Learning from Sandy: KM and Crisis

The following is a guest post by Sarah Hewson, a business consultant with APQC in Houston, Texas. Sarah manages the delivery of consulting and research projects across a wide range of industries and in government, including work with the House of Representatives and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Sarah co-authors research studies for APQC and has extensive experience in knowledge management.  

Hurricane Sandy should be a warning call for businesses to take a thorough look at their crisis plans and procedures. According to The New York Times, economic losses from Hurricane Sandy could exceed $30 billion. Sandy’s impact will be felt in varying degrees in businesses around the world.

Being prepared for the next storm doesn’t just mean having extra batteries and bottled water. Preparation starts with knowledge management (KM).

APQC and crisis management

Last year APQC pulled together a team of organizations to discuss KM as a First Responder During Crisis and Business Disruptions. The organizations involved shared KM best practices in mergers and acquisitions, both “non-crisis” events, and were challenged to consider how nuanced KM methodologies and best practices can be used during “crisis” events.

The team studied the Chilean mining disaster where a group of miners was trapped underground in a collapsed mine for 69 days. The rescue required collaboration among diverse knowledge domains including drilling knowledge, geological knowledge, medical knowledge, psychological knowledge, nutrition and exercise knowledge, and telecommunications knowledge. A number of stakeholders were involved in the rescue including the Chilean Navy, Chilean Special Forces, NASA, seven drilling and mining companies, and the Red Cross. In this case, the connections to KM are clear. But what about your business?

Being prepared

The KM function in your organization has a large role to play before, during, and after a crisis situation to:

  •    Pre-establish communities (e.g., risk assessment teams, emergency response team)
  •    Develop agreements and plans with stakeholder groups (e.g., suppliers, employees, local government, the local community)
  •    Establish and test communication and collaboration systems (e.g., Twitter, social networking, SMS texts)
  •    Coordinate stakeholder collaboration and knowledge sharing in the event of a crisis
  •    Facilitate lessons learned debriefs
  •    Build mechanisms for incorporating lessons back into ongoing crisis planning

In light of Superstorm Sandy, I challenge you to think about how your KM function enables your organization to prepare for and successfully respond to a crisis situation. Do you feel your organization is prepared for such events? How do you see your KM function assisting in the event of a crisis? For those of you impacted by a crisis, what lessons can you share?

This article was first posted on the APQC.org website and has been lightly edited.

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Categories: Disruption

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