Business Continuity Training in the Mohawk Valley

I’m very pleased to be working with the Mohawk Valley Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Utica, NY to present a seminar for small business owners and others who may be interested in how to prepare their businesses for disaster.  I’ll be providing information and resources on the steps you should take to prepare your business and your employees.  The seminar will be held on Thursday July 10 at the SBDC offices at SUNY IT from 9:00 – 10:30 am.  To register please call 315-792-7547 or email  The workshop fee is $15.

There will also be a presentation on July 17 on Cyber Security conducted by Mr. James Carroll of Security Management Partners.  Registration and fee information is the same.

I hope to see you there!

MV Business Continuity Flyer

MV Business Continuity Flyer

Are You Inviting the Right People to Your Exercises?

A couple of days ago I started reading Rumsfeld’s Rules – Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life.  Hopefully you have some familiarity with Donald Rumsfeld – the man was a naval aviator, US Congressman, aide to four US presidents, corporate CEO, and is the only person to ever serve as Secretary of Defense twice.  Politics aside, Mr. Rumsfeld has had quite a prolific career.  Throughout this career he has assembled a variety of mantra, proverbs, and sayings which he has used to help guide his career and serve as advice to others.

Early in the book, Mr. Rumsfeld talks about meetings.  What he mentions struck me as solid guidance not only for meetings but also for exercises.  He says “There is a balance that needs to be struck in determining who to invite to a meeting.  You want those who need to be there to contribute substance to the discussion.  But it can be useful to have people who may not be in a position to directly offer substantive input but will benefit from hearing how and why certain decision are being reached.”  Very often exercise offer great opportunity for people to learn – not only the participants but ‘shadowers’ as well.

Mr. Rumsfeld continues on to say “Including a range of people can also ensure that a variety of perspectives will be considered and help identify gaps in information and views.”  Consider that we build, conduct, and evaluate exercises primarily to test plans, polices, and procedures.  This testing is best performed by a spectrum of individuals giving different ideas and perspectives.  Someone may interpret a policy in a completely different way or have an approach to a problem that hasn’t been considered prior.  These fresh ideas, even if flawed, should be brought out into the open for discussion and consideration.

If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time, you probably know that I prefer smaller meetings and have stressed that participants in exercises should be of a manageable number.  As Mr. Rumsfeld says, there is a balance that must be struck.  You want to be inclusive, but large numbers lend themselves to over-discussion and tangents.  For meetings do you expect the person to add value?  Should they be there given their area of responsibility?  Similarly in exercises is the individual associated with the objectives of the exercise?  (Recall that in exercises we should always reflect on the objectives throughout the entire design process).  When we add more participants to an exercise we need to ensure that they have something to participate in, so injects must be written for them and their activities must be evaluated.

A few years back my team was designing a table top exercise as a lead-in to a significant full-scale exercise.  We did not want to start the full-scale with the initial response, as so many often times are, as the objectives of that exercise were to test the extended response and to examine issues beyond the initial response.  That said, we felt it not fair for us to design such a large exercise by dictating what the first responders would do in the first 48 hours, rather we wanted them to tell us themselves.  So we designed a table top exercise to provide us with their actions both ‘boots on the ground’ as well as policy-level including emergency declarations, evacuation areas, and mutual aid requests.  We were quite fortunate that the design process for the exercise as a whole was very well received and many agencies wanted to participate – from federal, state, county, and local jurisdictions.  The exercise was centered on the state capital, which tends to garner even more attention and participation and included a scenario that most agencies have not participated in prior.  Needless to say, we had a lot of interest.  Nearly every agency invited to the table top wanted to bring not one or two additional people but often times three or four.  We discussed this matter with a few of the key agencies, asking of these were needed participants or observers.  The answer we got was that they were both.  Because of the technical nature of the incident, many agencies realized they needed their main spokesperson supported by one or more technical experts.  We realized this was a fair and reasonable request, but we still needed to figure out how to accommodate them all!

We decided to permit each representative to have a ‘second chair’ – someone seated directly behind them who could advise on technical matters.  Additional specialists were available to them in an adjacent room, which had the discussion live broadcast to them via closed circuit television.  Specialists could be ‘swapped out’ at any time based on the needs of the discussion.  This solution worked well for the exercise, keeping the number of direct participants manageable and meeting the needs of participants to have their specialists available to advise on technical matters – which truly helped inform their decisions and ultimately the outcome of the exercise.

Sometimes, though, you have to say ‘no’.  Realize that as an exercise designer you MUST set a firm deadline on additional participants.  Participants that are added late can set your design team back significantly by needing to ensure that they are written into the exercise and have sufficient activity to make their participation worth while for both them as well as the exercise as a whole – which can be particularly challenging if they are from a different jurisdiction or discipline altogether.  I’ve had to turn down several interested parties and while it’s often difficult to say no, it’s often for the better – and your design team will respect you for it.

What thoughts do you have on ‘right sizing’ your meetings and exercises?  Is there certain guidance that you use?

©2014 Timothy Riecker

Business Continuity – More than just a plan

Don't throw away all of your effort to build your business - Be prepared!  (image courtesy of FEMA)

Don’t throw away all of your effort to build your business – Be prepared! (image courtesy of FEMA)

Every year businesses are forced to close due to the impacts of disaster.  Research from the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) tells us that the top four threats to business suffering the impact of disaster are:

  1. Power Loss
  2. Loss of Sales and Customers
  3. Length of Recovery
  4. Uninsured Loss

How can businesses protect themselves against these impacts?  Planning for them is, of course, the easy answer.  Just like governments, though, wouldn’t it make the most sense for a business to have an emergency preparedness program in place?

Consider that small business owners invest a great deal of time, energy, and funding to build and grow their business.  As an independent consultant I can be working on a variety of things on any given day including project management, marketing, and accounting.  Small business owners that deal with products (vs services) often times have even more to deal with including inventory, vendors, and distributors.  The foundation of these entrepreneurial efforts is often times the business plan.  Aspiring business owners put a lot of effort into creating this plan which describes what the business will do, what the market capacity is, what the competition looks like, and even trying to forecast revenues for several years.  A successful business may continue elements of this business plan years later through a strategic plan intended to guide growth and company-wide efforts.  Doesn’t it make sense that if we put so much effort into building and growing our businesses that we put some effort into ensuring that our businesses will survive a disaster?

As a society we generally like plans.  They are an organized tome capturing our assumptions, ideas, and strategies to accomplish something.  Plans are good and certainly help us through a great deal.  A disaster plan, though, is not a disaster program.  The plan may embody our program, helping to guide and inform our decisions in the event of a disaster, but our preparedness efforts must stretch beyond a plan if we are to be successful.  Consider DHS’ POETE capability elements – Planning, Training, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercising.  With these elements in your head scroll back up to those top four threats from the NFIB and give them a moment of thought.  You probably now have some additional ideas as to how you can address and prevent each of those with activity which may go beyond planning.

This recent article from Small Business Trends (which provided my initial inspiration for this blog post) provides a good outline of initial considerations for every business relative to disaster preparedness.

What does your business do to be better prepared?

Shameless plug time: Need help building your business continuity program?  Emergency Preparedness Solutions can help!  Contact us at or check out our website at

© 2014 Timothy Riecker


Was the Sewol Korea’s Katrina?

By now everyone is familiar with the South Korean disaster this past April – the sinking of the MV Sewol and the loss of almost 300 passengers, most of which were high school students, and to date, two divers involved in the recovery of the bodies.  The vessel was carrying almost 4000 tons of cargo – over 4 times its rated limit.  The morning of its fateful trip, the top-heavy Sewol took on water and capsized.  A lack of leadership on the vessel resulting in confusion, trapping hundreds in a watery grave.  This would be a horrific disaster for any nation to face.

Through the years we’ve seen numerous ferry boat disasters around the world, most of which are off the shores of developing nations – those with few if any safety standards and a lack of regulatory and enforcement agencies.  Rarely, however, do we see ferry boat disasters occurring in developed nations.  In many regards we consider South Korea our peer and sometimes even an innovator, especially in the areas of technology and engineering.  It seems, however, that regulation has not kept up with innovation.  South Korea’s response efforts have also been criticized.

In 2005, the United States suffered the impacts of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast.  Over 1800 people lost their lives.  The disaster within the disaster was how poorly our emergency management system worked.  Their were failures at higher levels of Federal and State government, resulting in response delays and poor coordination and delivery of resources.  FEMA was blamed for most of these failures.  People were fired or asked to resign and new plans were created and implemented – most of which at the behest of legislators.

Now in South Korea in the wake of the ferry tragedy, their federal government is on the verge of launching a new national safety agency, meant to usurp responsibilities from various other federal agencies including the Ministry of Security and Public Administration, the National Emergency Management Agency, the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, and the Coast Guard.  Change is clearly needed, but will a new organization bring about the changes needed to protect the citizens of South Korea?

We tend to see a great deal of change when tragedies such as this occur.  Obviously changes need to be made, but few accept responsibility.  Changes also seem to be made to give the illusion of progress, with no real plans set in place to address the underlying issues that exist.  It seems people feel that change itself will provide the fixes which are needed.  We’ve seen reorganizations put in place at FEMA on several occasions, intended to streamline or address dysfunctionality.  We’ve seen the same happen with the American Red Cross – who seems to alternate between two different organizational models with each decade.  Just recently the Secretary of the Veterans Affairs Administration resided amidst their scandal – activities which have taken place quite a distance from his post, activities which you hear little responsibility taken by the individual hospital administrators where it truly lies.

It’s not to say that all organizational change is unnecessary.  Organizations are organic, living, breathing entities – not static creations.  They must evolve and adapt to continue being successful.  That doesn’t mean, however, that every occurrence of negative press necessitates an organizational change.  Organizational changes are expensive in time, money, and the anxiety of employees.  They stall out progress of the organization until rebuilding is complete, then progress resumes slowly as the kinks are worked out.  Many think a plan for reorganization is simply drawing a new organization chart and that its implementation, after the firing of a few people and handing out new titles to others can be implemented overnight.  This, clearly, is fundamentally wrong.  Consider that even small businesses put a great deal of time into creating business plans which outline the resources, organization, and strategy of a new company.

I would challenge that it’s the people and the culture of these agencies that need to change.  Certainly they need new or different approaches to problems, some adjustments in their chain of command, and the tools to do their jobs better.  A radical reorganization should only take place if it’s completely necessary.  Consider what the creation of DHS has done for us – yes, their have been some improvements in prevention, preparedness and response; but at what cost?  A massive umbrella agency with coordination and leadership problems of its own.  DHS didn’t escape Katrina unscathed either due to its position between the FEMA Administrator and the President.

It seems that reorganization is the easy knee-jerk answer to problems.  Let’s slow down a bit, assess the failures and their causes, and address the internal problems first.  Without doing so, new agencies and new titles will carry the same problems.

© Timothy Riecker 2014

App Review – The ASTD Trainer’s Toolkit

ASTD app home screen

ASTD app home screen

A few weeks ago I downloaded the new ASTD (the American Society for Training and Development – recently changed to the Association for Talent Development) iOS app, the ASTD Trainer’s Toolkit.  Surprisingly, as the ASTD doesn’t give much away, this app is FREE!  The ASTD info site for the app can be found here.  As their website states, the app includes 20 original classroom and virtual training activities to energize, motivate, and help learners to retain content.  The activities include closings, energizers, forming groups, and topical openings.  All of this content is internal to the app.  The app also includes links to external content such as articles on Training and Development (T&D) and a selection of T&D books through links to external content (the ASTD website for articles, and the iTunes Library – for iOS users – for the books).  There is an article native to the app titled ‘Intro to Facilitation’ and an ability to create your own notes, add your own activities (they provide you with a template), and add their activities to your own list of favorites.  While the app can function as a stand-alone on your device, you can also log in through Facebook or Google to access your data from anywhere.

This can be a handy app when you are stuck trying to think of a learning activity for a group.  They break each activity down with a variety of essential pieces of information, including the size of the group the activity is applicable for, the time of the activity, the person who contributed the activity, the goal of the activity, the materials and/or technology needed for the activity, search tags related to the activity, and a step by step process for conducting the activity.  They also provide some facilitator notes/tips for each activity.  The user can enter their own notes for each activity or use an in-app timer.  You can also tap the ‘favorite’ star in the upper right corner to add the activity to your list of favorites.  You can also use the in-app search function to find activities based on various metrics such as group size or time limit.

In typical ASTD fashion, however, there are plenty of opportunities for in-app purchases.  Not only the books, but you can also download additional activities from the app.  These additional activities include Icebreakers, Openings, Reviews and Teachbacks, Trainer Tools and Techniques – each for $1.99, or all of them for $5.99.  There does not appear to be a limit on the number of article views from the app – if you are familiar with ASTD’s website, non-members have a great deal of restrictions on viewing their articles.

All in all, it’s a good app with solid, easy to reference information.  The app did crash on me since my first download of it, resulting in a need to delete the app and reinstall it.  I’d also like to see more information provided in the app.  Activities are great – and we should all include more objective-driven activities into our training – but what about other areas of training?  Perhaps the steps of instructional design – be it the ADDIE or SAM process?  Perhaps a reference for Bloom’s Taxonomy or the Kirkpatrick levels of evaluation – two things I often reference when designing instruction or when writing a proposal involving instructional design (especially the action words associated with each level of Bloom’s Taxonomy!).  Remember that training is more than just what occurs in a classroom.  I appreciate the ASTD/ATD for providing us with this app, but challenge them to give us more (and for free, thank you very much!).

Give the app a try yourself and let me know what you think.


Infographic on Organizational Continuity

Great infographic from!

Recovery Diva

From — Can Your Organization Survive a Natural Disaster; an Infogram re Business Preparedness for Disasters.  You can browse it online or printed it off as a poster, in 6 pages. Apparently the source is Boston University’s School of Management.

This makes a nice companion to the infographic on business continuitythat I cited last fall.

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Book Review – The Manager’s Guide to Presentations

I was recently asked by Impackt Publishing to review one of their newest publications, The Manager’s Guide to Presentations (2014. ISBN-13 978-1783000142.  The book was authored by Lauren M. Hug, an attorney who has likely both seen and conducted a number of presentations.  The books is available in both paperback (which I reviewed) and e-book.  Providing full disclosure, I was not compensated for the review, but was provided with a review copy. 

Initially I was a bit skeptical, as the paperback version is only 44 pages.  Tomes of 100s of pages have been published on the topic.  What information worth publishing can be found in only 44 pages?  Surprisingly, quite a bit! 

The target audience for the book is new managers, who often, as I can personally attest, often have little to no experience developing or delivering presentations.  Yet, given their position, are often called upon to give a variety of presentations.  The book is concise, which is perfect for managers with little available time, providing step by step guidance and several job aids to help them identify needs, outline presentation content, and deliver their presentation. 

If you’ve read any of my blog posts in the past on presentations or training, you know I’m big on ensuring an audience focus – they are, after all, the reason why we are doing the presentation in the first place.  Given that, I was initially dismayed that there was little mention of the audience in the early pages of the book.  However, as I progressed through the book, I realized the sense of the author’s approach.  Instead of focusing first on the audience, the author, keeping in mind that HER target audience was new managers, asks these new managers to put the focus on themselves first.  It’s a great reality check for new managers.  The author emphasizes the need for new managers to examine their own preferences, presentation tendencies, fears, and their particular goal for the presentation.  Some of these reflections are longer-term issues which likely don’t need to be examined for each and every presentation, but certainly the question of the new manager’s goal for the presentation is one that should be asked for each presentation given. 

Once the internal reflection is complete, the author directs the new manager toward the needs of the audience.  While she doesn’t spend as much time on audience analysis as I would like, she still hits the highlights.  She also provides a few items of consideration toward the logistical needs and environment of the presentation, with heavy emphasis on knowing the environment you are stepping into and being prepared for it. 

The second chapter focuses on designing the presentation.  I was pleased here to see considerable reference to the audience, their needs, and what the presenter needed them to walk away with.  Job aids prompting the reader to identify the audience appeal, presentation points, and a call to action help focus the neophyte presenter – brief but good points that Nancy Duarte would be proud of.  They finish off the chapter with several points on audience interaction.  I was quite pleased to see this, particularly since many presenters (both new and experienced) have a tendency to simply present rather than engage the audience. 

The third and final chapter focuses on body language and practicing the presentation.  A number of great ideas are given in this chapter, including pre-presentation discussions with stakeholders, when and how to rehearse, and conducting Q&A sessions. 

Overall, the book is quite effective.  It’s short and to the point, which is ideal for managers who have their attention pulled in many directions.  I would feel confident in handing this book off to a new manager and, if they followed the guidance contained therein, they would be successful in their presentation endeavor.  It’s not going to turn anyone into a presentation expert, but that’s not the goal of the book.  It provides great ideas and insight and the job aids are excellent.  Kudos to the author and publisher for identifying a need and providing good, concise information to address it. 

Progress with FAA with UAVs

Tuesday morning I attended a panel discussion hosted by the Greater Utica Chamber of Commerce focused on providing information to areas businesses about the FAA‘s selection of the former Griffiss Air Base/Oneida County Airport as one of six sites in the nation to test integration of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) into commercial airspace.  The presentations were excellent, with efforts centered around the NUAIR Alliance, a conglomerate of public, private, and educational entities working toward testing airspace integration technologies and protocols, as well as various uses and applications of UAVs, including those for agriculture, commercial enterprise, and public safety. 

Interestingly enough, as mentioned by the panelists, UAVs, or drones as they are often referred, have been in regular use in other nations for years.  Japan, for example, has been using UAVs for agricultural applications such as spraying crops, for the last 10 years.  France, too, has been using UAVs for various purposes.  Here in the US, we largely face matters of regulation as the barrier to utilizing UAVs for non-military applications.  The FAA, who would enact these regulations, is largely looking at matters of safety related to the integration of UAVs into commercial airspace.  Researching these matters and making recommendations to the FAA through real life application is the goal of NUAIR.  Amongst the partners of the NUAIR Alliance are private firms who wish to use UAV technology for agricultural and commercial applications.  These companies, smartly, are now in on the ground floor of this technology in the United States.

With most drones being relatively inexpensive, this technology is accessible for both small farmers and large companies.  Amazon, the online retain giant, has already expressed interest in using UAVs to deliver packages.  As for public safety applications (I’ve written before about this), the possibilities are practically endless.  Those who have privacy concerns have little ground for blocking development of these life saving tools.  Current privacy laws, up to and including the US Constitution, already address these concerns and provide the foundation for UAV applications in law enforcement.  The new Fox show, Almost Human, which is set in the future, brilliantly displays heavy use of drones to track suspects and serve other law enforcement purposes which are better served with smaller, more agile UAVs rather than the piloted helicopters we use today.  These are faster to deploy and minimize human risk.  Thus far, the show has not displayed any use of UAVs with the capability to use lethal force.  Law enforcement aside, there are numerous other public safety applications.  A recent article about massive boulders crushing a farm house in Italy displayed images and video, reportedly taken by UAVs.  Consider similar technology leveraged for a missing person search or to gather information on the extent of a wild fire or damages from a tornado. 

The future of UAVs is exciting and I’m thrilled for the test grounds to be practically in my own back yard.  I’m looking forward to the first UAV sighting near my property as the NUAIR partners conduct tests.  Technology certainly is exciting!

Infographic on Business Continuity After a Disaster

Recovery Diva

The folks at the CDC Foundation has prepared a really excellent interactive graphic. See this  Business Continuity infographic.

Since the Diva wanted to print it off and use it as a poster, the staff at the foundation were gracious enough to break it up into 3 pdf files so that it would print off.  If you want a copy of the 3 files to print, contact the Diva directly.

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Improving your writing

A couple nights ago I was reading through a selection of articles and blogs by way of Zite, which is one of my favorite ways to get topical articles.  One of the posts that was selected for me was Improving Your Academic Writing: My top 10 tips, a blog post by Raul Pacheco-Vega, PhD.  Dr. Pacheco-Vega’s post is filled with common sense but very important tips on writing.  While the title of his post specified academic writing, his principles really apply across the board to any writer and any type of writing – be it technical, fiction, blogging, etc.

Good writing skills are something I think are lacking more and more in the professional world.  Through my professional career I’ve found myself coaching college graduates on foundational professional writing technique.  Clearly I enjoy writing, otherwise I wouldn’t be blogging, writing emergency plans, and designing training courses and preparedness exercises.  I’ve found that blogging, even in the midst of those other writing projects, helps hone and improve my writing skills.

While I’ve listed his tips below, please be sure to visit Dr. Pacheco-Vega’s post for his full narrative.

1) Be disciplined and write every day.

2) Give yourself the best tools to write.

3) Write as you would speak.

4) Have other people read your pieces to provide you with feedback.

5) Read a lot, and across different disciplines.

6) Write for your audience.

7) Write without interruptions.

8) Take care of yourself.

9) Practice your writing – write a lot.

10) When stuck, write by hand.