Associated British Ports (ABP) is the largest UK port operator and runs 21 ports along the UK coast, including Southampton, Ipswich and Newport, along with the Hams Hall rail terminal. One of its ports, at Immingham, is the UK’s largest by tonnage.
ABP is part of the UK’s Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) and is constantly in touch with the Department for Transport, Environment Agency, Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
Martin Szakal is ABP’s Resilience Manager and has worked at a number of the ports, predominantly in the Humber, in operations roles.
The need for business continuity expertise
Martin had been Head of Operations at Immingham for a number of years, but in 2013 the situation changed drastically when the worst east coast tidal surges in 60 years caused dramatic floods which saw Immingham submerged and temporarily inoperable. Immingham’s position within the CNI makes its operational loss devastating. During the floods, the UK’s entire supply chain was threatened and the supply of coal and biomass fuel to power stations was temporarily cut.
The surges also affected the ports at Hull and Grimsby, with effects that reached across hundreds of acres of land and affected a great number of businesses and organisations. The overall cost was in excess of £100M.
An externally conducted review followed the event, whereby KPMG looked at all port business continuity capability and produced a board level report. It was concluded that ABP’s emergency and business continuity plans hadn’t been as in depth as they should have been. Martin was chosen to lead the remedial efforts due to his operations experience and first-hand experience of the flood. Initially his role was just for the Humber, but it very quickly moved to cover all ports and sites, including London Head Office and the rail terminal, as none had mature business continuity plans in place.
ABP came to us because they wanted to work with a business continuity consultancy able to help them learn, automate and plan collaboratively, transferring-in knowledge and creating internal efficiencies, rather than taking a dictatorial stance.
ABP’s head of IT had previous experience in working with Inoni and suggested us as an ideal partner to meet the requirements. An interview followed and Inoni was selected to lead the efforts to create comprehensive business continuity plans for ABP, alongside Martin.
A grand-scale project
At the start of the engagement, Inoni’s Managing Director, John Robinson, spent some time visiting and examining the ports with Martin, analysing and understanding their activities and departments, as well as identifying the key recoverable processes required to restore port functions.
The scale of port operations can be hard to envisage until you visit a busy one. John’s initial tour of Immingham took the form of a 2 hour drive, and included visits to major terminals for oil and gas, fertiliser, bulk materials, containers, coal and biomass. It also took in some of the many dozens of tenants’ offices at Immingham, some operating from intensely secure restricted areas (COMAH sites), others with highly specialised and evolving enterprises such as wind farms.
The port’s continuity plan is designed to encompass this level of complexity, and whilst it doesn’t plan on individual tenants’ behalf, it does take into account the intense interaction and coordination involved when there is a genuine port emergency.
A resilient, unified approach
Our business continuity software platform and built-in templates provided an ideal starting point for the work ahead, although it quickly became apparent that the nature and structure of ports meant Inoni and ABP would need to work together to further develop and adapt the platform for this particular project. The Inoni platform allows and encourages this approach, ensuring emergency and continuity plans fit the business in question and evolve and adapt with it.
So we worked to adapt the platform and templates, creating a new bespoke business continuity management system driven by our findings and designed to enable ABP to develop emergency responses and resilience strategies, covering the highly specific scenarios faced by each port location, ranging from loss of road access to port closure, pandemic to IT failure.
We used a graphical in-house methodology to help develop ABP’s continuity plans. With it, we created a resilience model of each port whilst aligning with the more formal ISO Standards and Good Practice Guide. The model helped us understand the business and shape the plan structure to fit, and it has also proven an invaluable aid to communicating and explaining what we’ve done to others. It was particularly popular with ABP’s port management teams – so much so that the early drawings still adorn Martin’s office wall.
From the outset our approach has been to create a unified resilience capability, and to this end we have collaborated closely with other related disciplines within ABP, which was greatly helped by the fact that Martin is PFSO (Port Facility Security Officer) for ABP's four Humber ports.
In addition, we take regular feeds, input and involvement from Group Risk, Insurance, Health and Safety, Environment, HR, IT and Operations. We liaise closely with Local Resilience Forums (LRFs) and have a programme of engagement that recently saw attendance by 40+ port customer continuity representatives in the Seaman’s Mess at Immingham.
The level of involvement is impressive and leads to well practised community capability, rather than an isolated and potentially competitive response.
Tests and Exercises
Once we had plans in place, we exposed them to ABP staff and category 1 emergency responders and undertook a series of drills and exercises, designed to test their strength and utility. The results of these tests, along with advice and observations from stakeholders and users, are used to refine the plans and continue their development – a process that is still ongoing today.
A memorable element of the testing and refining process was an exercise in which we virtually set ABP’s Head Office “on fire” in order to assess the Head Office team’s understanding of the plans and ability to carry them out under extreme circumstances. Over 30 members of ABP's top management took part, including the CEO and CFO, demonstrating an impressive level of commitment.
We are now further refining the plans in line with our findings from that exercise. In September we will hold another emergency exercise, both at Head Office again and at other ports. The aim is again to test understanding, from the C-suite and Directors of Region at the ports down to the controllers, who would most likely be the first to discover any issues.
A dynamic, ever evolving process
ABP's focus on capability, quality and compliance forbids a box-ticking exercise. To date, our engagement has lasted over a year and has addressed each component of the continuity life-cycle and each aspect of the ISO standard, systematically building resilience across the group. This is driven by a programme of workshops, in which each regional management team takes part in a thorough annual review.
Each workshop and seminar yields new insights, which we then use to evolve and continually improve our business continuity plans, ensuring they hold up to the intense scrutiny of annual external audit against best practice.
Throughout the project we have been keen to maintain a high level of accessibility for users. So when ABP's CFO commented that, whilst comprehensive, the Head Office business continuity documentation would benefit from being available in a more condensed format, we responded by creating a set of compact role cards to be kept in grab-bags. These set out the activities and information required by each role assignee on an A4 sheet, using the same data required in the auditable plan.
This offers a great example of how our software has been a key enabler throughout the project, and the responsive working it enables: the software allowed us to easily and swiftly re-present the information in the new role card format. We were able to create the cards both online and as laminated sheets in a matter of days.
One thing is for sure – the plans will not be finished and then filed away; this is a living, working document that will aid ABP for many years to come.
The result – an enabling, adaptive platform
The project spans 9 regional directorates, 94 departments, 116 critical processes, 23 sites and 200+ system users. We have provided each department with its own plan, each region with a detailed impact analysis and regional emergency and continuity plan, each key role with a definitive role card, and we have integrated all this with ABP’s pre-existing crisis communications plan to create a seamless whole. This means we can respond with a high level of certainty to any major incident anywhere across the Group.
ABP now has a clear and well-developed incident response structure in place – with strategic, tactical and operational teams, all of which are now more fully attuned to their business continuity roles and responsibilities.
Martin and his team feel they now have a best practice capability and a clear chain of command for emergencies, and they stand “way ahead” of where they were 18 months ago when it comes to dealing with emergencies, understanding risk and business continuity.
Thanks to the success of the project, Martin and John were invited to present ABP’s achievements at BCI World, the continuity industry’s main global event, in November 2015, and, following the positive response, they have since been invited to speak at other industry-specific events.
Though this is an evolving process, Martin feels that ABP is now “absolutely, without a doubt” more resilient and better equipped to cope with almost any disaster or incident, at any of its locations. They have shared the business continuity work we developed with the Department of Transport and KPMG, both of whom commented on how professional and well-adapted to the organisation the plans are.
“Inoni offers a tremendous wealth of knowledge in business continuity and an in-depth understanding of the problems associated with it. I appreciated Inoni’s keen interest in understanding ABP’s nuances and speciality in operations and developing and adapting the work in line with this. I always found Inoni very open to suggestions, willing to learn about our business, and willing to tailor the package to the organisation”
Martin Szakal Resilience Manager for Associated British Ports
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