This is the second in Pinkerton’s Water and Security Series, begun during Earth Month (April 2016), looking at how water affects business security and continuity. In our last post about Water Security and Fire Suppression, we looked at the risk many companies face because they cannot provide an adequate emergency water supply to make their fire systems effective. But what if there is too much water? Recent floods in Texas and India have brought this issue to the forefront for millions of people and thousands of companies. In this post, we will examine the effects flooding has on security, especially as it relates to a company’s business continuity and the supply chain. Three Pinkertons with diverse security backgrounds recently answered questions on this topic and this post highlights their insights.
What overall impact can flooding can have on a business?
Umesh Mehta [Intelligence Director]: Continuity is at risk. A business may be shut down for days, even weeks or months. But the immediate concern is employee safety, which relies heavily on water. Flooding can cause widespread contamination so, being able to provide drinkable water is very important. James McClain [Regional Managing Director]: When we helped companies after natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Tropical Storm Sandy along the East Coast, the first thing we realized is that many of them did not have a plan in the event that their operation lost water access. Then, there were those had some emergency water stored, but not nearly enough, and hadn’t tested their suppression systems so, they failed. Brian McNary [Vice President]: What many companies won’t realize until it’s too late is that employees are likely to choose to stay at their place of work instead of going home. Or, they can’t get home. In either case, it means that far more people are depending on the company’s facilities to survive. If your company happens to be one that has some access to water, the community at large will also request access, putting further strain on your systems. It can quickly become a bad situation for everyone.
How Can Water Affect Business Continuity?
McNary: It depends on the business. Manufactures rely more heavily on water to produce the goods the company sells, while office operations need it for employees to drink and for sanitary purposes. But most companies realize this and have at least a modest plan in the event of an emergency. What they don’t consider is the affect no water has on related operations, such as their company’s data centers which require water for chillers that keep data servers from overheating. McClain: Companies know if their facilities are in areas prone to events that could cause flooding or water source contamination. However, they may not have considered that vendors they will need to keep their business running are also impacted. If they rely heavily on local vendors for critical services, those companies will also be affected so, those services might not be available to help the company keep its operation working. Your facility might be good to go but, it can’t operate because another vendor can’t get you what you need. Mehta: Municipal services will also be affected so, companies need to anticipate that. In the recent India floods, there were companies that had stockpiled water and were reasonably prepared for a disaster. However, they relied on the availability of services from their town/city. When those water treatment facilities failed, it left companies unable to provide adequate shelter and protection for their employees. Sanitation became a big issue and because there was no plan in place, many companies endured some harrowing days.
What Are the “Hidden” Risks of Water and Flooding?
McClain: A company has to know their supply chain and where it’s critical products and services are coming from. Data centers are probably the most important for businesses these days. A company must know where their data is being stored and the risks those centers face from multiple angles, including weather-related risks like flooding. Not being able to access your data has the potential to greatly affect your business continuity. So, having a plan that includes redundancy is hugely important to keep things running smoothly. Mehta: Reputation. How a company handles a crisis is important to the company’s overall brand. It is expected, especially of large companies, that they will take care of their employees during a situation like a flood. It’s the Responsibility of Care that must be planned for so that a company is prepared to help not just employees but the surrounding community. In India, many companies provided shelter for employees, their families and locals who had lost their homes. Others simply were not prepared to do so. Those companies took a hit to their reputations. McNary: The cost of not being prepared is potentially huge. We saw that with Hurricane Katrina and Tropical Storm Irene. While the scale of these storms was certainly unexpected, many areas that were most affected were prone to hurricanes. Without a plan in place that has been vetted and tested, many companies suffered losses far greater than they should have. Security has to be heightened because a company’s normal security operation is going to be weakened by the disruption. Planning for this scenario and knowing the systematic way to handle it is key.
How Can An Operation Better Prepare for a Water Emergency?
McNary: Knowing where you are at risk is the most important planning element. And while a lot of companies think they have things buttoned up, their plans have not been put to the test to find vulnerabilities. For example, during a water crisis, the flow of information is important. Does a company have a flow chart detailing how information is to be communicated, incorporating the presumption that normal methods, like email or cell service, may be interrupted? What vendors will be able to service the company’s needs, and which ones will not? Is there a redundant water supply and, what systems have to be functional in order to get it to the people who need it? What is the dewatering plan to remove water from facilities? Who is in charge of that operation? Things like this are all part of a risk assessment that a company should have done so that an effective plan can be created. McClain: Companies need to be physically prepared for floods and other disruptive situations. If a disaster strikes, it is critical that security remains in place. That can mean backup generators that will power security monitoring devices. It can mean having more security personnel on site to maintain order while keeping out people not authorized to be in a facility. Even a seemingly simple thing like having bottled water for employees can be an overlooked element that can lead to a difficult situation if there is no potable water available. Mehta: Create a relationship with local companies that will also be affected if the water supply is compromised. Your neighboring businesses can be important allies as you all work through the hardships. Pooling resources, including backup water supplies, can help you all reduce the disruption to business continuity and get everyone back up to speed faster. You will also want to know what neighboring business are NOT prepared because it’s likely they will look to your business for help. McNary: Lack of preparation is not an accident! Please read other posts from our Water and Security Series.