Monday, February 6, 2017

When A Speaker Cancels Practice Disruption Management

There is a lot to be gained and learned from guest speakers, whether in a class or in a more open setting -- no wonder the popularity of TED talks, for example.

Another aspect of hosting a guest speaker, who is an expert on a topic, is the networking opportunities and, frankly, the creation of memories and even friendships.

I have a lot of experience hosting speakers, starting back in 2004, when we began our UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter (which just launched its new website), along with its Speaker Series. Through that series alone, we have hosted over 100 speakers and the list is a Who's Who in Operations Research and the Management Sciences with also speakers who are intellectuals and visionaries but not necessarily academics or practitioners taking part - I would put Tom Vanderbilt in that category - the author of Traffic.

The students do a tremendous job helping me with the speakers. This is essential since a lot of work goes into organizing a Speaker Series and carrying out not only the marketing for the talks but also the logistics behind them. One of my most popular blogposts continues to be: Tips on Organizing a Successful Speaker Series.

The same holds for hosting speakers within a class which I do in my Humanitarian Logistics and Healthcare class, which I am now teaching at the Isenberg School of Management, and have taught in the spring term for the past several years.

However, despite the best laid out plans, things happen. Although in our public speaker series I just recall one cancellation, which is truly amazing and lucky, although there were times when I was waiting at the door for a speaker traveling from out of state with only 5 minutes to spare for the scheduled talk to begin and there was even a camera and news crew waiting -  anxiety-provoking, but so worth it when they deliver and the audience is so grateful and appreciative (and so am I).

Part of my Humanitarian Logistics class focuses on emergency preparedness and business continuity, which is rather fitting, since we get to practice disruption management.

Two years ago, in this course, we had some real life drama. I received the email message at 5:30AM that the speaker was cancelling for my 8:30AM class (always be prepared is my motto and I had a great lecture ready, in any case).  The week prior, the guest speaker, Mr. Brian Rust of Cooley Dickinson Hospital,  had to contend with multiple emergencies, beginning with a computer failure on Monday, which was fixed by a Cisco switch brought in from eastern MA, followed by  complete communication failure on Wednesday (supposedly not related to the Monday one)  with no Internet or phone lines available. Hence, medical records could not be accessed, and CAT scans and X-rays could not be read. Back to documentation on paper, which he said the older healthcare providers were comfortable with since they had used such basic approaches earlier in their careers, in contrast to the more recently trained healthcare workers, which are so dependent on computers. Appointments had to be cancelled. This major disruption was fixed on Wednesday but then Wednesday afternoon a sprinkler pipe burst and flooded the back of the Emergency Room with thousands of gallons of water pouting in. The water pouring in was dark and the texture of oil, he said.  There is a new cancer facility being constructed above the Emergency Room area and it seems that the pipe was not properly insulated and it was one of the coldest winters on record in Massachusetts. With facility experts on hand (luckily, he said, not everything had been outsourced), in a few hours the area was cleaned up and disinfected. During that period, however, ambulances had to be diverted to other hospitals, which can be "expensive" in terms of additional time needed for delivering the patient and in that Cooley Dickinson loses any financial compensation since it did not serve those patients. He noted that 4 ambulances were diverted.

The students and I were disappointed, although quite understanding,  that he could not speak on that Thursday but when he did give his guest talk at the next class, it was gripping, to say the least.

And, last Thursday, the guest speaker in my class was to have been Mr. Jeff Hescock, who is the Director of Emergency Management and Business Continuity at UMass Amherst. He has done extraordinary things at UMass and is a fabulous speaker. He notified me late last Wednesday that he would have to postpone his talk because of issues surrounding the Executive Order (EO) that President Trump had signed regarding immigration and refugees. Yes, the EO had affected some UMass students and even faculty who could not return back to the US and an emergency meeting was called in Boston for Thursday!

I was disappointed that he cancelled last Thursday, as were the students, but we hope to host him tomorrow and are looking forward to it. The students have prepared some fascinating questions for him.

Plus, my very first Humanitarian Logistics class was cancelled this semester because of inclement weather (Mr. Hescock is part of the group that makes such decision), so I predict no snow tomorrow.