Expert of the Week   for  02 - 08 Feb 2015

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Timothy Wilcox

Sub Regional Coordinator (Pacific)

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction - Sub-Regional Office for the Pacific (UNISDR Pacific) Expertise:  Areas of expertise include: Disaster Risk Management; international development; workplace health and safety; business continuity management; stakeholder engagement; workplace rehabilitation; donor coordination; policy development; program management; and land search and rescue.

Mr Timothy Wilcox is Head of UNISDR’s Sub-Regional Office for the Pacific, which covers 18 Pacific Island Countries and Territories, including Australia and New Zealand. Prior to joining UNISDR, he served in the Fiji National Occupational Health and Safety Service and 13 years in the Australian Public Service including the Australian Diplomatic Corp posted to Suva, Fiji. During this time, he worked many years in the former Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), implementing disaster risk management, humanitarian and regional pandemic programs in both the Pacific and Asia. Having spent six years in the emergency response sector in the Australian Capital Territory and Queensland, he is a strong advocate for reducing the risk of disasters and in particular reducing the risk of the private sector to build the resiliency of communities. He has worked closely with Pacific businesses in identifying new innovative activities to help build their resiliency to the increasing frequency of natural hazards in the region, particularly for the hotel industry which plays a large role in local economies. He has also developed a number of tools for the private sector on business continuity managment in the USA. He holds post-graduate qualifications in Emergency Management from Florida State University, as well as a Masters of Human Services with Honours and a Bachelor of Social Work. He is a member of the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM) and the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM).

Business Resiliency to Natural Hazards: Immunize your business from disasters today

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QQuestion by Mr Fabian Yory

Hello Mr Wilcox, while the people that depend about your small business not receive the alerts, the risk is even present. How make this? that the risk area can receive the alerts at time? (Sorry for the bad english)

Mr Fabian Yory Engineer | Independent

APosted on 08 Feb 2015

Thank you Mr Yory.  Your english is much better than my spanish.  It is very important that small businesses be able to receive alerts from the local authorities about approaching natural hazards (e.g. floods, hurricanes, bush fires and tsunamis) and even smaller events such as extended power outages and water cuts, which can significantly affect businesses operations.  The best way this can be achieved is for local authorities to recognise the private sector as a key partner and include them into their disaster management planning and response system. 

By including them in the planning stages the private sector can ensure their concerns are heard and addressed by the emergency plans established by the local authorities.  The added benefit of this is that the local authorities will also see how the private sector can help them during a disaster.  For example: the ability of small businesses to provide food, water and other supplies to the community during and after a disaster.  If the businesses are able to resist the effects of the hazard and remain operational, then that is one less thing for local authorities to worry about and the surrounding community will benefit from businesses operating as close to normal as possible.

One technique that has proved very useful in many parts of the world, including developing countries, is the use of text message alerts and warnings to peoples mobile phones.  Local authorities can partner with telecommunication companies to send out alerts via text messages to people's mobile phones whether it is a flood warning, hurricane update or severe weather warning.  It is a cheap, fast and increasingly effective method in many parts of the world now, including the Pacific, as it uses existing infrastructure and reaches individuals directly and immediately.

QQuestion by Ms Ana Richter

To a greater or lesser extent, the private sector plays an important role in communities throughout the entire world. Although, the BCP is closely linked to a business investment decision and it wouldn't fit the reality of, for instance, a poor city - where they don’t have access to insurance or the possibility of performing a BCP. How to address the need for business resilience in such places?

Ms Ana Richter - | -

APosted on 08 Feb 2015

This is an important issue in developing countries where insurance is either not available to businesses or it is not a ready option given the high cost involved.

The traditional approach to developing a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) on a business-wide level can often be an involved and costly process. However, reducing risk of one’s business to hazards and/or creating a BCP does not necessarily have to be an expensive venture for small businesses, particularly in developing countries. In fact, much of it is common sense and requires mostly the investment of time in planning.  Such examples include but are not limited to 1) backing up computer data or transferring hard copies to electronic format; 2) identifying alternate supply chains and enter into pre-arranged agreements; 3) creating an emergency managment plan for your employees; 4) identifying and plan for an alternate work location; and 5) creating a crisis communications plan for all employees, vendors and business partners.  The following 12 tips for a business disaster plan further outlines these

There are also a range of materials available to raise awareness, guidance documentation to build business resileince and even free BCP templates and tools online that can be used.  But part of the problem is that most of the small businesses in poor areas of the world are not aware of them, don't have access to these or don't know where to find them or how to use them. This is where development partners and local chambers of commerce can come in.

My office in the Pacific is currently partnering with the South Pacific Tourist Organisation and a number of New Zealand companies to facilitate workshops for small locally owned resorts and hotels to undertake their own risk assessments  and to create emergency preparedness plans and BCPs from these. Most had never seen a BCP before but by using simple templates and walking through it with them, they have been able to develop their own.  More broadly speaking, the workshop takes a very practical approach where we walk through the hotel identifying risks and then getting the hotel to identify simple yet effective ways of reducing that risk whether it be as simple as developing a tsunami evacuation plan for guests and staff, moving the back-up generators to higher ground or identifying alternate food supply options should the local ferry not be operating.

Although they didn't have insurance, participants saw the assessments and subsequent BCP as a helpful alternative to help them reduce risk and to develop strategies of their own to help them maintain as close to normal operations as possible during natural hazards and disasters.

If development partners such as these are not available, then the local chambers of commerce and business associations are ideal for bringing the businesses together and addressing and promoting the issue of reducing risk among its members, encouraging them to talk to each other and network on such issues, plan for hazards and supporting their use of BCPs.