BOOK REVIEW / Blueprint for catastrophe: 'Total Contingency Planning for Disasters' - Kenneth N. Myers: John Wiley & Sons, 45.50 pounds; 'Preventing Chaos in a Crisis' - Patrick Lagadec: McGraw-Hill, 25 pounds

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The Independent Online
The Bishopsgate and World Trade Center bombs may not have advanced the causes of the groups responsible for them, but they have certainly enhanced the reputation of a hitherto Cinderella industry.

Until recently, disaster recovery and contingency planning were the little-known enthusiasms of few other than the pathologically pessimistic. But the growing reliance on computers - and the realisation of the dangers posed by power failure or the like - combined with increasing public concern about such issues as pollution has changed that.

The UK disaster recovery market is estimated to be worth about pounds 42m, with most of the development coming in the past 12 years. To judge from the mushrooming number of conferences dedicated to the subject, predictions of 28 per cent annual growth are conservative.

After all, those involved in the sector can point to any number of surveys citing ghastly statistics to strengthen their case. The Price Waterhouse finding, that 90 per cent of companies that did not have a contingency plan when hit by a 'major disaster' ceased trading within 18 months, would on its own be likely to convert all but the most self-confident business.

But there is more: a survey by another firm of accountants and management consultants, Coopers & Lybrand, discovered that even in the 62 per cent of leading companies that had plans in place the measures might not be effective.

So it is clearly Emore than a case of paying your money and taking your choice. ThTHER write errore hard-pressed manager must decide on a course that reduces the risk of a computer failure or similar incident driving the enterprise to the wall but does not soak up as much cash as would be lost if there was no plan to counter the disaster. These two books set out to provide a solution.

Though both make much of their practical leanings, they are quite different in approach - just as a forthcoming conference on the subject has split itself into a 'professional' stream, for those relatively new to the area, and a 'technical' side for more experienced practitioners.

Kenneth Myers, said to be one of the world's leading innovators in contingency planning, goes straight to the point. 'Whereas most books on contingency planning focus on more complex solutions that are extremely costly to develop, test and maintain, Total Contingency Planning for Disasters emphasises a 'real world' business approach for coping with disasters,' he writes in the preface.

What this means is lots of short chapters, containing even more sub-sections. It should make for a readable book on a technical subject. Unfortunately, there is the air of a rush job, with a good deal of jargon and irritating repetition. Consequently, while it is easy to accept the contention at the root of his 'copyrighted plan development process' that the cost of any scheme must be balanced by the low probability of something terrible happening, it is rather more difficult to discover how this trick might be pulled off.

Patrick Lagadec comes from the opposite direction. In a languid style, translated from the French by Jocelyn Phelps, he offers an academic overview of the area. The justification is that the first requirement of a decision maker faced with a difficult situation 'is not a first-aid kit, but the means of sharpening the decision maker's judgement'.

But Mr Lagadec has plenty of hands-on experience, including advising the French government on disasters, and he dispenses a heavy dose of practical advice. Furthermore, by drawing on international affairs as well as business for examples, he is able to make the symptoms and remedies more memorable.

For example, he demonstrates the need for vigilance, if potential crises are to be spotted, through an extract from the memoirs of Henry Kissinger, the former US Secretary of State, relating to the Watergate affair. 'There was, hindsight makes plain, something that should have alerted me early in 1973. It was the behaviour of Nixon himself.'

Indeed, it is breadth - not just of learning but also of scope - that helps to make Mr Lagadec more rewarding than Mr Myers.

While the latter is more concerned with promoting his own means of dealing with a developing sector of business in its own right, the former is striving to look at it at from every angle, to put it in some kind of context.

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