With Brexit just weeks way, the UK Government is standing by to deliver Operation Yellowhammer. It may sound like the new Bond movie, but it refers to the government’s contingency planning in the event of a no deal Brexit.

Looking back at any large scale change or major event, there’s always a degree of panic. Remember the Millennium Bug? Swine Flu? The London Olympics? These kind of events are always presented in the media with a kind of epic quality and occasional fear-mongering over disruption to everyday life. Eventually, they can prompt some sections of the general public to stockpile goods to avoid potential supply shortages.

In the past, the Government has stockpiled medicine and other important consumables. While this seems like a sensible approach, it creates a spike in demand and – hey presto – it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of supply shortages. With the media fanning the flames, the beginnings of real shortages generally inflates demand further and exacerbates the situation. Before you know it, we’re facing fuel shortages in our petrol stations (Fuel Crisis 2005), no rock salt for de-icing (Beast from the East 2018) or a run on the bank (Northern Rock 2010).

Brexit’s no different

Panic buying will result in self-inflicted shortages, and it could potentially affect the entire UK economy – but it doesn’t just stop at consumables. Such a major political change will put pressure on utilities, communications, health, transportation and defence. Operation Yellowhammer aims to protect critical national infrastructure, prioritising vulnerable people first. Worst case scenario, the Government have historically helped to manage the fallout, including deploying the Armed Services to cremate infected cattle (FMD 2001), put out fires (Op FRESCO 2002) or build flood defences (Storm Desmond 2015).

Like all good boy scouts, we should be prepared

Whatever you feel about Brexit, it will make a difference to your business, if only in the short term. Now is the time to dust off your crisis management and business continuity plans and standby with your own Operation Yellowhammer. The plans span across all areas of your business, and include key liaisons to coordinate emergency services, appropriate regulators, the media - and of course, your supply chain and customers. They should also factor in the risk of skilled staff shortages, disruption to utilities, or reserves and alternates. UK infrastructure may well creak at the seams a bit as we approach any kind of Brexit, and your business needs to be prepared.

How vulnerable are you?

Across the country, there are opportunities for unscrupulous people to take advantage of thin resources, while your attention is focused elsewhere. Many of these outcomes could be catastrophic, and certainly meet the definition of a crisis in BS11200, “Unprecedented, Strategic and Complex”.

Resilience is everything

Resilience is the ability to absorb shock and bounce back.

Absorbing shock is essentially effective risk management. It’s time to review your top ten risks and bring forward your plans to mitigate or treat those risks, including any relevant counter-measures. Any outstanding actions or recommendations from your last exercise, penetration test or audit should be addressed.

Your business will bounce back by implementing your response plans. This includes:

  • Rehearsing your response to disruptive events, including your primary plans and back-ups
  • Practising your emergency response (evacuation or invacuation, and warning, informing and accounting for your staff)
  • Convening your crisis management teams (including checking your command, control and communications)
  • Exercising your business continuity arrangements (within an acceptable time)
  • Testing your IT disaster recovery (recovery time objective and recovery point objective)

As ever, expect the unexpected. Arnold Palmer the golfer once said, ‘The more I practice, the luckier I get’. A business continuity plan which is second nature will be the most effective when brought into play.

Don’t do this in isolation

Collaboration and integration really does matter. Aristotle said, ‘The whole is greater than the sum of its component parts’. We must pull together and consolidate in mutual aid. Imagine if competitive businesses got together and rationed the very products that were being panic bought, to prevent artificial shortages? Imagine if the media got together with commerce and jointly publicised the message, “There is enough to go round, as long as you don’t panic buy”. It’s time to work together and find a way to bounce back in one piece.