Planes & Trains & Concrete Mixers

What does a week where a concrete mixer lands on a train and Qantas has engine problems on two planes teach us about Business Continuity?

The investigation into the Selby Rail Crash in February 2001, confidently asserted that we should only expect such an accident – where a road vehicle strayed onto the tracks as a passenger train and a freight train were approaching each other – once every 350 years.  Seeing the news on Friday, one is left wondering what these same experts would say is the expected frequency of concrete mixers landing on moving trains.  However you do the sums, it is surely going to come out as a fairly unlikely occurrence – but it still happened.

Meanwhile, Qantas, who are justifiably proud of their excellent safety record; had major engine problems on two of their planes on consecutive days.  Once again one is left wondering what the chances of that are.  Presumably this would also be seen as a very unlikely event but it still happened.

There is a danger in Business Continuity planning of worrying too much about the probabilities of specific scenarios that might disrupt our organisation.  All we can say with confidence is that very surprising events do take place and will continue to do so in the future.  Once we accept this we can move away from focusing on mitigating specific risks and start preparing to deal with the generic consequences of disruption.

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