Insights

The Value of Scenario Planning for DHS SAFETY Act Certification and Organizational Success

As humans, we run through options and branches in every moment of our thinking – whether for risks or opportunities:

  • What if it rains during our wedding reception…
  • Imagine if I took that new job across the country…
  • Would I spend the money if I got a raise?

We make thousands of decisions every day – some big, some small, some without really thinking – but all involving risks, opportunities, and consequences. No matter what we do as humans, we cannot ignore the realities of neuroscience and brain: the cortex, the part of our brains that allows us to reason, is a relatively new addition in the evolution of the brain, is not always in charge. In other words, we are often a victim of our own impulses and biases.

At Toffler, we work with leaders facing big decisions that will impact their organizations and people:

  • Should we invest in new technology?
  • How can we make our cybersecurity more resilient?
  • Is our strategy properly accounting for emerging risks?

The decisions leaders make today shape their future success and legacy. This is especially true for leaders in security and public safety, where lives are on the line. In our experience, good decision making is not about slowing down or speeding up – it is about coming together, listening, and “playing.”

Foresight Offers Resilience in Uncertainty

When facing complex questions with no easy answers, it’s tempting to rely on old habits and assumptions. But this can blind us to obstacles or unintended consequences. True foresight requires challenging preconceptions through creative analysis. Scenario planning provides a proven framework for making Future Proof® decisions against uncertainty. This methodology is invaluable for attaining and maintaining SAFETY Act certification from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It also leads to better choices across functions like operations, HR, and more.

This blog will explore how organizations can leverage scenario planning to:

  • Achieve DHS SAFETY Act Certification
  • Renew and Maintain SAFETY Act Protections
  • Make Strategic Decisions with Confidence
  • Uncover Blind Spots and Opportunities
  • Break Down Silos Through Collaboration

Let’s examine why this innovative process yields optimal outcomes.

The SAFETY Act Application Process

Enacted in 2002, the SAFETY Act provides critical liability protections to qualified anti-terrorism technologies. The legislation aims to encourage organizations to develop and deploy innovative security solutions without fear of excessive litigation risk.

The SAFETY Act certification process is understandably rigorous, requiring extensive documentation across eight criteria:

  • Proven effectiveness
  • Affordability
  • Acceptability to users
  • Adaptable implementation
  • Available training
  • Comprehensive program management
  • Safety/security record
  • Business stability

Applicants must demonstrate their technology or service measurably enhances security. They must also prove robust management practices governing development, implementation, and continuous improvement.

Maintaining SAFETY Act Protections Over Time

Receiving the initial SAFETY Act certification is a major accomplishment. But the real work begins afterward. Liability caps and other protections only remain active if organizations maintain program rigor.

Over time, certified technologies and services inevitably evolve. Systems get updated. Business processes change. The underlying threat landscape shifts constantly. Situations emerge that developers did not anticipate.

To keep SAFETY Act status, organizations must proactively assess performance gaps and requirements changes. This enables them to implement modifications smoothly while preserving certification criteria. They must also conduct periodic internal audits and facilitate DHS site assessments.

This is where scenario planning adds tremendous value.

Using Scenario Sprints to Stress Test Decisions

Scenario sprints provide a structured way to pressure test strategies under realistic uncertain conditions. They are akin to running an engine at maximum speed on a test stand – flaws become evident quickly.

In a scenario sprint, participants from across an organization intensely workshop hypothetical situations related to a strategy or decision. Scenarios are carefully designed to surface hidden risks, obstacles, and unintended consequences BEFORE encountering them in the real world.

Subject matter experts facilitate as groups examine each narrative. They identify failure points, unasked questions, policy gaps, communication needs, potential optimizations, and more. The sprint concludes by aggregating these insights to strengthen the original strategy and associated processes.

For SAFETY Act holders, conducting periodic scenario sprints offers multiple advantages:

  • Uncover issues proactively vs. reactively after an incident
  • Validate effectiveness under stress to satisfy evolving threats
  • Refine procedures to optimize program management
  • Disseminate learnings rapidly across silos
  • Prove rigorous oversight to DHS assessors

By simulating plausible futures, organizations gain confidence their SAFETY Act certified solutions will perform reliably when needed most.

Exploring Long-Term Impacts with “Imagine If…” Scenarios

In addition to near-term scenario sprints, “Imagine If…” exercises address longer-term uncertainty. These scoping scenarios explore revolutionary macro changes that may disrupt organizations:

  • What if advanced AI matching human cognition emerges?
  • How would our operations need to transform if virtual reality meetings became the norm?
  • In a world transitioning to alternative energy, how should our real estate and logistics adapt?

This method pushes participants past linear extrapolations focused on “faster, better, cheaper.” Instead, it fosters non-obvious questions and insights related to the transformation. Visionary ideas generated can subsequently inform strategy and planning.

For SAFETY Act holders, “Imagine If…” scenarios build foresight to get ahead of macro trends that may compel updating certified systems. Exploring revolutionary possibilities also sparks innovative thinking to take capabilities to the next level.

While speculative, the narratives are grounded in meticulous research into science, technology, economics, demographics, politics, and other factors. This balances creativity with plausibility to maximize preparedness.

Harnessing Scenario Planning Across the Organization

The examples above focus on applying scenario methodology specifically for SAFETY Act related requirements. However, these exercises confer benefits across other management functions:

  • HR – Evaluate policies on remote work, training budgets, and diversity goals against alternative workforces of the future.
  • Marketing – Stress test campaigns against economic downturn scenarios, emerging social media platforms, and other shifts in consumer behavior.
  • Operations – Game out crises scenarios such as supply chain attacks, blackouts, and other high impact disruptions requiring agility.
  • Finance – Pressure test budgets, investments, and forecasts against adverse scenarios and identify hedges.

Scenario planning cuts across silos to align everyone against uncertainty. Regular exercises keep organizations tuned for optimal performance regardless of conditions.

True Foresight Requires Moving from “Either/Or” to “AND”

There are countless books that seek to help you in your business and professional life when it comes to making better decisions. Often these books simplify complexity into binary choices:

  • Fast vs. slow
  • Decentralized vs. centralized
  • Intuition vs. data
  • Profit vs. purpose

Alvin and Heidi Toffler explored this dichotomy in their 1971 work Future Shock, arguing that technology and society were moving too rapidly for human evolution to keep pace. They called this phenomenon “desynchronization” and argued that it led to a great amount of friction among humans and within individuals.

Reality demands we reject these false tradeoffs and embrace “AND thinking.” For instance, we must be BOTH fast in prototyping AND slow in final testing. We need BOTH human intuition AND machine data to thrive.

Likewise, either/or thinking causes organizations to ricochet between extremes over time, never finding the right formula. Scenario planning provides the methodology to transcend binaries and uncover optimal balance points.

By bringing together diverse perspectives for open and engaging analysis, hidden opportunities emerge. Realistic simulation allows all variables to be accounted for synergistically. This builds holistic strategies resilient to turbulence.

Whether pursuing SAFETY Act certification or any major decision, integrate scenario planning into your management rhythms. Doing so will futureproof your organization to seize uncertainty and own tomorrow.

Have questions about scenario planning and scenario sprints?

Whether you’re seeking SAFETY Act certification or improved organizational coordination, we can help. Schedule a 15-minute conversation with Toffler director Will Swaim or contact him via email to learn more.

About the Authors

Will Swaim

Will, a Director at Toffler Associates, oversees the management and growth of the civilian market portfolio. In this capacity, Will helps leaders within national security, infrastructure, and other agencies plan for long term resiliency. He brings an understanding of foresight and futures and helps organizations think about how emerging technology, environmental and societal shifts, and the evolving threat landscape impact operational planning. Before joining TA, Will led operations and customer experience for a financial services association in Washington, DC, that advocated for better financial policies for American consumers and financial advisors. Will received three degrees from the University of Maryland: his M.B.A. from the Robert H. Smith School of Business, his M.P.P. from the School of Public Policy, and his B.A. in History and Communication. He additionally played on the University of Maryland’s men’s soccer team from 2007 to 2011, a tenure that included winning the NCAA Division I College Cup national championships in 2008.

Hans Davies

Hans Davies has been at Toffler Associates since 2007 and is a Director. His focus is helping organizations design imaginative futures that explore the nexus of humans and technology and their impact on security and protection. His specialties include security and resilience in the converging cyber and physical environments.  Before TA, he was an Analyst at SAIC supporting the Department of Defense Office of Treaty Compliance, focusing on reducing the danger and impact of Small Arms and Light Weapons, especially Landmines, across the globe. He earned a BA in History from Williams College and an MA in International Relations from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies

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