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Volume 27, Issue 4

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An Interview with Kelly Kelkenberg, of National Preparedness Division

Atabaigi: What role does DHS/FEMA play in disaster response?

Kelkenberg: When a disaster situation strikes and strains local and state resources, the FEMA is activated at the president’s direction following a request from the governor of the affected state. FEMA is a component of the DHS which presents several advantages. There is more efficient access to resources of department components such as the U.S. Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, and Transportation Security Administration while preserving our existing ties to other federal agencies such as Department of Transportation, National Guard, Department of Agriculture, Department of Health and Human Resources, Department of Defense, Department of Labor ... just to name a few. Depending on the event, one or a combination of agencies may be activated to provide logistical support for search and rescue, providing food, water and ice, tents, tarps, establishing disaster centers, provide communications, or processing federal disaster claims, etc.

Atabaigi: On average, what type of disasters and how often is DHS/FEMA activated to respond to disaster situations?

Kelkenberg: DHS/FEMA responds to both natural and manmade disasters that exceed the states’ capabilities and has been involved with various types of disasters ranging from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and retrieval efforts with the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to natural events such the severe snow storms in the Northeast, wild fires in California, and tornadoes throughout the midwest.

In 2004, DHS was activated for 68 disasters; in 2005 we responded to 48 disasters. Obviously, these figures reflect the number of activations and do not indicate the level of effort. As you aware, a vast amount of resources were required to respond to such events as Katrina, Rita, and Wilma in 2005.

Atabaigi: What cost-effective resources would you recommend to assist practitioners in enhancing their business continuity skills?
Kelkenberg: The Internet is a wonderful tool. The DHS and FEMA Web sites contain numerous documents ranging from emergency preparedness and response, to incident command system, to business continuity planning. These free tools are available to assist practitioners.

Another tool which practitioners and concerned citizens alike, can participate is Community Emergency Response Team training offered through the Citizen Corps (www.CitizenCorps.gov). This is DHS’s grassroots effort to provide opportunities to obtain emergency response training, participate in community exercises, and volunteer to support local first responders. This course is free offering and takes an average of 24 hours of training time.

Other excellent resources are local business continuity organizations/user groups which are offered at a relative low cost. Such groups usually meet on average on a quarterly basis. This is a great forum for sharing educational information and for network. On a personal observation, many companies have begun to partner to learn from each other regarding the development of corporate pandemic planning strategies.

Atabaigi: Are there any changes this year from last year regarding the approach DHS is taking to prepare for their upcoming hurricane season, which is anticipated to be stronger?

Kelkenberg: DHS and FEMA have implemented a five-point plan to strengthen preparedness for the hurricane season:
1. Dramatically increasing the amount of relief supplies;
2. Updating the national response plan to clarify responsibilities as well as establishing the National Operations Center;
3. Retooling FEMA for the 21st century by providing tools and technologies to maximize the agency’s response capabilities;
4. Improving coordination with local, state, and federal partners; and
5. Emphasizing individual and community preparedness.

Details on these initiatives are available at: www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/display?content=5647

Atabaigi: Do you have any recommendations for businesses who seek to develop a more robust BC plan?

Kelkenberg: Developing a plan is the first step. I have discovered some businesses still have the perspective that they will address whatever happens by rolling up their sleeves and taking care of the issues at hand when an event does occur. There is a saying: If you fail to plan – then plan to fail. The above-mentioned Web sites can assist anyone in identifying the resources in developing a basic emergency response/business continuity plan.

Robbie Atabaigi, CBCP, a senior associate in the risk advisory services practice of KPMG LLP, provides companies with business continuity services. She has more than 18 years of experience in developing and evaluating enterprise risk management, including emergency preparedness and response, crisis management, disaster recovery, and business continuity for prominent international companies. Atabaigi is member of the DRJ Editorial Advisory Board and a certified member of the Community Emergency Response Team in Cobb County, Ga.

"Appeared in DRJ's Summer 2006 Issue"

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