Master’s program will train managers
to keep businesses running
through disasters © May 23, 2008 Norwich University Office of Communications

Photo of a building that has been destroyed.

photo by iStockphoto/Sieto High-profile disasters such as 9/11, hurricanes, earthquakes and even common fires have made back-up planning increasingly important for business managers who want to stay in business, continue offering services and save employees’ jobs.

How do you conduct business if somebody flies a plane into your building? How do you keep your business from going under if your corporate office is deluged in a tsunami?

These are just some of the scenarios students will face in the Masters of Science in Business Continuity (MSBC) program, Norwich’s new program in the online School of Graduate Studies, which will begin in December.

The program was developed in response to a call from experts for a higher level of training in this comprehensive field. “It’s a relatively new field that addresses the breadth of systems, policies and procedures that allow businesses to continue running in the midst of an interruption,” said John Orlando, the director of the program.

Orlando pointed to 9/11 events as one example of the value of business-continuity planning. Companies with offices in the twin towers that had done continuity planning had information backed up on computers across the river in New Jersey and in trading floors in Uptown Manhattan. They were able to resume services relatively quickly by accessing their back-up systems. As a result, they kept customers and maintained revenue streams, ultimately saving their firms.

Norwich University, the oldest private U.S. military college and the birthplace of ROTC, is a natural setting for this program because the military was one of the first organizations to implement contingency planning. The MSBC program also builds on the University’s strength in information assurance, a cornerstone of business continuity for many companies; Norwich has been named a Center of Excellence in Information Assurance Education by the U.S. National Security Agency.

“Norwich University was founded for the purpose of securing the nation,” Orlando said. “Alden Partridge, Norwich’s founder, believed that the security of the nation lay not only in its military, but also in its economic strength.”

The MSBC program, one of the first in this country, addresses a growing need. Businesses and public-sector agencies are rapidly adopting business continuity as a best practice.

“[Business continuity is] extremely prevalent,” said John Jackson, executive vice president of Fusion Risk Management and an executive council member of the Disaster Recovery Journal. “In the financial industry, virtually all businesses have some form of a plan [for continuity], and 60 to 70 percent of businesses would say it’s important.”

The field is so active, in fact, that in April 2006, CNN Money described the position of business-continuity director as one of “Seven Trendy New Jobs.”

The field may be trendy, but it’s also endorsed at the nation’s highest levels.

“Business continuity and resilience is a prudent, expected business practice if people are going to buy stock in your company,” said James Nelson, chair of the board of directors of the International Consortium for Organizational Resilience (ICOR) and a member of the faculty in the new program.

Moreover, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, a federal act created after the Enron scandal relating to business accountability, includes planning for continuity of operations as a best practice. Last year, the federal government also passed the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, which requires the Department of Homeland Security to encourage the development of continuity programs in the U.S. business sector.

Nelson said the field of business continuity is becoming “extensively more relevant” because technology has made the world more automated, faster and smaller. In addition, “disasters are happening more frequently,” he said, due to a growing global population and human settlement in locations such as coastlines that are at risk of floods, storms and other harsh weather conditions.

Over the years, professionals in the fields of information assurance, disaster recovery, environmental health and safety, enterprise risk, facilities, security, risk management, crisis communication, contingency planning, and the military have honed best practices that have culminated in certification and college programming in those fields. Business-continuity practices draw on methods from across those disciplines.

Students in the Norwich program will learn directly from industry experts and will apply what they learn in workplaces. They also will analyze case studies developed and presented by those in the field who experienced business disruption firsthand.

Because the program is online, Norwich University’s SGS has the freedom to recruit instructors working in their fields all over the world.

“The industry is really at a crossroads; it’s no longer just focused on information [security],” said Norwich alumnus Mike Jennings ’85, an industry expert and a member of the program’s faculty. “We’ve matured from true disaster IT recovery and are now into the realm of protecting the [entire] business element.”