American Diabetes Association

ADA’s consolidation of operations triggers increased disaster recovery activity; insurance benefits of plan testing a secondary outcome

Prompted by the threat of natural disasters and the elevated terrorism risk in the national capital area -- and to determine how prepared they are to protect life, limb, and property -- the Alexandria, VA-based American Diabetes Association decided to test their recently completed business continuity plan.

During the past year, more than 400,000 people contacted the American Diabetes Association, to seek support or direction regarding diabetes management. The Association’s national call center, which fields all those questions, is located in the ADA’s Washington, DC-area headquarters, along with many of the association’s other activities, including membership, fundraising, and education activities. Consolidation has served the organization well, but the centralization of operations comes with increased risk to people and systems.

“We had begun to experience service outages through weather, power problems, etc.,” said Harold D. “Sam” Samorian, Jr., Managing Director of ADA Service Center. “With the consolidation and concentration of our resources in the DC area, the impact of these disruptions was becoming significant and we felt that testing the plan was a necessary next step to ensuring that we could maintain our operations nationwide in the event of a disruption of any sort. We felt that we not only needed to have a plan, but we also had to test it and live it.

“We also found that, when we went to renew our insurance, the insurance companies now ask what we’ve done to protect our people and our systems… do we have a plan and have we tested it,” Samorian said. “In addition, our volunteers ask us about data protection and our IT strategic plan.”

To structure and supervise the testing, ADA turned to Attainium Corp, which had helped develop the ADA business continuity plan. Attainium constructed an interactive disaster exercise designed to put the plan through its paces – to find the strengths and weaknesses and to uncover trouble areas – using situations customized to address ADA’s actual risk factors.

“There’s nothing that brings home the importance of having a good plan than an exercise like this,” said Bob Mellinger, Attainium president and CEO. “Once you’re in the middle of a stressful test situation, the plan stops becoming paper and takes on a life of its own – and spurs action to correct anything that didn’t work. It’s an eye-opening experience.”

ADA’s test experience involved a senior leadership group of about 25 people – decision-makers, the emergency management team, and a small group responsible for assessing the situation. Also participating in the exercise was ADA CEO Lynn B. Nicholas, who’d been on the job exactly two days before the exercise. Nicholas, who had heard of table-top exercises but never participated in one, felt that the interaction required by the exercise was very effective. “Throughout the exercise, individuals were challenged to react quickly but to be as effective as possible within the framework of the team. It was a good orientation for me as someone so new to the organization,” Nicholas said.

“This was a practical learning experience,” Samorian said. “In the plan, we had concentrated more heavily on our physical infrastructure, and it became clear that we needed to increase the focus on our human resources as well. The leadership involved learned that you can’t do much decision-making from a distance – you have to be close to the action to be effective.

“In the scenario presented in the exercise, we leaned heavily toward the emergency management team, but we didn’t communicate aggressively downward,” Samorian said. “We also found we needed to identify alternative communication methods – phone, email – for our critical contacts. It also became clear that what was communicated was as important as how it was communicated.”

ADA next plans to conduct an orientation to roll out the test to the balance of its approximately 600 employees. “It’s a corporate responsibility to be engaged,” Samorian said. “You have to get people to live the plan so that their level of awareness is high enough and the plan is ingrained enough that plan activation is automatic.”

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