Will asteroids or bedbugs attack your business?

BUSINESS CONTINUITY AWARENESS WEEK It may sound far-fetched, but threats to IT infrastructure can now include anything from ‘near-Earth objects” to insect infestations. Here’s how you prioritize.


A crisis can be defined as any unplanned event, occurrence or sequence of events that has a specific undesirable consequence. Emergency preparedness planning typically addresses a full range of threats and hazards, including domestic terrorist attacks, natural and man-made disasters, accidental disruptions, and other emergencies. Business continuity, on the other hand, can take a ‘consequence based’ approach which  requires attention not just to specific types of hazards but also to steps that increase preparedness for any type of hazard.

On Sunday March 3rd an asteroid the size of a football field speeding through space at approximately 17,000 kilometers per hour passed about 400,000 km from Earth. It surprised all as it was unannounced, considering as it was just discovered six days earlier. The distance this asteroid was to Earth (using heavy objects we are familiar with) would be about three time the distance the Earth is from our moon.  Patrick Paolucci, president of Slooh Space Camera, said during a webcast featuring live images of the asteroid from a telescope in the Canary Islands, ‘The scary part of this one is that it’s something we didn’t even know about.” This reminded me of Hollywood movies with asteroids as I was envisioning the impact to Earth, if a direct hit, would have had the capacity to destroy a major urban city within minutes.

The large fireball observed and caught on camera by many on the morning of February 15, 2013 was a bus-sized asteroid (17 to 20 meters) in size which exploded and broke up over Chelyabinsk, Russia. The force of the ‘mega ton dynamite explosion’, created a shock wave that shattered windows and damaged buildings, injuring more than 1,500 people.

Business Continuity Planning (BCP) practices teach us to identify known risks and threats that need to be planned for (mitigation) to avoid impacts to business. This approach is known as ‘All-hazard’ risk planning and works well with the obvious repetitive risks and threats, but how do you plan for what is unknown or improbable to occur?.

Experienced Business Continuity practitioners have come to understand most known predictable business risks and threats and accompanying mitigation strategies, however they cannot predict the future or probability of other risk events from occurring such as asteroids, or spacecraft falling unscheduled out of the sky — or are they now more predictable based on recent events?

The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster occurred on January 28, 1986, when Space Shuttle Challenger fuel tanks broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, leading to the deaths of its seven crew members. The spacecraft disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of central Florida. The Space Shuttle Columbia disaster occurred on February 1, 2003 during its re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere disintegrated over Texas and Louisiana, resulting in the death of all seven crew members. Debris from Columbia fell to Earth in Texas

Skylab was a space station launched and operated by NASA and orbited the Earth from 1973 to 1979. In 1979 it uncontrollably reentered Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrated in 1979, with debris striking portions of Western Australia. The Russian Mir space station that operated in low Earth orbit from 1986 to 2001, and in March 2001 was removed from space and disintegrated when it reached the earth’s atmosphere.

Things from our atmosphere like asteroids, comets and spacecraft excluding airplanes are called by definition ‘Near-Earth objects” (NEO). These items whose orbit brings it into close range with the Earth. Currently in the United States, NASA has a congressional mandate to catalogue all NEOs that are at least 1 kilometer wide, as the impact of such an object would be catastrophic. As of August 2012 850 near-Earth asteroids larger than 1 km discovered, but only 154 are potentially pose a problem to Earth. NEO rarely make the list ok risks or threats a typical most business gets concerned over. If it did we would also need to include such things as the Earth being attacked by aliens and zombies.

Now the probability of bed bug infestation into your business has a higher chance of occurring in coming years then asteroids hitting your office building. Bed bugs are becoming a growing problem across Canada and North America.   In part due to global travel and the increasing restrictions on insecticides, bed bugs infestations are spreading at increased rate resulting in exposure in most public forums.

Bed bugs are transferred from sites by most mediums – fabric, paper, plastics. Due to the ease of transfer from locations, bed bugs have shown up in all areas, from high-end hotels, to movie theatres, to public transit.  Bed bug infestation is a newer risk that now needs to be assessed with the other more obvious risk and threats.

Use a simple and practical approach to risk management. Consider the probability the risk event will materialize, the impact the risk event will have on the business, and consider which ‘controls,’ if any, are in place. A control is a proactive countermeasure that can be taken to reduce the frequency and/or impact of a risk before the risk materializes. The obvious risks/threats to plan for remains:

  • Loss of primary work location (office or production) is unavailable for access (it does not matter why — building destroyed, crime scene, bed bug infestation, and yes even a meteor hit).
  • IT hardware network, or software failure/outages.
  • Loss of business data
  • Loss of telecommunications
  • Power outages
  • Loss of workforce  (for whatever reasons pandemic, labor disruption, lottery winners)
  • Vendors/supplier and business partners

Any effort to address risk mitigation with the implementation of the preventative and corrective actions to reduce or eliminate the exposure, probability, and/or severity, will need the support of senior management for the commitment of appropriate resources and funding. While we cannot predict disasters we can sure plan for the obvious ones so when they occur, business have a better chance of survival.

Get a better idea of your overall state of readiness by trying our free online Business Continuity Assessment Tool.

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