Power outages and water shortages opened a window into dealing with a different type of crisis.
As many of you know, I lived in the Chicago area for several years, so I’m used to below-freezing temperatures and snowstorms. And I was well equipped to handle the winter weather in Chicago, it was just…normal. But now that I live in Texas, I don’t even own a snow shovel and never even think about snow here.
That gives you some idea of how prepared I was when a huge winter storm hit the entire state over Valentine’s Day weekend, knocking out power for millions of people and leaving many without running water while temperatures dipped to single digits. The rolling blackouts affected nearly everyone in our company, some much worse than others. With our workforce still remote, the power loss effectively forced parts of our business into staggered availability as conditions varied for nearly a week.
The extreme weather was another test of our resilience in a year of rising to meet challenges. And it got me thinking, as I was trying to clear the snow from my walk with a gardening spade and a push broom –– we have to get better at preparing for the unexpected.
Now this is not a new sentiment. In fact, it’s a focus for me every day given what Ontic does to help businesses digitally transform physical security so they can detect potentially harmful physical threats, see around corners, head off crises and not be caught unaware. (The kicker is that unfortunately physical threats are so prevalent now that they should be expected.)
We were all blindsided by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some say it is a black swan event, outside the realm of regular expectations. Yet in recent years there have been numerous infectious disease outbreaks, such as Avian flu, MERS and Ebola. And there were numerous warnings about the next outbreak. Says journalist Ed Yong in The Atlantic:
“A global pandemic of this scale was inevitable. In recent years, hundreds of health experts have written books, white papers and op-eds warning of the possibility. Bill Gates has been telling anyone who would listen, including the 18 million viewers of his TED Talk. In 2018, I wrote a story for The Atlantic arguing that America was not ready for the pandemic that would eventually come.”
Should we be thinking that crisis is the new normal? A CEO survey from 2019 found that nearly 40% of U.S. companies have experienced two to five crises within the last five years. And that was before all the unexpected events of 2020.
Being ready for a crisis is much more than a question of insurance. Risk management involves the tricky balance of weighing the probability of an event versus the cost of prevention. And sometimes the rare events have the biggest impact.
As business leaders know, building resilience can come at a cost. COVID-19 shut down manufacturing around the world, disrupting long, complex supply chains. Businesses are considering options, such as increasing inventories, adding redundant suppliers or bringing manufacturing closer to home.Though warranted, these solutions mean allocating funds.
I would argue that, though digital transformation is still underway, many office-centric businesses were prepared for the sudden shift to remote work because of technology investments previously made to improve productivity or already-developed plans to invest in technology that were simply accelerated. Many workers have laptops and smartphones. Companies have adopted cloud-based software, making business applications accessible anywhere, anytime.
But the blackouts in Texas threw a slight monkey wrench into our best-laid plans for remote work. The energy crisis in Texas is a head scratcher because the electric grid in the state was built to withstand extreme summer heat when residents crank up their air conditioners. And winter cold spells in recent years also have tested the state’s power infrastructure. So as our experience of these events starts to move into the rear view, experts should be able to bolster our infrastructure in order to prevent future crises. How can they afford not to?
As a homeowner, I am considering additional options for keeping my family safe during power outages. I never thought I might need a fireplace in Texas, where the average high temperature in February is 65 degrees. Thinking back to my Chicago days, when there were seemingly feet of snow outside, fireplaces were ideal. A back-up generator is probably a more realistic purchase too. In the meantime, we’ve made the most of the crisis. My kids enjoyed pretending like they were back in Chicago…by using their wakeboards as sleds.
At the Ontic Center of Protective Intelligence, we take great pride in sharing resources and valuable insights so companies can avoid and identify threats in this very volatile environment. Please check out our whitepaper on Maintaining Security Vigilance in a Time of Crisis.