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The repercussions of “Brexit,” Britain’s momentous decision to exit the European Union (EU), will reverberate across the globe for some time. But one striking conclusion from the many analyses of the June vote is that companies were not prepared for this game-changing event.
“Businesses were largely taken by surprise by [the] vote to leave the EU and few had contingency plans,” reported the Financial Times. Even the British and the EU governments seemed ill-prepared. According to an analysis in the Wall Street Journal, “Europe’s frustration at the lack of a British plan shouldn’t obscure the fact that the European Union doesn’t have a clear roadmap to deal with the Brexit crisis either.”
Which begs the question: Is it possible to prepare for a Brexit-like disruption?
On the one hand, it seems almost foolhardy not to be prepared. After all, it’s not as though the referendum came out of the blue. The date was known for some time, and the event attracted intense publicity in the preceding months. Moreover, for those who believed that the British would elect to stay in the EU, ample warnings that the vote was very close were issued during the months leading up to the event.
On the other hand, the economic, geographic, social, and political ramifications of such a change are so wide-ranging that it’s difficult to fully gauge the fallout ahead of time. There is also an element of extreme uncertainty to contend with. Reading voters’ intentions and the actions of politicians with their own agendas in a highly charged environment is fraught with difficulty.
On balance, however, there is surely no excuse for being totally unprepared given that the Brexit vote was expected, even though the result was unknown beforehand.
When a large-scale, potentially disruptive event is anticipated, there are measures companies can take to prepare for the worst.
Here’s an example. In 2008, the Black Thunder mine in Wyoming — the largest coal mine in the United States — planned to install a massive, 500,000-pound new conveyor tube to move coal to a silo for loading trains. To complete the maneuver, the huge structure had to be suspended above three nearby train tracks that were used by 80 trains per day. Those trains served a crucial purpose: They hauled almost a million tons of coal destined for power plants in the Midwest and the East Coast.