Disasters & Catastrophes: None of Your Business, Or Risks You Must Manage?

Disasters & Catastrophes: None of your Business, or Risks you must Manage?


Brexit, Fake News, populism, impending nuclear Armageddon, floods, pestilence and disease – just a taste of the daily diet of risks and issues that are shared with us through mainstream and social media.

But what are the real risks for companies and how can leaders minimise disruption to business continuity?

Thankfully, help is at hand in the form of a major input to the World Economic Forum in Davos. The WEF Global Risks Report has, for 13 years, tracked, categorised and classified major risks faced by society, governments and businesses. Take the report’s top three most likely risks with the biggest impact: extreme weather events, natural disasters, failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation. It’s worth noting that natural disasters inflicted damage costing US$175 billion globally in 2016 – and some 70% of those costs were not insured.

Natural disasters – tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, storms and volcanic eruptions may appear to have nothing to do with the day-to-day business of your company… until you have staff visiting Japan at the time of the tsunami, or your international sales and marketing people are grounded for days because of volcanic ash clouds. Both of these natural hazards impacted operations within companies I worked for, but some planning helped mitigate the damage and either kept the businesses running or reduced their downtime.

Since the mid-2000s, we tracked all travellers through a third-party ‘travel tracker’ which enabled us to identify which planes our people were on, or scheduled to fly on, and which cities and hotels they were staying in. We also had all of their contact details and were able to ‘push’ information and advice to them and ask them to ‘check in’ and report their status. We coordinated the crisis response via a dedicated web-based incident management platform which connected all local and headquarters crisis teams and enabled them to work together on the most up-to-date, time-stamped information and share updates from wherever they were.

The volcanic ash situation which grounded aviation for several days, was inconvenient in that it only involved our staff having to book extended hotel stays, working remotely and catching a later flight back home. The tsunami (both in Asia and in Japan) had potentially much more serious consequences.

Accounting for people who are inconvenienced while travelling is one thing – accounting for people to find out whether they are alive or not is quite another, but we used the same tracking and crisis tools and approaches as we did for the ash cloud. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the employer’s duty of care extends to all your staff, regardless of location.

So, while these ‘big risks’ look like they are someone else’s responsibility, companies must have assessed whether they or their people will be affected by them and if so, what the plan is to keep them safe, ensure business continuity and be able to efficiently handle events if something goes badly wrong.


Review the Risks: The contents of the Global Risks Report should prompt companies to implement a regular and systematic review of risks, collect input on risks from business units and from headquarters, and work them through an Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) process. A brief guide to the ERM can be found here. The output from the ERM gives a set of most likely and most damaging risks that would have a material impact on the company. Management needs then to decide whether to avoid, share (insure, JV) or mitigate the risk. For more on natural disasters, Munich Re has an excellent resource available here.

Mitigation: Measures should include the establishment of a crisis management capability/process at headquarters and in remote locations, together with training and exercises in order to keep the teams operating at peak performance. If there is an established capability then test it with a big risk scenario, assess both the individuals in the crisis teams and the process and make it tough, because it is better to train hard, fight easy.

Your People Have a Duty of Care: If you have staff members who travel for business, or work on customer sites, check your processes for pre-trip briefings, travel tracking, insurance and contact procedures. Much of this is treated as ‘housekeeping’, but it’s important – and it’s too late if you’re looking for phone numbers during the incident. For some challenging countries, you should assess them to see if they are medically and psychologically fit to work there.

Crisis Management as a Team Sport: Having a reputation and track record as a resilient company in the face of a crisis is welcomed by customers who want to do business with partners who take risk seriously and can be relied on to be back up to speed fast after an incident. Check which elements of your customers’ and suppliers’ crisis management and business continuity plans you need to be aware of and, as far as you can, share key elements of your own plans and processes. At best, integrate them and carry out joint exercises.


At 6 Group, we work with clients on crisis and issues management, training and pressure-testing crisis plans. You can learn more about our Crisis Management Audit here or, alternatively, to have a discussion about your requirements, get in touch.

Industry news & insights

View all