinity of your office building.

*An unidentified tanker car has exploded and is burning.  Other tanker cars have been punctured and are leaking their content, which is creating a chemical gas.  Some nearby cars contain propane, and efforts are being made to keep them cooled, to prevent more explosions.

* The other train was a circus train; elephants, lions, tigers, and other wild animals are running loose near the tracks.  A dozen clowns are trapped inside their little car.  Efforts are being made to locate the circus’s Vice President of Clowns, who has the only key.

* Police have ordered your Management to evacuate the building.  It is unknown how long the chaos will continue.

What do you do?

Part 2
* The fire is fought throughout the afternoon, and is brought under control; however there is a sizable cloud of what appears to be chlorine gas surrounding the site.

* The evacuated area is expected to remain sealed off for a day or two, as giant “Hollywood” wind machines are brought in to disperse the cloud. 

* Gorillas have broken free, climbed to the tops of nearby buildings (including yours), and are swatting at news helicopters.  Bi-planes from nearby air-show are coming to help.  The clowns are still stuck, but are living on a stash of cream pies.

What do you do?

Part 3
* On the 3rd day, the fire has been put out, and the gas cloud dispersed.  The tracks remain closed, but the evacuation orders are canceled.

*The animals have been rounded up and trucked on to the next big-top event.  The VP of Clowns has been contacted and the key obtained, but the clowns didn’t make it.  No one is too broken up about it.

*At 3:30 pm, Management emerges from their bunker and contacts you with the all-clear message.

* Your facilities will be reopened within the hour, although a number of large, long limbed chalk outlines will need to be hosed off from the sidewalk in front of your building.

What do you do to restore your business?

It’s a wonder I still have a job.

22 comments:

  1. That is hilarious. We also have those types of plans here at my job. What I love about my plans is the contingency of the office closing for extended periods of times puts me on a plane to Canada or Brazil.

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  2. Trash,
    I always love to travel on the company dime. Wish I could do it more often. I used to get to do it a lot, way back when I had the record store jobs. They were always sending me around to go help open new stores. Unfortunately, the longest trip I got to take was to Nebraska, home of, well... nothing. Lots of it.

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  3. You really should collaborate with Louis Black. You have much to offer his zany but true take on disaster. We gotta laugh or go insane. Or maybe go insane and then laugh.
    Now, let's imagine the oil spill has reached the swimming pool...

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  4. Oh my gosh, that is truly hilarious. Just what I needed as I sit here at work, nearly 6 p.m. on a Friday night, finishing a project that I have to get done or come in over the weekend and complete. I just wish there was some way to inject some of that humor into this thing, 'cause it's dry as a bone. I'd likely get fired, fined, and possibly worse. Too bad.

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  5. Mary Ann,
    Lewis Black just kills me. I love his take on things... and it's always crusty.

    DG,
    Glad I could help. Sorry I can't help with your project, though. "Business" always takes itself sooo seriously... If only they'd realize that if they lighten things up for their employees, they'd get more out of them.

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  6. I was part of the generation Black talked about. We actually bought that crap. Who would foist such a bunch of obvious bullshit on a bunch of innocent little kids?

    Love your train scenario. Hysterical. Even funnier that management didn't read it or didn't get it. Clearly, your talent is wasted there.

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  7. Jayne,
    Believe me, I was as surprised as anyone when I was given the approval to use that batch of scenarios. I was sure we were going to have to butt heads, especially after what they'd done to my newsletters in the past. So I took the approval and never said another word about it.

    I'm sure they stopped reading after the first couple. It's the only explanation.

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  8. I am still annoyed that I missed out on the circus train derailment scenario. Somehow "there's been a random fire in the building" was just not as exciting or fun..especially with MY group.

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  9. Bea,
    Nah, you guys are the serious group... Like I'm going to risk getting in trouble with Compliance. That's like making fun of the IRS while you're being audited. Mary gave me a funny look when we got to the part about reopening the building with a "nice ribbon-cutting ceremony." I can only imagine her reaction to gorillas climbing all over the building.

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  10. Hilarious post, Bluz! I loved the Lewis Black shtick too. Mind games are happening all over again. It's a good thing I have you to help allay my fears, otherwise I would be practicing Duck and Cover, knowing full well it won't make a damn bit of difference when my under-wire bra melts. See? You guys think you're the only ones with stuff to worry about. Love ya!---cher

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  11. omg, I'm dying laughing here.
    I have to wonder what sort of contingency plan should have been written for the company in this situation...
    "Your HQ is on Lake Ponchartrain (the giant lake outside of New Orleans) and all of your company's servers and important documents for all of your international clients are on the bottom floor. There is a category 5 hurricane approaching. What do you do?"

    Because, really, in a city that floods so damn often, you should NEVER have anything on the bottom floor, especially if you are located near a lake.
    Their "master plan"?
    Have someone on staff during the hurricane in case of a 30 foot storm surge. You know, so they could drown in the building. With the livelihood of the company.

    (they didn't flood during Katrina and have since moved their servers to the 3rd floor)

    I'm really bummed that they don't like the hollywood type scenarios, though. I mean, truly, I am. You should write one where the office floods from seawater and there are minnows and other sea creatures dead in the office 3 days later, and set up shop with lawn chairs and laptops in a new location the next week and how to maintain productivity.
    If they bitch about it being unrealistic, tell them to give me a call. I'll send pictures.

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  12. Cher,
    I was hoping my calming words would help you sleep better at night, but given the hour of your comment, I can see that it didn't quite work out that way.

    Miley,
    Your plans were in the toilet before the hurricane ever formed! In your company's situation, I'd immediately secure an office building or computer room that is a good ways from your current site, and set up some backup servers. That way when storms threaten, they could roll over to the alternate servers without losing any coverage at all. Of course, that costs money in real estate, and geeks to run things. Maybe they can put the Geek Squad from Best Buy on retainer.

    Our company actually lost a processing center completely... it was on the Gulf Coast and it got completely destroyed by... I think Ivan or Charley... it was before I was in the COB Dept.

    Having your servers and document storage on the bottom floor? In Louisiana? That's just crazy.

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  13. It wasn't my company... It was a vendor my mom had. Morons.

    MY company was on the 1st floor for Ike. In the buildings overlooking the lake & bay. We all took our PCs (no central server) and the backup unit, plus the necessary documentation. It took like 1 hour to get everything necessary out... Which was about everything that survived the 5 feet of water.
    See, we had a plan. We then moved inland.
    When we moved inland, we overlooked a busy street and got to see the "girls gone wild" van every few weeks, which, you know, was worth it or something.

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  14. Good thing you weren't around the van immediately following an LSU win... you'd have been famous all over the internet. (OK, even more famous...)

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  15. *snort* I'm picturing Mary's face with a gorilla outside her office window...OMG

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  16. Bea,
    That would be a great idea for a window cling, designed specifically for office use.

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  17. I always wanted to see one of those Hollywood wind machines live and in action!! I know perfectly well why you still have your job, and so do you--if they let you go you could sue them for discriminating against a minority--someone who is not only funny, but exceptionally intelligent as well!
    I just posted my annual Christmas letter on my blog. Let me know what you think!!

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  18. Bluz... Sniff...
    I couldn't be around the van after an LSU win because *sniff* I'm not in Baton Rouge anymore!
    *sniff choke*

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  19. Judie,
    I'm much more amusing to those that don't have to explain my actions to their boss.

    Miley,
    You were then, though. Or is your special LSU victory celebration something new?

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  20. You mean I'm NOT in Baltimore? Merry Christmas, Cowboy! Get under that mistletoe, you hunk!!!

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  21. OMG, that is hilarious! Loved the gorillas on the roofs, swatting at the helicopters. Priceless!

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  22. Raven,
    I admit it… I get carried away sometimes.
    I’m glad you enjoyed!

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