Bulletin / Business Continuity in...

Business Continuity in the Philippines

Author: Charlie Maclean-Bristol

This week Charlie discusses business continuity and natural disasters.

This week I am working in the Philippines, developing business continuity for a multinational building materials manufacturer. It is my first time here so I thought I would share some lessons learned from developing business continuity in a different country to my own; the United Kingdom.


The first thing I have noticed is that Filipino people are much more aware of natural disasters than us. They are overdue an earthquake in Manila, which could be a very severe one, as well as there being a high chance of having a devastating typhoon. 

The experience of Typhoon Haiyan, known in the Philippines as Typhoon Yolanda, is all very fresh in people’s minds and so I feel that there is a higher awareness of natural disasters than in the UK. I am in the first week of a five week business continuity programme, so the jury is out on how much of this awareness of natural disasters translates into enthusiasm for developing business continuity plans! 

In the UK natural disasters, on the whole, are not very wide-scale and haven’t caused many deaths. So first-hand knowledge of disasters is low and people are less aware of them or take the ‘this will never happen to me’ attitude. Haiyan, according to Wikipedia, caused around 6,300 deaths,

The second point I have learned, is that disasters here can be more widespread and more devastating than in the UK. I think this has to be reflected in the style and scenarios for business continuity. The Philippines have some similarities with the USA in that they have widespread natural disasters. There is a need to plan for possible loss of life and having to ‘fend for yourself’ for several days. 

Within the USA there is more of a survival element to the plans and they take into account having to manage without vital infrastructure and utilities for several days. Within the UK we may lose utilities in the area of the incident but we don’t expect to go too long before we can find working ones. We also expect the Local Authorities and Emergency Services to provide us with food, shelter and warmth fairly immediately after a disaster. 

In the Philippines they have wide scale natural disasters like the USA, but their infrastructure is less resilient and their housing, especially for the poor, is much more flimsy and so less resistant to severe weather.

One of the issues I am grappling with is how to plan for the aftermath of complete devastation, either from a Haiyan type typhoon or an earthquake. A colleague showed me some photos from the east coast of Philippines after Haiyan. It showed complete devastation; every structure was flattened, and in the middle of what was once a highly populated neighbourhood, sat a large ship. 

If there is a major earthquake near your head office or plant and there is complete devastation, how do you plan for this? You can have RTOs for all the activities and recovery strategies if the office is lost, but will your staff want to come to work if their family are missing in a pile of rubble which was once their house? Can you effectively build a workable plan for recovery of operations when there are no utilities, no infrastructure, no staff turning up for work and perhaps no law and order? 

The Good Practice Guidelines 2013, tells us we have to state the maximum scale of incident we are going to plan for. Is this an incident too large to develop a workable and effective business continuity plan? We are working on the post typhoon and earthquake plan and looking at what we can do. Primarily, to look after our staff following a major incident and only after that can we look at recovering our business! 

That then bring us onto how we prepare a business continuity plan for a huge manufacturing plant. How do you plan for the loss of production, which cannot really be switched to another site as is already working to almost 100% capacity? This could be a subject for next week’s bulletin!

Thanks to the people, especially Steve Lewis, who gave me some ideas and shared experiences on planning for earthquakes and typhoons. Any further advice or guidance gratefully received.

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