Wanted: UK minister for disasters

The government should do more to help companies manage potential disasters such as a terrorist attack on IT infrastructure or a flu pandemic, say experts

The UK Government should appoint a minister with responsibility for managing business and IT disasters across the private and public sector, according to the Business Continuity Institute.

Speaking at the group's annual conference, the Business Continuity Expo, in London's Docklands, BCI chairman Steven Mellish called for better information and guidance for businesses when it comes to planning for disaster and disruption spearheaded by a government-appointed minister.

"We need a DTI minister with responsibility for business continuity," he said. "This event provides a perfect opportunity for Government and business to come together and highlight what needs to be done, to prepare for better disaster recovery and business continuity planning," he said.

The BCI is particularly adamant that the proposed DTI minister should help to establish a common language around disaster and disruption to business. "There is no consensus when it comes to business continuity. There is a different approach for every company; we do not get our stories straight and we do not have a common view," said BCI communications manager Andy Tomkinson.

According to the group's annual Business Continuity Awareness survey released this week, 20 percent of businesses still do not have a disaster recovery plan in place despite the popular belief that terrorism, fire and flood present significant threats to business.

Currently the government's disaster planning is handled by Bruce Mann, head of civil contingencies secretariat. He attended the BIS's event, as did Patrick Mercer, the shadow minister for homeland security.

Mann said that despite concerns over terrorism, natural disasters — in particular virulent disease — represented a bigger threat to the UK.

"A flu pandemic is the biggest threat at the moment. We have publicised that before so that before a potential pandemic hits, the public are informed about the risk, the scale and the effect on business. For example could you cope with 25 percent of staff away? It may never arrive but we are now preparing in case it does," said Mann.

The BCI claims that more should be done to learn from other countries when it comes to planning for natural disasters and acts of terrorism. "We should try to establish codes of international best practice; there is a lot to learn from cities such as New York and Madrid," said Mellish.

Joseph F. Bruno, commissioner, New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM) was also speaking at the BCI Expo and recounted how his city had improved its disaster planning and business continuity efforts since the events of 9/11.

Bruno explained that the OEM was using a combination of SMS text messaging and emails aimed at Blackberry users to send warning to the community in the event of an impending disaster. He claimed that since business users are particularly well equipped with mobile devices, OEM was now using the business community to disseminate information to the community at large during a disaster.

Despite the possible threat of further terrorist attacks, natural disasters such as hurricanes remained the biggest threat to the New York's infrastructure, added Bruno.