Whether you are thinking Ebola, independence votes in Scotland or Catalonia, or the current fighting under way in eastern Ukraine and western Iraq, we live in a world of uncertainty.

Things can change fast; and unpredictability seems to be a fact of life, as these and countless other examples illustrate.  Disasters – natural and man made – come in all shapes and sizes…and don’t announce themselves very far ahead of time very often.

For organizations, uncertainty means risk, and risk needs to be managed, so that it doesn’t overwhelm you.

How can organizations respond to these kinds of risks?

Fortunately, in today’s hyper-connected environment, organizations have many additional tools and resources at their disposal to detect, address, manage and mitigate risks.

Flexible, adaptable organizational designs that help people – inside the organization and in its ecosystem of partners –  understand, collaborate, and direct their responses are one tool you can use to address and manage these risks.

What does your disaster recovery plan look like – who is on your virtual team?  How do they stay connected, and collaborating with each other, and with the other organizations – across your suppliers, partners, customers that you will need to deal with?

In today’s blog we talk about this use case in extreme terms – using the context of the Ebola Virus Disease (or “EVD” as the Center for Disease Control calls it).

No one can read about or listen to stories about the spread of the Ebola virus in Western Africa without being more than vaguely disturbed.

In a way, many of us around the world have been conditioned for these types of stories.  The Ebola scare takes place against a backdrop of heightened concerns about pandemics – one of several end-of-civilization themes popularized in recent pop culture films with movies like I Am Legend (mutant viruses), 2012 (long predicted meteorological disasters), Contagion (killer viruses), Armageddon (meteorites), World War Z (zombie pandemic) and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (the re-launch of the Apes franchise).

And art does imitate life.  The Ebola virus, seen in this context, is no different from recent concerns about H1N1 and SARS, or worries about the long overdue “big one” earthquake on the US west coast, which provided a less than gentle reminder in late August of potential for devastation, or the early September passing of an asteroid fragment, or concerns about a 6th wave of mass extinctions triggered by accelerating waves of human habitation.

The WHO’s pandemic phases preparedness models indicate Ebola has already reached its highest state of alert and need for responsiveness. The US Center for Disease Control is now publishing protocols and checklists for the treatment of suspected Ebola cases and containment of the virus at US health care facilities.

WHO_Pandemic_PhasesThe search for Ebola’s “patient zero“stories demonstrate our collective desire to understand causes. The growth projections  for Ebola’s expansion in west Africa and elsewhere raise alarm bells, and call others to action.

It is easy to adopt a “chicken little” approach; easy too to adopt the “head in the sand” stance. As we wrote recently there are thin we and thick we organizations, and it is time to get thicker on dealing with the Ebola outbreak.

The Ebola outbreak is at its roots a medical and humanitarian tragedy, and one which can be addressed through an organized effort by those with the resources needed to combat it.

Dr. Joanne Liu is the current head of Medecins Sans Frontieres / Doctors Without Borders, the non-governmental organization that has been earliest on the ground in dealing with Ebola over the past year.  She addressed the United Nations in early September, 2014 offering the following sobering commentary:

Six months into the worst Ebola epidemic in history, the world is losing the battle to contain it. Leaders are failing to come to grips with this transnational threat….In West Africa, cases and deaths continue to surge. Riots are breaking out. Isolation centers are overwhelmed.  Health workers on the front lines are becoming infected and are dying in shocking numbers. Others have fled in fear, leaving people without care for even the most common illnesses. Entire health systems have crumbled.

Over the past several weeks, the situation as further deteriorated, with Dr. Liu arguing for a more robust response across all major nations that is “coordinated, organized and executed under clear chain of command, and with the full weight of their logistical capabilities”.  

Fortunately, these and other calls are being responded to, with US President Brack Obama describing the Ebola crisis as as spiralling out of control in discussions last week announcing stepped up military and humanitarian aid.

The priorities described to date include:

  • Scaling up isolation centers;
  • Deploying mobile laboratories to improve diagnostic capabilities;
  • Establishing dedicated air bridges to move personnel and equipment to and within West Africa;
  • Building a regional network of field hospitals to treat suspected or infected medical personnel.
Today’s blog draws attention to the ongoing Ebola out break in West Africa.  Organizational designs and organizational models needed to respond will be necessity be ad hoc, involve multiple groups, agencies and interests.
 So we thought we would start at the center of it – with MSF/Doctors without Borders – and encourage anyone and everyone who wants to, to use Organimi as part of their efforts to deliver a co-ordinated response to address this medical and humanitarian tragedy.

Dr. Liu is right – multiple chains of command and organizational frameworks will be needed to harness, channel and focus scarce resources where they are needed most.

And by necessity these organizational boundaries will be fluid, fast changing, and involving local and international governments, military and civilian agencies, health care and other relief organizations and volunteering groups.

Imagine the EVD response team as a complex virtual organization with many different virtual teams, coming together across multiple geographic locations spanning the countries of West Africa, and with connections and networks back into the many countries providing humanitarian and financial support and assistance.
That requires a lot of organization…..fast!

This is an ideal environment for tools like Organimi that are simple, free and easy to set up, use and share.

If anyone in our community knows anyone at MSF/Doctors Without Borders, or any other organization trying to do work in west Africa to help contain EVD, and they are trying to get better organized online, send them a link to this blog, tell them to check it out, and we can help them take it from there.

Thanks for passing it on.  This is not a movie.