Preparing for Level 0 Events – The Scenarios You Never Expected

Just after midnight on Monday, September 29, 2003, Hurricane Juan made landfall off Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia, Canada. After forming innocently off Bermuda it headed north and straight though much of the province’s critical infrastructure as a Category 2 hurricane. Risk managers and strategic planners were forever impacted by this event, much as the world is now by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fueled by unusually warm ocean waters Hurricane Juan moved through central areas causing severe structural damage, destroying millions of trees, driving highest-ever 5-7 foot storm surges, snapping weather buoys off their moorings, and tragically eight deaths.

Nova Scotia Power (NSP), the electric utility for the province, reported that 70% of its customers were without power at the peak. Juan went through the densest population areas in the province and NSP’s most critical infrastructure, resulting in extensive damage to its transmission and distribution system.

A few months following, I attended a professional session where one of NSP’s senior program managers provided a debrief of learnings from Hurricane Juan. He explained that NSP had an event risk of level 1 to 5, on a scale where a 5 impacted a local neighbourhood and a 1 was a significant regional event. He went on to explain that they had no scenario or risk level for an event that created such widespread devastation to so much critical infrastructure in the most densely populated areas.

Based on learnings from Hurricane Juan, the NSP planners and risk managers had created a level 0 event. Level 0 was for a scenario so drastic that they had never thought it possible until it happened. This learning has stayed with me since. That in an increasingly unpredictable world there are scenarios – both good and bad – that are outside of your preconceived notion of the possible let alone probable.

So that brings us to today and a global pandemic called Covid-19. Just weeks ago it was inconceivable that: billions of people (and growing) are on lockdown, global stock markets and oil prices have experienced their worst daily declines in history, airlines have been grounded and borders closed, over 16 million people have suddenly lost their jobs in the US alone, successful companies big and small are suddenly facing bankruptcy, the world has a sudden obsession with toilet paper, and hospitals and nations are struggling to deal with the growing unimaginable human impact.

This is a scenario that clearly is outside of most any corporate or operational plan. And yet here we are. The world is experiencing a level 0 event that is not in anyone’s gameplan.

Today I read a quote from the CEO of an eastern North American international airport. “I can say, having been here for 20 years, that if you take the fiscal crisis, the exploding Icelandic volcano, H1N1, and Ebola, and all those things and stack them end to end, they still wouldn’t reach the… impact of Covid-19. It’s really without precedent”.

What the new normal looks like and when we get there is still to be determined. What is certain is we will run our lives and organizations differently, including being ready for the next level 0 event the world encounters. And in our own small way, here at Rimot we will be working hard to help ensure that critical infrastructure is working everyday and in those moments that matter.

We all want things to go back to normal. When we get back to normal it will be different.

Together we will get through this.

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