Irma Aftermath 1: Being Proactive

“Here we go again” I thought, repeatedly, in the last couple of days as we watched the largest hurricane on record churn toward us in the Atlantic Ocean. My mind even took this one step further and adapted this phrase to the Dolly Parton song, “Here you come again…”, resulting in an annoying earworm as I adjusted to the idea of preparing for the storm. Coincidentally, the post immediately preceding this one referenced south Florida’s most notable hurricane ever, Andrew. But, Irma approached looking bigger and badder than any prior storm. As much as technology has advanced, however, that darn cone of uncertainty still creates much stress and anxiety. In that our work as trial consultants has a “gig” type schedule, set weeks or months in advance, when that schedule is complicated by an event which is not fully predictable, we have to resort to making conservative educated guesses. It begins with 2 things – first, studying the meteorologists’ reports including watching more news coverage on television than is healthy to look at, including every model, every forecast path and more. In recent years, this includes checking the Facebook posts of several friends who are even more studious about weather forecasts to learn from their efforts. In this way our learning curve is shortened. The second thing we do at Magnus is activate the emergency plans we drafted many years ago. We have mentioned this previously, but briefly, shortly after starting Magnus, we created the first generation of our emergency plan, much of that focused naturally on hurricanes because we are based in Florida. The hurricane plan reminds us of things to do as the forecast evolves. But, because of the uncertainty involved, when complicated by a previously scheduled mock jury project, deciding if or when to discuss the possibility of rescheduling a project with a client adds another layer to the plans. In the case of Irma, we had booked a project weeks earlier that would take place in north Florida after the date the storm would impact us in south Florida. And, at the time we were contemplating what to do, it appeared we would take a direct hit, but the other city would not. We realized that we could prepare and then evacuate to the other city to be ready to go on with the show as scheduled. The concern, however, turned to whether the research participants, the mock jurors, would show up on the pre-determined date, or whether more of them than normal would fail to show up. Thus, we checked with the jury recruiter who reported they were getting calls from already nervous participants, more than a week in advance. That tipped the scales and we decided to contact the client to reschedule the project. We could not afford to wait and see; we had to be proactive and, despite the costs involved, make the decision to delay. Those decisions are not easy because they do carry costs (minimized in this case because of the understanding of others) and they create new scheduling challenges. The point is that proactivity is required in our world; in many ways, the costs of wait and see are too great. And, we weathered the storm pretty well because of our preparations, and more so because of a few changes in Irma’s path. In fact, the impact of Irma was much worse in the north Florida city where we planned to work, than on us, meaning that the early consideration to go there would have been much worse. But, by being proactive in rescheduling, the pressure of the pending mock jury project was off the list of items to worry about in preparing for Irma’s arrival and aftermath.

Having to postpone, then re-schedule, a client’s research project is never easy. When the postponement is due to a natural disaster, such as a hurricane or fire, everyone’s stress levels are high. Hurricane Irma was not the first natural disaster to cause the postponement of a research project and, things being what they are, I doubt it will be the last. However, because Hurricane Irma is on our minds right now, we are using it as an example of the steps we follow to be as proactive as possible. Postponing a research date due to a natural disaster involves: (1) having our client select a new date, when the area where we will be working is safe to work; (2) contacting our jury recruiter, who in turn, contacts all of our mock jurors to cancel the date and inquire as to their availability on the new date; (3) contacting the research facility to change dates; (4) cancel and re-book flights; (5) cancel and re-book rental cars; and much more. The mock jurors are the foundation of our work and we dislike inconveniencing them in any way, however, when we cannot work due to a natural disaster, inconveniencing people is sometimes unavoidable. In addition, if a particular mock juror is available on the original research date, this is no guarantee he/she will be available on the new date, meaning our jury recruiter will have more work to do to find additional people who are willing to work as our research participants. All of this being said, there is no time to sit around, wringing our hands, and saying “woe is me.” Instead, when we believe a natural disaster is going to impact our work, or worse, make it impossible to perform our work, we move as quickly as possible to mitigate our losses and ensure everyone’s interests are met in the best possible way. Natural disasters, sadly, are a way of life in every part of the world. Facing this reality by being proactive is required to get the job done on behalf of Magnus’ clients.

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