Objects in mirror are closer than they appear

Eventually, some bum with a beer will mess everything up for you

An organization can do everything it can to keep itself out of trouble. It can follow its policies and procedures to the letter, undertake all manner of proactive maintenance, flawlessly follow legal direction. It can do all that and still find itself dragged into the muck because of another’s misstep.

Written by: Andrew Stuckey

Andrew is a seasoned public sector professional with exceptional communications, project management and business continuity skills.

Published: April 15, 2020

I KNOW A YOUNG MAN who one evening thought it would be great fun to take his recently-purchased sports car out for a ride.

Having bought the car earlier that Saturday, it was yet to be registered and lacked auto insurance. Still, my young friend reasoned, as long as he was careful and didn’t get stopped or in an accident, everything would be just fine.

And he was right — until the vehicle was parked outside a bar and someone my friend didn’t even know plopped himself down on the hood of the car and opened a beer. That’s when local RCMP happened along, had a bit of a ruckus with the inebriated fellow and decided to check the vehicle’s plate.

You can figure out the rest: the vehicle was towed and its young owner had some explaining to do.

And this concerns me because?

So, what you might ask, does any of this have to do with corporate planning? Let me answer that by asking another question:

Is there anyone in Canada who hasn’t been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

For the last month or so, the creeping pandemic has created a national uproar as Canadians in every province and community come to grips with what appears to be an altered reality bearing deadly consequences.

We’ve been asked to stay home — or social-distance if we must go out — wash our hands and cough appropriately. Many more Canadians overseas have struggled to quickly get home. Travel is out of the question; staying put is the rule of the day.

COVID-19 is dominating print, television, radio and online news — sometimes to the point that there’s little room for much else.

Senior members of government and their designates are daily communicating with constituents, passing along the most-recent developments — be they good or bad.

Provincial and federal authorities are now tasked with implementing pandemic management plans and delivering subsequent programming to local and regional governments.

But even as senior governments go about that business, there is value for local government to conduct its own assessment of risk and potential impact and proactively engage the community at a more intimate level.

None of the folks occupying Council or Board seats or busy running municipal operations were responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, they have no control over its spread and not one of them woke up in late-February expecting trouble.

And yet, not 28 days later, all are — or should be — in some state of crisis management.

My point is this: an organization can do everything it can to keep itself out of trouble. It can follow its policies and procedures to the letter, undertake all manner of proactive maintenance, flawlessly follow legal direction. It can do all that and still find itself dragged into the muck because of another’s misstep — in this case, that misstep occurring more than halfway around the world in an urban food market.

Local governments should also take action

All too often, when this happens at the local government level in communities that content themselves with the knowledge they are so far removed from potential danger — be it natural disaster or national spotlight — local leaders have deemed crisis planning an unnecessary expenditure and inappropriate tasking of local resources.

As COVID-19 proves, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

A community might have an emergency management plan, but chances are it has collected a lot of dust over the years as it sits unused and even untested.

The solution is in preparation. Crisis planning doesn’t have to be all-encompassing; in fact it’s impossible to write a crisis response plan that has the capacity to foresee all potential scenarios. (In my community, the emergency management plan is 14-years-old and does not include a hazard-specific protocol for pandemic events.)

But the plan can be specific enough that resources are identified, roles and responsibilities are put to paper and protocols are in place to deal with whatever comes the organization’s way.

Failing to take the time to develop and maintain a crisis response plan — including a communication component — is the organizational equivalent of risking a ride downtown in an unregistered, uninsured car.

You might get away with it in the short-run, but chances are, eventually, some bum with a beer will happen along and mess everything up for you.

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