Getting Top Executives to Support Your Effort
If your business spends time and dollars today to devise strategies to protect your share of the marketplace from competitors, it needs to devote time and effort to prevent these same competitors from penetrating your market when disaster strikes.
When viewed in this light, executives will realize that emergency preparedness planning is an absolutely necessary competitive strategy.
How confident are you that you will manage through a disaster better than your competitors? If for no other reason, this could be the most compelling argument for devoting the necessary resources. Don’t wait until afer the disaster to answer this question.
The most frequent complaint I hear from emergency managers is that they can’t get the support of their top executives. Many have been given this duty along with several other tasks. They are expected to complete their emergency preparedness plans in their spare time between countless meetings and other daily crises.
Not surprisingly, other priorities always take precedence over planning. . . until a real disaster hits. Then the planner’s telephone rings off the hook, and everyone wants to know what happened, and why the plans didn’t work.
How do you get support before a disaster strikes? Start your planning at the top. If you have been given this assignment—even part-time—it’s because someone up above is concerned. Find out who, and use them as your advocate.
If your business has experienced a real disaster lately, someone of authority is asking questions. Position yourself by volunteering to investigate and come up with recommendations, then seize the opportunity to get support for your total effort.
It is important to realize when seeking officer and executive level support that these are extremely busy people with wide-ranging responsibilities.
The information you prepare should be specific, and should speak to the financial and operational vulnerabilities of the organization.
Emergency Manager’s Responsibilities
If you have not been given a job description, start by creating one of your own, then ask your boss to approve it. Below is a generic list of responsibilities which you can adapt for your own situation.
1. Perform an initial assessment of where you are, and prepare a report detailing what your project will entail.
2. Coordinate all emergency preparedness planning efforts for the organization.
3. Identify, appoint, and coordinate the work of all others who will be working with you on this project.
4. Coordinate the development of all documents.
5. Form and chair an interdepartmental team which will develop department plans to support the overall company plan.
6. Monitor the progress of all other planning. Review department and EOC plans for consistency with the company plan.
7. Coordinate the implementation phase, working with trainers to prepare and deliver appropriate programs to all employees.
8. Conduct drills, tabletop exercises, and scenarios as required.
9. Coordinate the revision and updating of all plans on an ongoing basis.
By preparing and circulating a job description for approval, you are taking the first step of educating those above you. They will most likely ask many questions. Use these opportunities to let them know how important your task is.
One of my clients was in the documenting stage when a smoke bomb exploded at one of their locations. All of a sudden the officers were asking questions.
Within just a couple of weeks he distributed a key executive’s document outlining the officers’ roles, his company plan which detailed the company policies, and drafted a site plan for the affected location. He was able to take advantage of the timing to create awareness.
Although I don’t recommend staging a real incident to focus attention, you may be able to create a simulated event by getting one key executive to champion your cause.
In the case of Pacific Bell, Marty Kaplan, who was then Executive Vice-President, Operations, realized the significance of the Whittier Earthquake experience, and became personally committed to protecting the company from future risk.
He required all Operations Officers to participate as observers in our first EOC exercise following the quake. Pacific Bell made it as realistic as possible, and after observing first-hand what they could expect, all were quickly committed to the cause.
The first point that all emergency managers must realize is that the reason their officers or key executives do not focus their attention on this subject is because they are not aware of how vulnerable their operation will be following a disaster.
How do you get their attention? Perform an assessment of where your company is in its planning. Sometimes an independent assessment by an outside consulting firm can be more effective than an internal review.
To be effective, the report should detail the current state of all of the planning levels, stressing the financial and operational vulnerabilities.
Other groups use a simulated event to create interest, placing key decision-makers in roles which will point out their lack of personal knowledge of what their roles are.
Once your key executives realize they don’t know what they are supposed to do, they will become personally interested in the success of your effort.
Guest speakers at staff meetings and short videos of actual disasters experienced by other organizations are also good attention-getters. First Interstate Bank and Universal Studios both have videos available which depict what they went through with real-life disasters.
Organizations such as the American Red Cross, state resources such as the Southern California Emergency Preparedness Project (SCEPP), Bay Area Region Emergency Preparedness Project (BAREPP), or private research organizations such as the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) are excellent sources for slides and videotapes.
Preparing The Project Proposal
Whatever technique you use to gain their attention, once you have it, prepare a detailed proposal for your executives.
Spell out where you are today, and what activities will need to be completed. Include the initial assessment so everyone will see your current vulnerabilities.
Identify what resources you will need, including support personnel. Request that an interdepartmental team be formed which will work with you to prepare the plans.
Estimate up front what you anticipate your effort will cost. Include projected training, external support, purchase of materials and supplies, and alternative communications or back-up computer needs.
Package your report providing as much cost information as is currently available. Use a realistic timeline to depict what needs to be done.
Recommend frequent review and buy-in by your top managers as the project progresses to make sure they continue to support your effort.
Present your proposal in a formal meeting. If possible, distribute your report to the decision makers in advance, so they will already be familiar with your information.
Allow enough time on the agenda. This is an important subject for your key executives, and they need to devote the time up front to discuss how they want to guide it.
Make sure the right people are going to be present at the meeting. If you suspect your project will not be approved without the support of key managers, arrange to meet with them first to present what you are going to propose and surface their views in advance.
If they have objections to the project, decide how to overcome those objections before you meet.
At the formal meeting, give your key executives the big picture. Let them know up front how they fit into that picture.
One of your early project activities should be equipping them with a “Key Executives Document” or something equivalent which will tangibly make them stakeholders.
Most importantly, do not leave the meeting without gaining commitment from them on what your next steps should be.
Involve them in your effort by requesting them to make decisions on how you are to proceed. Prepare alternatives and recommendations in advance, then guide them to the decisions which are best
It will make them feel that they are important for your cause to be successful. And, in fact, they are!
Remember, Plan Today. . . Survive Tomorrow!
This article is an excerpt from Judy Bell’s book, “Disaster Survival Planning: A Practical Guide for Businesses.” Bell is the president of Disaster Survival Planning, Inc., a Port Hueneme, California consulting firm.
This article adapted from Vol. 6 #1.