An oft-repeated phrase during the pandemic is "no one could have predicted something like this could happen."
But, in fact, infectious disease specialists knew there would be a global pandemic, just not when.
And while many businesses were unprepared for the massive disruption that has occurred, there are many actions that could have been taken that would have mitigated some of the pain that has been endured.
As the long-time vice-president in charge of events for both the NHL and then the NFL, Frank Supovitz had made a career of planning what to do when things go wrong. (He hosts a podcast called When Things Go Wrong and has written a book called What to do When Things Go Wrong.)
Supovitz shared a few of the lessons he learned dealing with crises in the sporting world with members of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce in a virtual luncheon event on Thursday.
He was the guy in charge of event planning for the 2013 Super Bowl at the Superdome in New Orleans when the lights went out.
He was also in charge of the 1993 NHL All-Star game in Montreal when Maurice "Rocket" Richard dropped the Stanley Cup, denting the sterling silver heirloom.
Both events created learning moments that he believes can be useful for businesses on how to be better prepared for the next pandemic or disruptive event.
"One of the things I say and think about is that although problems don’t follow patterns, solutions to problems often do," he said.
Things like having a plan and maybe even a plan B are important. And having an emergency plan is important, he said, but what’s more important is that it is actionable.
His team’s response to the Super Bowl blackout was assisted by a pre-game simulation exercise that forced them to consider how they would handle all sorts of disasters.
He also believes a patient response is much better than a knee-jerk reaction to crisis and also that it be undertaken calmly.
"Take a beat. Work the problem," he said. "Panic paralyses decision making. If you panic everyone watching you starts to panic too or starts to ignore you because you have lost control. You can’t allow either to happen."
Supovitz pointed out that many of the disruptive outcomes of the pandemic might have been mitigated by thoughtful crisis planning ahead of time.
For instance, the disruption in cash flow that many businesses had to deal with — especially during the total shutdown early in the pandemic — is an outcome that could have occurred because of any number of things. If companies had contingency plans, they might have dealt with it better. Same goes with supply and distribution chains that have been severely challenged these past 18 months.
"Hope is not a strategy," he said. "Hoping that everything will go as planned is not the way you create a risk management plan."
Having a plan in place if a company’s physical place of business suddenly was unavailable is a good thing and many businesses were forced to deal with that on the fly during the COVID-19 crisis.
He said ensuring that the chain of command in an organization remains intact during a crisis would have probably spared some headaches for some organizations during the pandemic and he also advises companies to be careful that they are accurate and authentic in their communication during a crisis.
Companies that rely on the hope that nothing bad will happen to them will be in trouble.
"No business can go through its history where everything goes perfectly well," he said. "It’s a question of how many times and how serious the crises are."
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.