Genuine business continuity means you must be prepared to handle anything that might get in the way of business, which means if your coffee burns someone and she sues you (an actual lawsuit against Mcdonalds), you might be required to pay a ton of money to the victim and start labeling your coffee as “extremely hot” (coffee is hot? Who knew?). Or worse, if you happen to be a giant cruise ship company and one of your ships loses propulsions and ends up stranded in the ocean with thousands of passengers and few working toilets, you may have to deal with lawsuits and a giant PR disaster that could leave your company floating in a sea of trouble.
Of course, I’m referencing the Triumph cruise ship disaster that you’ve probably heard about. Last week, the Carnival cruise ship, bound for Mexico, had a fire in the engine room that disabled the propellers, sanitation systems, water, and some of the power, which quickly turned a pleasure cruise into a veritable nightmare. Passengers reported that sewage and waste spilled from the non-functioning toilets and that conditions were deplorable, unsafe, and unsanitary. Since nobody was physically injured, CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin suggests that it’s more of a PR issue than a legal issue.
Reports suggest that Carnival acted as quickly as possible to get the ship back home, and the crews on the ship were reportedly extremely helpful throughout the five day stint at sea but they’ve still got quite a PR mess on their hands. Carnival gave each passenger a flight home and intends to give them all $500, a full refund for the trip, most of their onboard expenses, as well as a credit for another cruise (which probably sounds like a great idea to the weary victims). Whether or not these measures are adequate is debatable. As I mentioned, nobody died, and the biggest problems were that conditions were disgusting, passengers had a lack of proper food (some reportedly ate onion sandwiches), and it was hot and boring—this might sound to some like a poorly planned five-day family reunion more than a real disaster.
Again, this wasn’t just a disaster for the passengers. Carnival arguably did all in their power to handle the situation effectively and are working towards paying for their mistakes but there are still hundreds of upset people, one has taken legal action against Carnival, and many news programs have focused efforts on exposing all of the awful truths about cruising in general. As a result, Carnival is entrenched in bad PR and might not be able to pay their way out of it.
While obviously Carnival could have better prepared for the disaster, it’s also important to think about the fact that passengers sign contracts before getting on the cruise. The fine print likely protects Carnival from many types of legal action, especially when nobody was actually injured. People ought to know that sometimes things fail. Mechanical issues cause airplanes delays and cars sometimes break down on the side of the road (in fact, a bus carrying some of the Triumph passengers had engine trouble as it took them to a hotel following the ordeal).
As always, it’s important to plan for the unexpected and make sure you can handle issues that arise, legal, mechanical, or otherwise, whether that means quickly handling a situation that occurs or compensating someone for an issue your business is responsible for. Taking care of the unexpected includes making sure you’re protected from legal action in the event that something goes wrong and if you’re the one signing the contract, be sure to read the fine print and inform yourself on what you might be getting yourself into. You’ve only got yourself to blame if you sign away all of your rights and something goes awry. Be sure you’re comfortable with the terms of any contract before you scribble your signature.
Also, if you’re an MSP that handles IT needs for small businesses, you’ve got to be very clear in your service-level agreements about where your responsibilities begin and end. In event of failure, you can’t be held directly responsible for everything that can go wrong. Although you work towards having everything function as it should, clients should be aware that sometimes hardware fails and that you won’t be taking the blame for every single thing that pops up.
What you can do, however, is guarantee that if something does go wrong, you can get a client back up and running without any data loss. Using the right tools, it shouldn’t be a problem to take responsibility for their data provided that you’re taking quality backups with reliable software. Being responsible and doing the right thing is always good for public relations.
On a lighter note, rates for Carnival cruises are great right now…