Warning: Crisis Ahead

Aug 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Ashley Roe

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National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center (NERRTC) — NERRTC, a part of Texas A&M University's Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX), has provided public and private sector emergency response leaders with hands-on, scenario-driven, emergency response training and exercises to prepare for terrorist attacks since 1988. Currently, the center offers approximately 20 classroom and online courses in areas such as emergency management, incident command training, emergency operations, leadership development and risk/threat assessment, says Harrison Lobdell, NERRTC national director.

Included in the curriculum, students learn the acronym “POETE,” which stands for Planning, Organization, Equipment, Training and Exercise, and use the concept as a guideline for preparedness training and disaster response exercises. NERRTC also boasts a 120-acre fire training field, a 52-acre urban search-and-rescue training facility and a 31,000-square-foot fully functioning emergency operations center where scenario-based training is conducted Visit teexweb.tamu.edu/nerrtc.

Hazard Tactics Training — Presented by Prepared Response Inc., Seattle, in conjunction with the Community Safety Institute and the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, the Critical Incident Management Consortium (CIMC) training curriculum - also known as Hazard Tactics Training - offers customized training in multiple national safety initiatives and multi-hazard emergency operations. The curriculum includes courses on threat assessment and prevention, communication during a crisis, pandemic and bio-emergency management training, business continuity planning, creating a crisis response plan, developing an all-hazard planning team and more. The program also offers courses in NIMS and ICS. Visit preparedresponse.com/training.

Emphasize Communication — By far, Marquis says, the most important component of an effective BC/DR plan is communication.


“Businesses should take a proactive approach to disaster management and business continuity planning rather than a reactive approach,” says Bob Brand, vice president of corporate security for Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises Inc. This includes developing a certain amount of foresight into the consequences an organization can anticipate with each type of disaster that poses a risk.

With roughly 83,000 employees dispersed across six major subsidiaries throughout the United States and abroad, Cox Enterprises spearheaded its proactive planning approach by creating a comprehensive online resource for employees - CoxAlert.com - that serves as a guidebook to emergency preparedness and management. Cox employees can visit the site and receive regular updates on natural disaster threats, guidelines for preparedness for a number of emergency situations and to review prepared plans of action for use before, during and after a variety of natural and man-made disasters.

“The CoxAlert tool was created shortly after Hurricane Katrina because we realized we needed another way to reach out to our employees during a crisis,” Brand says. “With critical information already at his or her fingertips, the employee is better prepared. They can then share the information with their families and reach a wider audience, and their families will be more prepared. Eventually, the entire community will be more prepared.”

Cox Enterprises learned another lesson from Hurricane Katrina. After the storm moved ashore on Aug. 29, 2005, the company scrambled to make contact with 400 missing employees in the affected Gulf areas. Cell phone service was knocked out, further complicating efforts to reach employees located in the storm's path. “Often times you cannot depend on cell phones and other mobile devices for communication during a disaster,” Brand, who is a member of the Security Executive Council, says. As a result, Cox Enterprises created a toll-free (800) number to allow employees to check in and report their status from anywhere in the world after an emergency or crisis.

Cox's online emergency resource is accompanied by daily risk analysis e-mail reports sent to senior leadership to keep them better informed. “We report on labor issues that might affect us, travel advisories, medical alerts, national hazards, weather alerts and more,“ he says. Additonally, Cox requires each of its core businesses to appoint a business continuity director, develop a business continuity plan and practice it at least once per year. Brand's team evaluates the plans every year using a red/yellow/green grading scale.

The company's internal policies are further supplemented by BC/DR technology, including emergency notification services from Send Word Now Communications, New York, asset monitoring and risk assessment solutions from iJet Intelligent Risk Systems, Annapolis, Md., and continuity planning software from COOP Systems, Herndon, Va. “All of these solutions are what we refer to as our umbrella of crisis management,” Brand says.

Crisis Management Technologies

A new class of crisis management software technologies are helping businesses unify their BC/DR plans, interoperate with emergency responders and communicate with employees to keep them informed.

“Virtual” Emergency Operations Center

More than a decade ago, Augusta, Ga.-based ESi introduced WebEOC, a Web-enabled crisis information management software. The WebEOC system is an incident-based information management system capable of managing ongoing events simultaneously and separately. Security directors and other users can track individual or multiple incidents through a common master view on the platform. In addition, the tool allows user to exchange critical information across multiple disciplines, jurisdictions and data formats.

“WebEOC is a tool that creates a common operating picture, allowing security directors and first responders to share information about incidents and make sound decisions quickly,” says Nadia Butler, ESi CEO. “The unique ability of the WebEOC status boards to create real-time situational awareness enables security directors to direct resources when and where they ar eneeded during natural and human-induced crises.” Example status boards include those that track significant events using real-time chronology, mission/task assignments, infrastructure status and available resources. Visit esi911.com.

Critical Infrastructure Information System

Rapid Responder from Seattle-based Prepared Response Inc. provides first responders with instant access to critical facility information to help save lives and protect property. The Web-based system is used to create a digital catalog and inventory of critical infrastructure within public and private buildings, transportation systems, hospitals, utilities, schools, bridges and other structures. Using Rapid Responder, police, fire and other first responders can instantly access more than 300 data points, including tactical response plans, evacuation routes, exterior and interior photos, floor plans, utility shut-off locations and hazardous chemical inventories for nearly any facility.

Certified by the Department of Homeland Security's SAFETY Act, the system also facilitates the planning and mitigation phases of an emergency. Users can develop and update emergency response plans for multiple locations, distribute critical information to specific agencies via a secure Internet connection, view up-to-date emergency response plans and revise and update contingency plans. “All of this information is immersed within the system and is made available to first responders and corporate stakeholders,” says Jim Finnell, CEO and president of Prepared Response, adding that having critical information, which can be accessed in a hurry, stored at your fingertips greatly increases the time for effective emergency response. Visit preparedresponse.com.

Intelligent Notification System

The inEnterprise communication system from San Diego-based MIR3 Inc. is built on a geo-dispersed, scalable telephony and application server platform that directs the global dissemination of time-urgent information to and from any communication device across any communication medium. The secure, role-based notification platform integrates seamlessly into an organization's enterprise communication infrastructure. It works in conjunction with standard corporate databases to allow organizations to consolidate emergency and routine communications across all divisions into a single intelligent notification platform.

When integrated with Microsoft Office Outlook, inEnterprise has the ability to deliver high-speed consolidated and acknowledged communications via landline, cell phone, e-mail, pagers, SMS, fax and satellite phone to individuals, groups, or company-wide to the desktop with the click of a button. According to the company, the ability to integrate across organizational divisions simplifies the deployment process and decreases the upkeep time spent on maintaining the integrity of the notification system.

“This system has replaced the traditional call trees of the past,” explains Frank Mahdavi, MIR3 chief strategy officer. “With this automated solution, users can convey a number of tailored messages to different people. The security department can receive one message, while management gets another and so on. This is something that was not possible with the traditional call tree.” Visit mir3.com.

Terms To Note

Disaster - 1.) A sudden unplanned catastrophic event causing unacceptable damage or loss. 2.) An event that compromises an organization's ability to provide critical functions, processes or services for some unacceptable period of time. 3.) An event where an organization's management invokes their recovery plans.

Emergency - An unexpected or impending situation that may cause injury, loss of life, destruction of property or cause the interference, loss or disruption of an organization's normal business operations to such an extent that it poses a threat.

Disaster Recovery - The ability of an organization to respond to a disaster or an interruption in services by implementing a disaster recovery plan to stabilize and restore the organization's critical functions.

Emergency Response - The immediate reaction and response to an emergency situation commonly focusing on ensuring life safety and reducing the severity of the incident.

Disaster Recovery Plan - A management-approved document that defines the resources, actions, tasks and data required to manage the technology recovery effort. Usually refers to the technology recovery effort. This is a component of the Business Continuity Management Program.

Business Continuity - The ability of an organization to provide service and support for its customers and to maintain its viability before, during and after a business continuity event.

Business Continuity Plan - The process of developing and documenting arrangements and procedures that enable an organization to respond to an event that lasts for an unacceptable period of time and return to performing its critical functions after an interruption.


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