by Richard Martin
Well, we’ve just had our latest winter storm of the decade (or what it century?) in Eastern Canada. Among other events, Montreal’s roads were a scene of chaos and waiting, and waiting, and waiting….
The Quebec Department of Transportation (Ministère du transport du Québec, MTQ) has been heavily blamed for the chaos and poor response on the roads, especially on Highway 13, one of the two main North-South arteries through Montreal. To illustrate, hundreds of cars were stranded on the 13 from late Tuesday afternoon rush hour through to mid-day on Wednesday. Some people had to spend the night in their car. We’re lucky no one died or was seriously injured there. It was a distinct possibility given the harshness of the conditions, the fact that most people were ill equipped (i.e. not ready) for just such a situation, and that there were deaths and serious injuries in other areas.
But the worst reproaches have been directed at the MTQ. It has since come out that the ministry’s emergency plans and procedures appear to be overly complex, requiring numerous steps in the decision process for road closure and emergency response (actually, 94 steps, but that’s the entire decision flowchart). But that’s probably a red herring. Such decision processes always look complex out of context. The real proof of validity and effectiveness for any emergency/contingency plan isn’t what it looks like on paper, but its performance and execution once it’s put into action. It’s clear that the MTQ and probably many other government and municipal agencies were out of their depth and overwhelmed by the scale of the disruption.
Instead, I think the real problem was that of poor preparation and training, unclear activation processes, lack of well-defined readiness levels, as well as a lack of practice. Did the ministry ever conduct exercises? I’m not talking about a “tabletop” exercise with a few departmental reps. I’m talking about full-scale field exercises? Many of these problems would have come out beforehand if they had been exercised adequately. Also, what disaster and/or storm scenarios were envisaged? If appears that there was little understanding of the prior coordination and planning that are required to ensure interdepartmental and intergovernmental cooperation. Wildlife agents in the Québec Forestry and Wildlife Ministry are equipped and trained to conduct search and rescue operations in heavy weather and extreme survival conditions, but no one called upon that department to provide support. This is a clear indication that prior arrangements we’re lacking, either in terms of planning or in actually requesting and coordinating a joint response.
This is ALWAYS my biggest beef with any organization I work with on risk management and emergency/business continuity readiness: the lack of practice. It’s one thing to tread with care when you’re a for-profit business and any disruption to ongoing operations for the purposes of exercising can have serious impacts on production and client services. But when we’re talking about a public-service organization with a clear public safety mandate, you simply MUST exercise thoroughly and regularly. If it’s good enough for the military, firefighters, and airport operations and security organizations, then it should be good enough for municipal and governmental departments at all levels and in all domains, especially if lives depend on it.
Richard Martin’s Business Readiness Process:
  1. Ensure vigilance through situational awareness.
  2. Do preliminary assessment of tasks and time.
  3. Activate organization or team.
  4. Conduct reconnaissance.
  5. Do detailed situational estimate.
  6. Conduct wargame and decide on optimal course(s) of action.
  7. Perform risk management and contingency planning.
  8. Communicate plan and issue direction.
  9. Build organizational robustness.
  10. Ensure operational continuity.
  11. Lead and control execution.
  12. Assess performance.

Contact me to apply the whole thing–or just a piece, as needed–to improve your strategy, your readiness… and your results!

Did you know that an infantry battalion only needs about 3 to 4 hours of prep and planning time to be battle ready? What are you waiting for to get the same benefits for your outfit?
Why Sunday and What Does “Stand To” Mean?
Sunday? I want you to get my insights and advice first and fast, so you can prepare and up your readiness and results before others even know what’s happening!
And Stand To? It’s the order used in the military to get forces to man the parapets and be in a heightened state of situational awareness and, yes, readiness, so they can face any threat or undertake any mission.


My name is Richard Martin and I’m an expert on applying readiness principles to position companies and leaders to grow and thrive by shaping and exploiting change and opportunity, instead of just passively succumbing to uncertainty and risk.


© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

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