American Dental Association

Having a comprehensive Business Continuity Plan is important, but having the staff understand it and know how to use it --- VITAL.

The American Dental Association (ADA), a 157,000-member, not-for-profit organization established in 1859, is located in a high-traffic, high-tourist area of Chicago, close to Lake Michigan. The building houses, at any given time, hundreds of staff, volunteer leadership, and member dentists, as well as other tenants. ADA was committed to ensuring their safety and ensuring that all staff was prepared should a crisis or disaster occur.

When the threat of H1N1 (swine flu) arose, ADA began advising its member dentists that they should have a business continuity plan (BCP). ADA had an IT contingency plan and a disaster recovery plan, so they had risk mitigated from those perspectives. They also had a meetings plan and an evacuation plan, but nothing that was knitted together.

At that point, the ADA started to develop a full business plan, researching methods, and resources and building the skeleton of the complete plan. As the work progressed, they then wondered how they were going to determine if the plan would work. They began looking at organizations to consult on testing the plan, and Attainium kept coming up time after time in their searches as a company that could help the organization.

ADA bought a couple of Attainium's Conduct It Yourself (CIY) Tabletop Exercises and got good feedback on them. The light went on when they did these exercises… they were a catalyst for implementing the plan," said Bob Mellinger, Attainium CO. "They used small groups of end-users for the exercises, explained how things were done, and got buy-in that way."

After using Attainium's CIY exercises, ADA looked into doing more work with the company. Attainium did a review and quality analysis on the ADA plan and gave input and advice. ADA then decided to have Attainium conduct a training exercise with the executives and the emergency management team (EMT).

The ADA teams understood that business continuity is not just about IT or getting people out of the building," said Mellinger. "They knew the key to a good BCP was integrating all the pieces. It's easy to get stuck in the weeds early in the plan development process, but ADA was able to stay focused and not get sidetracked when challenges arose."

The feedback from ADA participants on the initial training was extremely positive. The teams saw how serious ADA was on safety, and the process became a mission for the EMT. Now Attainium runs this training for ADA once a year for three-fourths of a day with both the EMT and the Crisis Management Team.

The first training in 2010 was focused on how ADA would communicate and what communication vehicles to use. Throughout the project, ADA communicated its plan to gain user acceptance. Marketing created promo pieces, safety cards for wallets and desks were distributed, as well as tear sheets for desks and posters for walls.

ADA has always had a safety team for each floor of the building. For the business continuity plan, they added working team members from each division on the floor in order to get a full range of employee perspectives. Out of 22 floors in the building, they have 10 floors and about 400 employees; just under 10 percent of the employee population was involved in the development and testing of the plan.

ADA execs strongly support the BCP effort. The planning group borrowed the IT program governance plan and established a steering committee. The executive director was the sponsor, and they had a steering committee of five to six senior execs, most of whom became the CMT.

Although the ADA has a low turnover and high retention rate, it was still necessary to keep the plan current and ensure that any changes occurred in a timely manner," Mellinger said. "They always make every effort to keep the plan up to date and to make the plan better."

ADA's annual training with Attainium demonstrate their commitment to making the business continuity process ongoing," Mellinger stated. "They show that the CMT is committed to the process, really committed, and is providing leadership. The EMT sees that commitment and follows suit."

"In addition to testing the plan and demonstrating organizational commitment to business continuity," Mellinger said, "the training increases the skill set of the participants, who wouldn't normally be acting in crisis mode. Also, the teams identify crucial points and are focused on the right things to be addressed. They are doing it right and for the right reasons… they get better every year, mature in the process, and push the envelope a bit."

"ADA believes that, without Attainium's testing and training, they never could have instituted the plan in such a timely and effective manner," Mellinger said.