Canadian Underwriter

Preparing for Disaster

August 2, 2016   by Angela Stelmakowich, Editor; and Greg Meckbach, Associate Editor

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Toronto played host to experts from countries around the world who gathered for the World Conference on Disaster Management June 7 to 8. Attendees received insights on how to prepare before, during and after a disaster, hearing about topics ranging from terrorism to social media, business continuity and supply chains.


A shift in terrorist tactics and targets in Western countries may come down to efficiency – from the perspective of terrorists – and should encourage enhanced security in busy public places, attendees of the World Conference on Disaster Management in Toronto heard.

For the first time in a decade, more firearms than explosives are being used in terrorist attacks in Western countries, and civilians in public spaces are in the sights more than traditional targets like security forces, governments and police, reported Andrew Majoran, lead terrorism analyst for the Risk Advisory Group.

The first trend suggests terrorists are employing more accessible, easier-to-use tools with the potential to cause maximum damage, while the second suggests terrorists are “increasingly seeking to cause more civilian casualties, which will instill fear in the population,” Majoran noted.

“I think a lot of terrorists now are looking for efficiencies,” he suggested. By shooting, for example, a terrorist will “probably kill more people in a public area than you are with a home-made pressure cooker bomb with ball bearings,” he told conference attendees.

“From my perspective, these trends highlight the importance of securing busy public areas or businesses in and around busy public areas that might be susceptible to attack,” Majoran pointed out. Even if a business is not specifically targeted, he said, “chances of a business getting caught up in an attack is much greater, especially in busy public areas.”

While the number of attacks in the West are actually declining, he reported, they are becoming more deadly. In fact, 2015 represented the “deadliest year for terrorism in the Western world since 2004,” he noted.

In his work, Majoran said he sees daily postings through websites, magazines, newsletters and bulletins containing “open threats to Western countries, specific businesses, security forces.”

A big problem in Canada is that because it “has never been dinged, we tend to think we’re not going to get dinged,” suggested Alan Bell, president of Globe Risk International Inc.

Bell said he would like to “see emergency management planning really start to develop and change the matrix” a bit to take into account terrorism-related factors even if “really not your responsibility.”

An all-facets approach to security and emergency planning is essential, he said.


One of the biggest threats to a company’s supply chain cannot even be seen, but surely will be felt should it take hold, Nexbridge Inc.’s Randall Becker suggested during the World Conference on Disaster Management.

Defining it as unnoticed drift, practical drift “is what happens when processes drift off specification,” the managing director of Nexbridge explained to conference attendees.

“Our processes involve a lot of these little moving parts,” he pointed out, adding that “we’re talking about hidden effects on the business, on your business, from these moving parts that when they act together, they misbehave.”

Once there is a cumulative effect, “you have a much larger operating envelop that you don’t know about,” he said. Although each individual point or factor seems fine, cumulatively they are not. Drifting off spec can sometimes produce “catastrophic kinds of fails that are completely unseen,” he cautioned.

And if a company is in a just-in-time (JIT) environment, “every kind of change that you are going to experience in JIT is going to impact you,” he suggested.

“It’s the linear nature of JIT supply chains that makes them so incredibly vulnerable,” Becker added.

A supply chain that “doesn’t have a lot of resiliency is going to fall apart,” he pointed out. “By not planning for resiliency, we’re leaving ourselves completely vulnerable on an ongoing basis.”

The most important thing is to be situationally aware, he noted, advising that this involves monitoring customers, monitoring suppliers, watching for technology changes, seeing pricing changes as important, keeping pulse of regulation changes, and being partners with supply chains.


Everyone needs to be trained in business continuity management and that should involve realistic exercises, speakers recommended at the World Conference on Disaster Management.

“Exercising is key to any strong program in business continuity management,” said Christopher Horne, assistant vice president of CIBC Mellon, emphasizing that carrying these out after-hours is key.

“When everyone is sitting at their desk you can conduct an exercise, but it’s not going to be as effective. You want to see how effectively you can reach [staff] and what their response rates are,” Horne explained.

Companies “need to train everyone” in business continuity, holding “orientation sessions, right on Day 1,” he said.

Managing expectations is “critical as you are working through response and recovery” from disasters, added Cliff Trollope, partner and business resilience practice leader for MNP LLP, suggesting that the same applies to companies experiencing a business interruption.

“We would submit that a key lesson from Alberta’s floods in 2013 is to execute and perfect the basics,” Trollope advised. “It’s executing and perfecting the basics of emergency management and business continuity in detail… that makes the difference.”


Social media can serve as a key tool in a scattergun approach to help the public be better informed, engaged and prepared in an emergency, Melanie Irons, psychology lecturer with Charles Darwin University in Australia, suggested.

“I think social media needs to be seen as a tool that goes hand-in-hand with every other tool you’ve possibly got,” Irons told Canadian Underwriter in advance of speaking at the World Conference on Disaster Management.

Social media offers a number of benefits, including accessibility, speed and ability to communicate with many people rapidly, thereby promoting a “web of communication,” she noted. “It enables these conversations and these dialogues and bilateral communications between not just official groups and the community, but also between community members themselves and different groups in the community,” she said.

“Gone are the days of a morning press release and an evening press release and you don’t hear anything else between,” Irons pointed out.

If the situation changes and new information becomes available, this can now be “pushed to people; they’re actually not having to turn on the TV, to chase the material. It’s coming straight to their phones,” she said.

Education is key to the notion of shared responsibility, Irons noted. The public must understand “emergency services and government is not going to do it all.”


Non-profit organizations need to be prepared for natural disasters so that they can effectively help deliver public services, speakers advised during the World Conference on Disaster Management.

From research conducted following the southern Alberta flooding in 2013, the Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations (CCVO) found fewer than 50% of non-profit organizations “actually had business continuity plans in place,” said Matt Sawatsky, CCVO’s emergency preparedness co-ordinator.

Mike Grogan, CCVO’s vice president of programs and operations, said the flooding “was a very localized event,” with most parts of Calgary not affected.

CCVO is now providing expertise and networking opportunities so “non-profits can come and learn about business continuity planning, learn about some of the emergency organizations that already exist, learn about some of the key players and how do they incorporate some of these systems,” Sawatsky said.

“One of the things that I actually heard at this conference was the reference to the silos between business continuity planning and emergency management, and what we found at a community level is that there cannot be those silos,” he emphasized.

-Angela Stelmakowich, Editor; and Greg Meckbach, Associate Editor

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