“..it happens: so we need to build resilience

Resilience and continuity

By Suzanne Orme 29.7.21

Having an effective strategy to build resilience is more critical to business continuity than ever before. The level of uncertainty of some types of events such as pandemics, cyber security attacks and extreme weather is increasing across the globe. No country, company or individual is immune to the increased unpredictability that exists in today’s world. 

Resilience is the ability of a system, community or society exposed to hazards to resist, absorb, accommodate and recover from the effects of a hazard in a timely and efficient manner, including through the preservation and restoration of its essential basic structures and functions. (1),(2)

Resilience is a good thing but what can be done to build this into a business and its people? The question is complex so I’ve drawn upon the research of others to develop a simple and practical grid – shown in Figure 1 – to assess how resilient a business is at present. The aim of this approach is to better equip a business or individual with strategies to manage “..it” events while adding value to everyday operations. Unlike an insurance policy that costs up front dollars even if there is no fire or damage, this approach has the potential to create a net benefit, regardless of what the future holds.  Ready to learn more?

Absorptive capacity

Vulnerability is the characteristics and circumstances of a community, system or asset that make it susceptible to the damaging effects of a hazard (1), (2)

Coping response and absorptive capacity directly affect speed of recovery and system resilience (3).

So we start the method by questioning:

 “What if an “…it” event happens?” “How good is our capacity to continue as normal?”   This focuses attention on inherent vulnerability and the capacity to absorb and respond to an initial event.  

Examples of “..it” events include: 

Human: Pandemic; industrial accident; death of key person(s); loss of work or livelihood

Technological: cyber security threat; electricity blackout; mobile network failure

Natural: extreme weather; disruption to logistics and supply chain

A good starting point is to look at the site Emergency Plan and make sure it fulfils the requirements of AS3745:2010 (4).  But remember that effective initial response may not be enough to bounce back quickly and ensure continuity. It is essential to remain open minded and avoid the tendency to discount other potential scenarios saying “That would never happen”.  COVID-19 is the first global pandemic in 100 years. The nature and scale of the prolonged drought and bushfires in South Eastern Australia in 2019-20 was unprecedented.  Summer 2021 saw heat dome effects in the US North West and Canada – a phenomenon that was not predicted to happen so soon. 

As shown in the 4 quadrants in Figure 1, the capacity to absorb and adapt can be qualitatively assessed as low, medium or high. 

                   Fig 1. Business Resilience Grid, Suzanne Orme 2021


Adaptive capacity

Adaptive Capacity is the adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities. (4) The broader concept of adaptation also applies to no-climatic factors. 

We ask further questions: 

“How can we diversify the business to increase the number of options we have available?”  The focus now is on the capacity to adapt to change by being flexible, innovative and quick off the mark. Leaders that are good at this are willing to try new things while acknowledging that some level of failure is inevitable if we are to experiment and learn..

Examples of increased options include: 

Human: Flexible working arrangements and locations

Technological: Alternative communications, data access and logistics

Natural: Diverse resource types, source locations and suppliers

As shown in Figure 1 – just like the capacity to absorb and respond – the capacity to adapt may be assessed as low, medium or high. It is likely to be different for every type of scenario too. There is variability in the inherent risk of events and the adaptability of people, technology and infrastructure. Scoring can be added to compare one scenario with another and prioritise the business weaknesses that need to be addressed.

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, the novelty of working in new ways has highlighted some interesting developments in the world of business. Some adaptive strategies, such as virtual communications technology that enables people to work from home, have proved to be so good in practice that they are likely to be integrated into the post-pandemic “new normal”.

But these solutions pose some additional risks for some employees who may be vulnerable to social isolation and living alone. Others may reside in overcrowded premises or having to home-school children while trying to work. In a future article, I’ll explain how the new international standard, ISO45003:2021, can help  build the resilience of the people working for or behalf of your organisation, including those working at home or in remote locations.



1 UNISDR 2015 The SENDAI Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. Royal Society Meeting Note, (June),34 http://doi.org/101007/s13753-015-0051-8

2 UNISDR 2009 Terminology on Disaster Risk Reduction. International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction (ISDR), 1-30. http://doi.org/978-600-6937-11-3

3 Cutter et al 2008 A place-based model of understanding community resilience, and adaptive capacity “Global Environmental Change, 16 (3), 293-303

4 Standards Australia AS3745:2010 Planning for Emergencies in Facilities Available from https://infostore.saiglobal.com/en-au/search/all/?searchTerm=Emergency%20Plan

5 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

6 ISO45003:2021 Psychological health and safety at work – Guidelines for managing psychosocial risks

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