Faced with natural and man-made uncertainties or risks, an organization must conduct Business Continuity Planning (BCP) so that it can resume its operations quickly after a disastrous event and avoid significant losses.
Most big companies already have a BCP document although they refer to it differently, e.g., Emergency or Disaster Preparedness Plan. But they now need to review and improve such plans to address new risks, such as climate change.
The plans must also be properly communicated to all concerned and those who may be impacted by the risks. Those who do not have any such plan must now do so.
BCP is mainly about planning for risks-the likelihood or probability of some adverse impacts. Although we have some achievements on this topic, we still face some critical issues and challenges.
The first is the need to integrate and conduct systematically the three main processes for addressing risks-risk communication, risk assessment and risk management.
Often, we do risk management, such as earthquake drills, with little or no effort spent on risk communication and risk assessment.
Risk communication is the first step, which must also be a continuing process. It should bring stakeholders, including the local communities surrounding a business facility, together to a common ground that will bring about effective risk assessment and risk management.
Media play a major role in risk communication. But museums, such as the Philippine Science Centrum and Museo Pambata, have been helping also in creating awareness of climate change and other risks through interactive exhibits.
Other initiatives on risk communication include training or briefing on climate change and disaster preparedness conducted nationwide by the Private Sector Disaster Management Network; Senators Loren Legarda and Koko Pimentel; our Private-Public Partnership (PPP) Program on Climate Change, Disaster Preparedness, and Sustainability being led by the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food, Inc., and EARTH Institute Asia; and the TOWNS Foundation (with our Information Caravan on Climate Change, or IC3, which will be launched soon).
One issue in risk communication is the need to translate some of the concepts and terms into understandable and easy-to-recall language. Climate change is one critical concept that people must understand. MAP and EARTH, with the support of Holcim, conducted a contest on the translation of the term, with judges coming from various disciplines. The winning translation submitted by Alvi Asis was “Di-Pangkaraniwang Pagbabago ng Klima.” I have been using a similar but shorter phrase—“Kakaibang Pagbabago ng Klima.”
The name and acronym of the agency that is responsible for disaster reduction—the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC)—is not easy to recall.
Since everyone in the Philippines has a nickname, the Council could perhaps adopt a nickname-in Filipino.
Even the term “disaster risk reduction,” which is now widely used, needs rethinking as it involves a redundancy—disaster is the “adverse impact” that is already part of the “risk” definition.
In risk communication, we need to recognize the role of risk perception-what people know, think and feel about risks. The high risk of deaths from volcanic eruption is due to the low risk perception associated with this risk.
“It is an act of God,” as some people say, so they do not readily get out of harm’s way even when a volcano is already erupting.
We must also recognize the role of arts and culture in risk communication. I have observed how the artistic presentations of the Earthsavers’ DREAM Ensemble can communicate risk concepts to local people better than technical lectures.
But the process of risk assessment is one where being technical is essential. The vulnerability and other types of assessments being conducted by scientists and technical specialists in the Manila Observatory at Ateneo, Marine Science Institute (MSI) and the National Institute of Geological Science at UP, Philippine Volcanology Institute and the Mining and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) produce valuable information that must be considered in the risk assessment part of BCP.
For example, TOWNS awardee Laura David and her colleagues at the UP-MSI have recently produced a new map of Philippine exposure to climate change in terms of extreme heating and rainfall events, sea level rise, and other related risks.
Many local government units (LGUs) also conduct some types of risk assessment with the help of consultants for their disaster preparedness plan or Comprehensive Land Use Plan. But in most cases, the results of this work are in written reports that cannot be easily updated or accessed by others.
Some organizations have been also conducting surveys to assess practices on or related to risk management.
PriceWaterhouse Coopers, for example, has conducted a survey of Philippine business response to climate change.
Of the 57 organizations that participated in the survey, 60 percent said they are somewhat prepared to manage the adverse impacts of climate change and only 2 percent are somewhat unprepared. About 33 percent of them have a formal management-approved plan.
Another initiative on assessment is the book on “Best Practices on Climate Change Adaptation” that the DENR, through its Foreign-Assisted and Special Programs Office, is currently preparing with my support as adviser and editor.
We have collected about 100 cases from private and public organizations for the book, which is now in the publication stage.
Despite those activities, more work still needs to be done. This work includes the vulnerability assessments of public infrastructure, such as the LRT.
On risk management, supportive systems, e.g., financial system, which affect the ability to resume business operations quickly, need review. One recommendation is to set up a new system that can make funds available to those who need them fast during and after a disaster.
At the regional level, I have proposed the setting up of the Asian Risk Management Fund that can cover the risks faced by Asian organizations (at the Launch of the Draft Highlights of the “Asean, the PRC, and India: The Great Transformation,” 45th ADB Board of Governors Meeting, Manila).
At present, a company insures its assets with a local insurance company, which re-insures its exposure further with a company in London or somewhere else. An Asian fund that can cover such need for better insurance cover can also prevent or reduce the outflow of insurance premiums from the region.
New technologies for monitoring changing environmental conditions, such as an automated weather monitoring system, are also needed at strategic locations. Webcast Technologies has installed one such system in the UP-Ayala Land Techno Hub in Diliman, Quezon City.
While most big business enterprises are already somewhat prepared with some type of plans, the micro and small and medium enterprises need assistance on BCP.
But BCP is not just the concern of business; it is the concern of all, in both the private and public sectors, including LGUs.
Our PPP program mentioned above aims to help improve local disaster preparedness with a Google-based platform that can make data easier to complete, update, and be accessible to all concerned.
BCP must be positioned well in an organization because the work needs priority attention and participation of all employees.
In doing BCP, we need to consider not only the acute risks, such as earthquakes, that lead to emergencies. We must also identify and attend to chronic risks that may eventually become acute.
The energy situation in Mindanao and the water situation in Bulacan are some examples of chronic risks that have become acute. The most important chronic risk is poverty, which is already causing acute peace and order risks in some areas.
But we also need to see the opportunities behind the risks. One way to do so is to relate BCP to the goal of achieving a Green Economy, the theme of the Rio+20 world summit on sustainable development in June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Our PPP Program is one initiative along this line.
To address deforestation, we have chosen bamboo for both greening and sustainable business.
Bamboo has been used in disasters: the bamboo bridge that the Philippine Alliance built in Matina, Davao City, not only survived the flash flood that took the lives of some people; it also served as an evacuation platform during the emergency.
In our PPP, we are exploring bamboo for food, construction materials, and bioenergy-our potential contribution toward the continuity of a sustainable economy.
(The author is co-chairman of the Climate Change and Sustainable Development Committee of the Management Association of the Philippines and president of EARTH Institute Asia, Inc. She also coordinates the PPP Program mentioned in the article, which is an expanded version of her comments as panelist at the recent Manila Observatory-hosted Roundtable on BCP with UN’s Margareta Wahlstrom. Feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. For previous articles, visit www.map.org.ph.)