Promotion of Business Continuity for Local Authorities

PlanB consulting has developed an innovative way of promoting business continuity to the local community, working with Shetland Islands Council. This methodology has been adopted as best practice by the Cabinet Office and has recently won a highly commended award for the Emergency Planning Initiative of the Year at the Emergency Planning Society’s Awards 2011.

When Shetland Islands Council decided to review the way it delivered business continuity (BC) advice to the community, it recognised the need to engage the widest possible audience and overcome the often low take-up of seminars, lectures and other forms of traditional BC support.

“In the past we used to run business continuity workshops and hold seminars for voluntary groups and emergency services,” says Ingrid Gall, the council’s emergency planning and resilience officer. “But we’d had limited success, often with quite minimal attendance.”

The Council took an innovative approach to addressing these challenges. Following a tender process, it appointed a Glasgow-based firm of business continuity consultants to devise an online programme of presentations –  www.shetlandcontinuity.co.uk – and an accompanying workbook, all inspired by island life.

“We needed to overcome the common attitude that insurance companies would take care of any disasters,” says Ingrid. “What businesses often didn’t consider was, if their business had to temporarily close due to a disaster, would they find an alternative supplier, would they lose customers, and would they lose staff? These are the themes that the new training aims to develop.”

Such issues are particularly important in the Shetland Islands, which has seen more than its share of commercially-damaging incidents in recent years, from storms to maritime disasters.

Working closely with the consultants, the Council recognised the vulnerability of the islands to natural and man-made catastrophes, and was keen to make this factor a key component of the online campaign.

The course uses a series of tailor-made online video and audio presentations to help business owners understand the practical relevance of BC to their businesses and to their local environment. As the presentations are online, users can view them at their own pace, and then complete a workbook and a series of contingency checklists to help them develop their own BC plan.

The course begins with a ‘newsreader’ highlighting some of the perils of island life and of coastal climates. The checklists use specific examples of local industries. For instance, the section covering asset protection cites creel boats and lobster pots as key assets to protect. And the island’s unique logistical challenges are also explored, addressing the potential absence of the ferry service in times of severe weather and rough seas.

For Ingrid, this practical, local focus, and the ability for users to dip in and out at their own pace, is key to overcoming business apathy when faced with generic BC information, or one-off seminars.

“The website is very practical, easy to work through, and means people can have a full contingency plan of their own within a matter of hours,” she says. “It’s short, sharp and above all, specifically relates to the businesses and challenges we have here on the islands.”

After the initial start-up costs, the website has proved to be a cost-effective way for the Council to meet it business continuity responsibilities  –  a statutory duty of all local authorities.

“Running seminars can be quite expensive, especially if you don’t get many people attending,” explains Ingrid. “Now the website’s active, it is pretty much self-sustaining and won’t need much updating. We’re going to further address business continuity at the Shetland Business Gateway for new businesses, and we’re also linking it to the Shetland Emergency Planning Forum – so it all forms part of a rolling programme.”

Feedback has so far been excellent for the www.shetlandcontinuity.com website. Since its launch in November 2010, take-up has exceeded expectations and many users have contacted the council requesting experts to come and talk to them about other benefits of emergency planning.