Project Management Institute

Crisis mode

VOICES | In the Trenches

How preparation and innovative thinking can save projects during an emergency.

By Joan Landry, PMP

ABBOTT'S CRISIS MANAGEMENT TEAM monitored Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 just as we had any other hurricane or typhoon. We followed its intensity and path. We reached out to our employees in the Philippines to ensure everyone was prepared. The country is hit by many typhoons each year; people seemed ready.

But then the storm, known locally as Yolanda, intensified as it bore down on the Luzon region. Although the area was prepared for a typhoon, no one was prepared for the Category 5 super typhoon and the devastation it brought.

As a project manager, what can you do to prepare for crisis events?

First, use your professional planning and risk management skills to help prepare yourself and your family for a possible crisis. Many government websites provide guidelines; in the United States, is an excellent resource. Common elements of preparation include:

  • An emergency kit (three days of food, water and other emergency supplies)
  • A family communication plan (contact information, where to assemble if you cannot reach each other by phone or text) Second, you need to consider risk and contingencies for your project plan. If a risk to project activity has a high likelihood of occurring and a high impact if it does occur, you may want to look at contingency planning for that activity.

Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated parts of the Philippines in 2013, was one of the biggest typhoons to ever hit land.

Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated parts of the Philippines in 2013, was one of the biggest typhoons to ever hit land

In the Aftermath

After a devastating natural disaster or other crisis, it might seem unfathomable to focus on work. Yet recovery efforts start with identifying and prioritizing projects. Once you know you and your family are safe, check in with your team members to find out if they are okay. Has anyone in their family been affected?

Now look at the damage. How has your project been impacted? Are these areas that have been previously identified as high-risk? Do you have contingency plans already in place? What are the options? How can your team recover quickly? What does your team need to do temporarily? What permanent change is needed to the project?

Allow your team to come up with creative solutions to solve these problems. After Superstorm Sandy struck the northeastern United States in 2012, Abbott technical support staff needed to visit hospitals in Manhattan, New York, to service equipment. There was just one problem: Most of the gas stations in the area were unable to pump gas because they had no electricity. The technical staff could not drive into the city, and public transportation was unavailable.

We seemed out of options until a member of the team had a clever idea: rental cars. Rental cars come with a full tank of gas, and there were a lot of them available. Once the fuel tank got low, team members could bring the car back and rent a different one. This allowed our technical staff to bridge the gap until power was restored—almost two weeks later.

As for our workers in the Philippines, we were happy to learn that—due to prior planning, quick decision-making and luck—all employees in the impacted region were safely evacuated. PM


Joan Landry, PMP, is program manager of crisis management and global business continuity at Abbott Laboratories, Abbott Park, Illinois, USA.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.




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