EDITOR’S NOTE: The DRJ Career Development Committee is supporting this series of articles featuring the career paths of industry professionals. Throughout this series of candid interviews, we hope to provide career advice to our readers by highlighting lessons learned, highs and lows, opportunities and challenges. The DRJ Career Development Committee promotes education, opportunity, inclusion, and excellence surrounding the exploration and evolution of career paths in all aspects of business continuity and risk management. Key elements of our mission include promoting open and candid discussions of career opportunities, providing mentorship, resources, and guidance to equip our membership with the necessary knowledge, best practices, and tools to succeed in their chosen career path.
In 1988, very few had heard of business continuity. Vicky McKim was asked by the president of the small company she worked for to create a disaster recovery plan. At that time, she was working as the operations manager. During that time, everything was centered around IT disaster planning.
That was McKim’s first experience with business continuity. Her full-time career opportunity took place when a company she was working for as the telecom manager was purchased by a global organization. Their audit exposed their lack of a viable recovery program. McKim was asked to accept a newly created position and to build a business continuity program from the ground up. She began in 1999 and was immediately asked to prepare the company for Y2K.
Part of her duties were physical security and managing the data and voice networks, so it was a good fit since she was always thinking of backup plans in the event something went wrong. It started this way, as just doing a part of the other duties as assigned to McKim in her job description.
Today, McKim is risk management and business resilience director for Aureon. She is responsible for the oversight of the enterprise risk management program, overseeing and monitoring corporate risk mitigation efforts, contributing to policy and monitoring for safety, and managing the business continuity program.
Over the years, McKim has faced persistent challenges. One is the fact that most people do not want to think about disasters. They avoid unpleasant topics at all costs. “This makes you pretty unpopular when you are the one who is regularly asking them to prepare for a serious event, one they hope they will never have to face,” she says. “They genuinely hate to even think through the possible impacts and consequences.” She recently wrote an article on this topic titled “Queen of Doom” for the upcoming spring edition of Disaster Recovery Journal.
Another issue has been helping the executives see the value of the risk management process, so they are willing to take actions above just buying insurance and calling it “good enough.” This was more difficult during the 1990s because there were fewer regulatory requirements for business recovery and protection of data than we have today. Events like 9/11, Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, the 2003 Northeast Blackout, and other major catastrophes in this century have raised awareness of the very real threats that are faced daily.
It’s easier now for executives to recognize the need, but one still must be very intentional in convincing them to budget for mitigation.
Although McKim says she’s earned plenty of accolades, the ones that are most important are the ones she earned because of her presence during events when recoveries were navigated, lost loved ones were found, and missing things were obtained.
When people call and ask, “What should we do?” McKim has been able to provide practical response actions. These events afterward are the ones she looks back on and knows that because of the program she put into place, the company continues to operate even during the worst events. This means the employees still have their jobs and can still support their families and loved ones.
“That has meaning for me,” says McKim. She has had people tell her that they do not know what would have happened if she had not trained them on what to do or been there to guide them.
“Those are the moments that mean the most to me,” she says, “because they are the validation that what I’ve attempted to do during my career has made a difference in the lives of individual people.”
After many years in the profession, McKim has learned a few lessons. First, it’s okay to pause and take a break during response because it helps the person to think more clearly. Even simple things like taking a step away or a quick restroom break or cup of tea, or a deep breath to review a checklist to stay focused, are necessary to function during a crisis.
The other thing she’s learned is that people can’t do everything by themselves. “There’s only so much any one person can do,” says McKim. “You can’t make people prepare; you can offer it and lead them, but they must be willing to follow.” She adds that one cannot mitigate every threat or stop every single bad thing from happening.
“That is not your responsibility,” McKim says. “Your role is to help minimize where possible and provide a structure for others to follow.”
As for advice to those seeking a career in this industry, McKim says they should “get tough skin, you’re going to need it.” She says people need to ignore the teasing, patronization, eye rolls, and people trying to avoid or ignore the program requirements. “Don’t take it personally, all of us who have been in this industry very long have dealt with this.”
McKim also suggests that those interested in business continuity should educate themselves and study the statistics and probabilities of events that are possible and “be prepared to discuss then intelligently with the C-suite. Embrace continuous learning and ask questions of experts every time you come in contact with them.”
A good rule of thumb is to look for the things that will take a company down. So often McKim sees people ignore the obvious risks sitting right next to buildings, interstates, or railroad tracks. They do not view them as potential threats. They don’t look at the building manager’s practices or those of their subcontractors.
“All of these things and more need to be considered,” says McKim. “Of the causes I’ve had disrupt operations, there were only a third of the times it was from regional power loss, fire, storm, or flood.” She says many times it was something that went wrong with the plumbing, electrical, or HVAC systems, or the building manager was found to have mismanaged a task which triggered the disruption.
“People mistakes are most often the cause of outages, so focus on minimizing the error margins of tasks and processes.”
McKim says every organization needs a trauma response and recovery plan. At some point in your career an event on the premises is going to happen that will cause trauma, and people will be “freaked out.” She says this could be from any number of things.
“You need a plan that will help them recover from an event that’s really, really bad,” says McKim. “I’ve faced this over and over during my career.” These types of events are the worst and can take years for a company culture to move beyond that point.
“Trauma planning can help get people back to normal, which is the most helpful and healing thing for them.”
For more information on the DRJ Career Development Committee, contact Tracey Forbes Rice. Rice is a member of the Disaster Recovery Journal Editorial Advisory Board (EAB) and chairperson of the Career Development Committee. Rice has 20 years of experience in business continuity and risk management. As vice president of customer engagement at Fusion Risk Management, Rice brings customers together, partnering with them to develop innovative solutions and to achieve new levels of program success. Rice welcomes your feedback at [email protected].