Worst-Case Scenarios

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Can you describe the steps you would take to provide for the safety of your boarders and their horses in the event of a disaster? What would you do if your most critical vendor was unable to fulfill its obligations to your facility? A thorough set of contingency plans, documented and rehearsed, make up the core of a barn’s risk management strategy.

In the context of threats against your business, risk management is comprised of a disaster recovery plan for immediate responses to crises, and a business continuity plan that describes how you will resume operations following a crisis. As a stable owner or manager, you need to identify the most likely threats to your business and create a plan to restore orderly and safe operation in the shortest timeframe and at the lowest overall cost.

Risk Assessment

Understanding the physical threats to your business is the first step in a risk assessment. Think about factors in your environment that have the potential to cause short- and long-term disruptions. For example, stables near the North Carolina coast face the threat of hurricane winds and flooding. Facilities operating in the shadow of Mount St. Helens might include volcano eruption in their risk assessment.

Create a matrix that lists potential threats, then assign a numerical value to the impact that each threat could have on your operation. A threat that would cause minimal disturbance would receive a value of one; an event that would be a major disruption would hold a value of five.

For each disaster event, assign a numerical value (again, between one and five) to the likelihood that the event will take place. By multiplying the values assigned to threat and likelihood, you come up with a risk value. For each disaster scenario with an overall risk value greater than, say, 12, create a contingency plan to address that threat.

As an example, consider Mari Naten’s Pacific Equestrian Center in Wilton, Calif. This facility sits on the western edge of the Sierra Nevada foothills. Summers in the Sacramento Valley are typically long and hot. The region’s vulnerability to seasonal dryness has been compounded by three years of drought. Miles around the facility are characterized by expanses of tall dry grass that could be ignited by lightning or even a single careless spark.

Ms. Naten takes very seriously the threat that fire poses to her operation, and mitigates the threat by observing the Department of Forestry’s recommendation to maintain 100 feet of defensible space around structures. This space should have two zones: a “lean, clean and green zone,” free of all flammables, and a second zone that extends from thirty feet to one hundred feet (or the property line) where fuel for fires is minimized. Putting this recommendation into practice, Pacific Equestrian Center is surrounded by a boarder of clean, clear rows and irrigated pastures. Areas near a road, where a wayward cigarette could destroy a lifetime of work, receive particular attention.

Reacting to an Emergency

Due to the unique local climate, geography, facility design, and operating model for each business, there is no single, foolproof, prescriptive set of action items. No matter how thoroughly you plan for a disaster, most people will react by instinct when a scenario actually unfolds. Awareness and regular practice of appropriate procedures, however, prepares yourself and others as well as possible. In a boarding stable, if everyone understands the actions that need to be taken, how they are to be carried out, and in which priority, you stand the best chance of sparing both equine and human life while limiting risk to whatever extent possible. Have a plan, communicate the plan, execute the plan.

The plan must written down to be useful. When a disaster strikes it would be ideal if you could maintain the presence of mind to provide clear and accurate direction to your staff and to implement your disaster plan flawlessly. Most of us function more effectively if we have a “run book” to serve as our game plan.

A run book is a practical tool to trigger a memory of the critical activities that need to be carried out. It supports your instincts when you are making decisions in the heat of the moment.

A run book should include a checklist of prioritized activities. This list serves as your memory and your guide as you adapt the plan to the situation. It will ensure that you carry out vital activities that you might otherwise overlook when faced with the need to make quick decisions and give rapid-fire directions.

Generically, a checklist might include tasks to:

• account for all staff, boarders, vendors, and visitors known to be on the property at the time of the incident

• secure the animals, moving them to safety if necessary

• protect structures and private property as safety permits

• inform those not on site about the status of the facility and their interests

• inventory feed, supplies, etc. and contact vendors to fill immediate needs.

This list is not exhaustive; add your own to suit your particular situation.

To limit confusion, specific individuals should be assigned responsibility for each activity. Rehearsal drills will help ensure that everyone assigned a responsibility in your run book understands how they are expected to perform.

A good run book will also include several contact lists:

• local emergency response including veterinarians, your staff, and others who may need to be called upon to react to a disaster

• boarders whose horses, tack and other property may be affected by a disaster

• business contacts, particularly vendors.

Keep your contact lists and prioritized action checklist current. Outdated or incomplete information will be of little use when a disaster is unfolding. Finally, each of your staff listed in the run book should have multiple hard copies, to be kept in desks, briefcases, trucks, in kitchen drawers, and other key locations.

Business Continuity Planning

While disaster recovery plans get you through an initial response to a disaster, a well-crafted business continuity plan will guide you to resumption of business operations, even if only in a limited capacity.

Any large-scale physical damage is bound to be catastrophic to your stable. The best you may be able to do is identify a safe location to reassemble horses and property. Such a place may be a remote stable with which you have forged a working relationship, or a fairground or regional park where you could set up some portable pipe stalls.

Ideally, the new location would offer an opportunity to resume some semblance of normal operation. While it may sound harsh to think about ways to make money following a disaster, there are many reasons to return to operation as quickly as possible, aside from your own income. Boarders affected by a widescale disaster—a flood, for example—may find some much-needed solace in escaping to spend a few hours with their horses.

A thorough risk management strategy will also address contingencies for economic and competitive shifts. To offer some perspective, an area of business that warrants attention in contingency planning is your supply chain. If you rely on a single vendor for all your feed, and that vendor were to suffer a physical or economic catastrophe, would you be able to find a substitute source before your inventory is depleted? A viable strategy may include mitigating risk to your own business by diversifying among your most critical suppliers.

Although it may be unsettling to consider disaster scenarios, you may rest easier knowing you have prepared for the unthinkable. This is no guarantee that you will survive unscathed; some situations can overwhelm even the best plans. A well-developed strategy, however, will give you a fighting chance and might make all the difference.