Members of the private sector who were hoping that the federal government will come to their aid when a disaster strikes should think again according to the Attorney-General’s first assistant secretary, Mike Rothery.
Rothery told the audience at Security 2011 in Sydney that if companies in the critical infrastructure sector did not have a resilience plan, then it was not just the company that suffers.
“Whether it’s about storing power grids, getting the telephones working or replacing perishables in the Queensland floods those are issues that if the private sector can't restore quickly than it's a disaster," Rothery said.
He said that the Federal Government does not have the resources or the ability to replace the private sector.
"We can’t feed a whole state of people. We require the private sector to be able to bounce back, and do that quickly."
For example, after the Queensland floods in January, companies that would normally compete helped each other recover and brought in staff from interstate.
"This meant centralising information and pooling resources to make it easier for Government to offer solutions. We are pushing organisational resilience for the Australian business community because some sectors can’t live without it."
Rothery said that a resilience plan comes down to the private sector having strong leadership.
"If you want your organisation to be able to survive a crisis, whether it be the Queensland floods or contaminated Mars Bars on the shelves of Australian supermarkets, it has to come from the top," he said.
This meant the organisation had to have a permeating set of values. For example, the Qantas approach to resilience was that the number one priority was customer safety.
"You might prevent a plane from taking off which leads to flight delays but you will be forgiven if the driving motivation was around passenger safety," Rothery said.
"The question is if other organisations have got that clear messaging; that is, when a crisis happens, what is the most important thing for them to protect?"
This could include different aspects such as the brand and customer safety.
According to Rothery, a company could have a "dozen business continuity plans" but these are not as effective as communicating to staff what to do in a crisis.
He also said there has to be a person in place at the company who can respond during a crisis. "It is very easy for the boss to be overwhelmed with information and having to deal with unhappy customers."
When companies are under stress as the result of a disaster, staff can sometimes see the writing on the wall and decide to look elsewhere.
"They look at the burnt warehouse or flooded factory and think — this business is not going to recover," he said.
He said that staff should not be told to go home and wait to see if they still have jobs, but instead be engaged with helping the company to start the business again.
Update 29 August 2011: This article was originally headlined 'Don’t rely on government for a resilience plan: AG secretary'. As indicated in the body of the article, Mike Rothery is the Attorney-General’s first assistant secretary. The secretary of the Attorney-General's department is Roger Wilkins. Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick
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