Thoughts on VSAT, Continuity and Resilience

Working in the business continuity field can be challenging, even frustrating, but sometimes there are moments of clarity, a time when you realise why the challenges and frustrations are worth the stress.
Over the past few months we have been working towards the launch of VSAT -  the vulnerability self-assessment toolkit with NACTSO.  It hasn't been too easy.  The public sector is under tremendous financial pressure and money is more than just a little tight.  For 18 months,  the Continuity Forum and NACTSO  have been working against time and budget constraints to develop a shared vision, something that can make a real difference to the safety and resilience of all our communities.
I don't want to get too philosophical and I'm not usually accused of sentimentality, but the VSAT project has been very close to our hearts and for good reason. It will make a difference. 
Ahead of the launch of VSAT I will confess to a great deal of anxiety. The field of Business Continuity is complex enough, but when you actively seek to combine security and the sensitive subject of counterterrorism  into one integrated message you run the risk of having stress cubed.
One of the things I love about our sector is how much we can learn from the opinions of our peers. What this really means is that there are a lot of arguments over the context and methods that we use across the industry.  This is generally a healthy thing, through the debates and discussions we share knowledge and experience and adapt our thinking as a result. The outcome  is mostly good with better professional capabilities and more robustness arising from our work.
It's not without its problems though, getting to a point of consensus can take time. Folks from different backgrounds will have perspectives and experiences that differ tremendously and factoring all these in and trying to get to consensus is most definitely a major challenge.
When you're talking about Security and Counter-Terrorism the problems are not just amplified they can appear almost overwhelming. Just because something is difficult though, doesn't mean it isn't worth doing. Most of the people working in all the fields related to the threat of terrorism understand that there is a broader responsibility. We feel in some ways more accountable than other people for what happens when the country is attacked. Let's face it, it is up to us to ensure as far as we are able the continuity of our organisations and communities.
I hesitate to say this, but my own feelings and from feedback given from very many professionals indicate that actually most people are far more comfortable ignoring threats and would prefer not to have to address them. I would certainly like the world to be a safer place, but as it is we can't ignore the threat and that brings me to VSAT again.
VSAT  has the potential to reach into virtually every organisation, small or large, in the country. It asks simple questions and gives valuable advice, it's free to use and can be accessed from anywhere (once you are registered). It is not complex or difficult to use, anyone can use it.  It directly addresses the cost and time issues, most often cited as inhibiting planning and action in both the continuity and security spaces. Even the busiest owner or manager can find time to use VSAT to assess their organisation and its needs.
On the day of the launch I was incredibly proud of the efforts of the Continuity Forum and NACTSO  team. I have to say I was also hugely relieved as it has been a long and difficult road. I must have spoken to nearly 100 people who attended the VSAT launch and had seen the system in operation and everyone has been hugely supportive, very definitely giving it a big thumbs up from the profession.
More specifically many felt that VSAT would be a catalyst for the sector, helping engage with new organisations and spreading the broader message of Business Continuity as well as those of Security.
We were able to gain support from the Mayor's Office to help us reach the 50,000 organisations that represent the target for the first 12 months, with a commitment to work with this addressing identified user base of some 40,000 SME businesses in London. I heard from some of our most significant high-street retailers were now planning to roll out VSAT across their operations and perhaps even encourage its use through their supply chains. I'd assess this, rather conservatively, to be another 15-20,000 businesses.
VSAT cannot stop terrorism. It can't solve all our problems,  but with it we can make a much bigger impact and get more businesses than ever before not just interested, but acting to create continuity and build resilience.
My final thoughts though are that we may never know just how effective this project has been as by these efforts aimed at reducing our vulnerability, we are all hoping to eliminate tragic events and identifying exactly what hasn't happened is going to be a problem!  
By eliminating or reducing many of our vulnerabilities we are making it harder for the terrorists to succeed. We are helping police intervene earlier and ultimately, directly reducing the human cost of terrorism. Not just that though, our businesses and organisations will become more resilient and able to continue  “business as usual" across a wider range of adverse conditions as they will be better prepared to cope with disruptions.
I do hope that some of you reading this will understand I am not being either sentimental or self-congratulatory when I say there is a quiet satisfaction in looking back at the trials and tribulations involved in projects like this in knowing that our work can a real difference and everyone in the sector has a part to play in this.
If you would like to find out more about the VSAT project please visit the Security and Counter-Terrorism portal on the Continuity Forum website
Lastly, I would like to thank Olchon, Primark, Buzz Network, Prudential and the Jumeirah Hotel who all stepped up to help with the costs of the launch ... without you I doubt the day would have been the success it was.