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Planning, Preparation, and Practice
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Government agencies, police, medical services, and others periodically conduct table top exercises to evaluate how effectively they might respond to a given emergency. These simulations allow agencies to practice the procedures they have in place and test how well they might actually work. They may also reveal weaknesses in the plan or execution that can then be corrected.

Most mills and manufacturing plants have emergency response plans in place to deal with fires, chemical spills, and certain natural disasters. Those should be reviewed regularly and simulated emergencies should be practiced with police, firefighters, and others who might be involved in a real situation (including the press).

In a similar fashion, practicing and preparing for business “What would we do-ifs” can identify weaknesses and vulnerabilities, guide strategic planning, and strengthen the overall response. Even if you simply play out various scenarios in your head, such business table tops can provide new insights into dealing with potential disasters. They may also reveal business opportunities that might have been overlooked.

As practice—on your own, at the next staff meeting, or as an actual business table top—let me suggest the following scenario:

Assume, as a consequence of global warming, that winters have become milder in Canada and United States. Assume that this allows the pine bark beetle to expand its range and increase its numbers. Assume this expansion of territory includes significant portions of forests that furnish logs to your saw mill(s) or pulp wood for your paper mill(s).

This is essentially a fiber supply issue, but you would likely respond on many levels: How might you combat the infestation? How might it influence harvesting practices? Might you end up with an excess number of trees to harvest, with the potential for future shortages? What fiber alternatives are available? How will the current and future situations affect production, product quality, sales, the company budget, etc.? What groups will be affected and who will you interact with? (Board of Directors, customers, suppliers, forestry, transportation, state and federal agencies, investors…)

This scenario, by the way, reflects what has been happening in many parts of North America. A business table top exercise could focus on one aspect of the problem, such as precautions to take in harvesting and transporting infected trees. An alternative approach might be to more broadly “brain storm” long-range solutions and business alternatives.

Either approach, and variations, will provide valuable insights.

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