In an earthquake, well designed buildings in Japan absorb shocks by separating the building from the base, by using deformable building materials or with internal counter balances. Buildings are more elastic. Communications in a crisis also need to be elastic, to absorb shockwaves. In a crisis, services, technology, people and resources you take for granted may not be available where they are needed. Computer networks, email systems, phones and power – any of these may be degraded or lost through a crisis, or they may be the cause of a crisis. Obtaining intelligent awareness of a situation, working collaboratively towards decisions, conveying instructions and obtaining feedback depend on timely, accurate and digestible communications. A crisis that limits usual communications choices necessitates resourcefulness. It demands elasticity in the way individuals, teams and organisations think and act. It demands elasticity in our infrastructures, our processes and policies. Elasticity buys time and rigidity spends it.
Elastic thinking is the ability to recognize new priorities quickly, to broaden peripheral vision, to make fast decisions and to act appropriately. If appropriate, security gives way to expediency, best guess becomes good enough, quick and dirty wins over detailed and thorough. Elastic communications is the ability to switch media to minimize the loss of your normal media choices. If your corporate email is down, can you easily switch to a public mail system such as Google Mail? If it is necessary to communicate two way rapidly with employees and their loved ones over public instant messaging or SMS, can that be easily done in a Starbucks? Do you even have those instant messaging addresses on your laptop? Are they a facebook or LinkedIn group? If your continuity plans are held on internal servers, are they also on third party servers “in the cloud” or on usb sticks, or handhelds? How would you use Twitter to broadly disseminate information and solicit rapid feedback in a crisis?
Elasticity is the least expensive path to build resilience. It is provides a higher return on investment than building infrastructure. Bespoke infrastructure contingencies are expensive. Using multiple, off the shelf, public services are cheaper. Elasticity builds agility. An elastic organization is a more open one, one that listens to customers better, responds more quickly and works more collaboratively with suppliers. The benefits of elasticity go far beyond those of organizational resilience and the ability to withstand large seismic shocks.