Business Continuity Threats and Risks Often Overlooked

This information is from my new book, The Ultimate Business Continuity Success Guide: How to Build Real-World Resilience and Unleash Exciting New Value Streams. Happily it is now Amazon’s #1 searched business continuity book. I hope you enjoy the chapter. and the book.

Business Continuity Threats and Risks Often Overlooked

‘How Sandy the Cute Little Squirrel Can Take You Down!’

Many people, including management, often mistakenly believe business continuity and resilience is limited to preparing for major disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes or terrorism.  Although, it is critical to prepare for these large-scale events, in my experience it is more likely that you will be impacted by a squirrel1lower profile but more probable disruption than one that makes front page news. In fact, it is reasonable to assume you could be impacted by these more probable events a few times a year. Been there, experienced those.

There are occasions these localized disruptions that may only impact your organization can have a larger impact than a more widespread event that impacts everyone. If you are the only organization at a standstill it poses an opportunity for the competition. In a large-scale event, it can be more an even playing field and perhaps, as we discuss in the book, a revenue opportunity for you.

For years, I have incorporated squirrel stories into my tabletop exercises. Whenever I get to the slide showing a cute little squirrel gnawing on a power line everyone laughs. Laughter, during a tabletop, is often a good sign because people arrive at the tabletop tense, mistakenly thinking they must have all the answers or they will get in trouble.


I go on to explain to the attendees that it is not only the less frequent highly publicized events we have to prepare for such as hurricanes or terrorist events, but the more common events such as a backhoe cutting a power line, a car crashing into a telephone pole or a squirrel lunching on a power line. I go on to describe a few stories to them about my experiences with each type of ‘I never thought about that’ threat and how preparation paid off. The attendees enjoy the stories. Often, they had not thought of these types of threats as a danger to their business.

I tell them a story I lived through during the early years of my business continuity career. I was visiting one of our smaller Connecticut offices to host a tabletop exercise. At 10:15 am we lost power (I know, disruptive events seem to follow me). Luckily, we had a generator that kicked in for part of the building. So, we were able to keep the business going. We tracked the culprit down to a little squirrel that had brunched on a power line.  Incredibly, when we found him he was still alive.

There are millions of variations on these types of ‘squirelly’ power line scenarios. Consider Sully Sullenberger making a perfect landing in the Hudson River off Manhattan after birds got caught in the engines of the airliner he was piloting. That is why from a resilience perspective, my advice is to prepare for specific high impact events such as hurricanes in Florida or tornadoes in Tulsa, but also take a broader approach and prepare for any impact on people, locations and systems regardless of the cause.

Finally, here are a few case studies of squirrel induced impacts:

Squirrel Causes Electrical Outage in Patchogue: Squirrel eating thru a 700-volt cable. If you are squeamish maybe don’t read it:

Large power outage in Bayshore restored:  ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS — Police say a blown transformer triggered a power outage throughout parts of Atlantic Highlands Sunday. A JCP&L spokeswoman said an animal made contact with a piece of equipment, which triggered the outage. About 2,500 homes are affected, she said.


Squirrel sparks Halloween voting outage in Ohio – they had to implement their BC plan! Also I love the squirrel picture in the article –

Squirrel causes power outage for 45,000 in East Bay –

This a cool article from the New York Times entitled – ‘Squirrel Power!’ It has lots of squirrel induced metrics –

A site called Cyber Squirrel has amazing information on disruptions caused by squirrels, birds, snakes, raccoons, rats and martens. As of 2017 they display 1588+ unclassified animal related disruptions that they have confirmed. 819 of those events were caused by those cute ‘lil squirrels I am so fixated on. The events are displayed on an interactive map with pushpins that can be clicked to read more details on each event. Disruptions can also be sorted and read by type of animal. It is such a cool site. The URL is:

So, think about inserting a cute little squirrel slide in your tabletops. You will get a laugh and more importantly you can drive home the point that we need to prepare for any disruptive event not just the headline makers. If someone asks, ‘can a squirrel really impact our organization and take our systems down?’ You can prove to them with confidence that it has happened hundreds of times and it will happen again – but not to your organization!

In upcoming chapters we will discuss how to predict, plan, respond and recover in a world-class way.