bartI haven’t watched the show for well over a decade, but I remember how Bart Simpson went about checking the possible name abuses for his new baby boy, whom he intended to call Bart.

Homer: “What could they do with Bart? A-art, Cart, Dart, E-art. Nope. No problems there!” And he blithely heads off, content that no-one could ever make fun of his son’s name.

Do you get the feeling that this is how some governments’ agencies approach their risk and crisis assessment?

Government and Disease Control Official: “Well, let’s see, what problems should we cater to? How about AIDS? Check. Botulism? Check. Croup? Check. Dengue Fever? Check. Did we miss anything? Okay then, we’re good to go.”

I remember when Ebola was spread throughout the news in the 90s and a professor of mine, who was in the race to become the world’s most travelled woman, said, “Ebola’s broken out there and I know of NO-ONE who’s going there! It’s so dangerous.”

One would have thought that one of the world’s most deadly diseases would have qualified for extensive “What if?” scenario planning at government levels. Yet, it appears that the US government has been caught flat-footed, the WHO wrongheaded and the resource poor local African states are the ones who have started to firmly deal with the problem. At least the Australian federal government, in setting its policies to deal with the potential Ebola outbreak, has addressed whether or not they could get someone out of West Africa, after they put them in to assist. Credit must go there for displaying some forethought.

Scenario planning has to run through the entire alphabet. It’s not good enough to run through a few letters and then say, “Right, we’re done!” And scenario planning is integral to strategy, business development, succession planning and financial management.

Whatever challenges you face, start running through “What if?” scenarios. And in each case, consider the following:

  1. What are the major forces at play?
  2. What is the epidemiology of this potential issue?
  3. What could be possible outcomes?
  4. What outcome would we want to achieve?
  5. What resources will be needed to cope and to enact tactics?
  6. How do we fund/provide these resources?
  7. Whom do we use to enact these tactics?
  8. With whom must we partner?
  9. How do we limit?
  10. How do we facilitate?
  11. What environmental forces may help or hinder our response?

Don’t let your life and leadership be caught out by an Ebolavirus.

© 2014 Peter J. McLean.  Website:

Planning Like You’re Bart Simpson: Lessons from the Ebola Outbreak
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