Strategic Flash Points
Can we overcome political and racial differences? Will nations be able to deal with world debt and the regional instability generated by the population explosion? Can we create healthy societies free from pain and suffering? How will widespread frustrations be released? What will be the impact of cultural change on individuals and nations? And is the pressure to advance technology out of control?
Finally, is it possible to have a world at peace? The equivalent of three million tons of TNT were detonated in all of World War II. One nuclear submarine is said to carry at least eight times that amount, and the world’s stockpile of nuclear weapons has been estimated in recent years at 8000 times that amount. When an Ohio Class ballistic submarine like the U.S.S. Georgia is put to sea, it carries more fire power than has been unleashed in all the battles ever fought in the history of the world.
Nations exist with policies utterly dependent upon their belief in an imminent apocalypse of one sort or another. These fundamentalist movements cannot be overlooked and ignored. They are emerging powers on the world scene that can create national and international disasters.
Wherever one travels worldwide, one can see these potentials for disaster and the concomitant planning to deal with the potential flashpoints.
Contingency Planning for the Unthinkable
Planning for the unthinkable, governments worldwide have planned for nuclear war. Shortly after its 1969 border clashes with the Soviet Union, China began constructing an elaborate shelter system under all her major cities. These were dug to protect the populace in the event of a nuclear war. Vast underground cities also exist in Russia and Europe.
Although there is a fallout shelter under the East Wing of the White House, it would offer little protection from a nuclear attack on Washington. The alternative is Mount Weather, the underground city where U.S. government officials would go in the event of a nuclear attack. Mount Weather, a secured FEMA facility, is set into an impregnable granite mountain 45 miles west of Washington, near Bluemont, Virginia.
In the event of a nuclear war, approximately 6500 pre-selected government and civilian personnel would be taken to the cavernous underground facility to become the nucleus of a postwar American society.
FEMA has developed elaborate plans for the evacuation of the President and key officials from Washington, D.C. The President would board a Boeing 747 National Emergency Airborne Command Post (Kneecap), since this is thought safer than any ground position. After three days, the engines of the jet would fail, and this is where Mount Weather enters the picture.
The Mount Weather special facility is an underground city with roads, sidewalks and a subway.
A spring-fed artificial lake sparkles in the fluorescent light. There are office buildings, cafeterias and hospitals. The city has its own waterworks, food storage and power plant. There are also large dormitories and private apartments. A building in the East Tunnel houses one of the most powerful computers in the world. Once a year, the Vice-President and various Cabinet members and White House staff fly in from Washington to participate in the annual dry run. Each person on the survival list has an ID card with a photo. The card reads: “The person described on this card has essential emergency duties with the federal government. Request full assistance and unrestricted movement be afforded the person to whom this card is issued.”
In addition to the Mount Weather facility, there is a Federal Relocation Arc of ninety-six underground cities for specific government agencies, sweeping through North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. There are also other underground cities at various locations in North America.
However, the administrative center is Mount Weather. The facility has a working backup to the United States’ government even now.
FEMAs stewardship is also readily apparent in other areas. In June 1999, James Witt, Director of FEMA, addressed the Annual Conference of Mayors in New Orleans. He urged the city mayors to take immediate action to reduce damage from hurricanes and other potential disasters. Witt has launched a major effort at FEMA that is changing the way America deals with disasters. Through Project Impact: Building Disaster Resistant Communities, mayors and other local officials are helping their communities come together to take measures to prevent damage from disasters before disasters strike instead of picking up the pieces afterward. There are presently 118 Project Impact communities nationwide.
In his New Orleans address, Witt noted specifically that FEMA has been working with the state of Louisiana to develop a Comprehensive Hurricane Protection Plan, including levees, evacuation routes, interior drainage, infrastructure protection, shelters and disaster response. Witt stated, “We’re educating coastal residents about disaster prevention. We’re identifying natural resources that can be restored to make communities more resistant to hurricanes, floods and other disasters.” FEMA also maintains numerous other disaster-preparedness sites and has taken a leading role in preparing for national disasters. Witt and his staff are to be commended for their contributions to disaster preparedness.
The preceding information was noted to illustrate the potentiality of disasters and to exemplify the quality of performance systems (planning, development and on-going assessment) that exist at the highest levels of government. These performance systems are not just weatherworn documents that were created only to be filed and forgotten. Rather, they are “viable, living, active documents” that are refined for use in life and death situations. The message should be clear to those of us in disaster preparedness. Do we have our performance systems in place and well tested, or do we depend on crisis management. Let’s briefly review the essentials of a performance system.
Planning is foremost in any performance system. Planning is deciding what is to be done, when it is to be done, how it is to be done and who is to do it. Intuition alone is insufficient. By providing a more rational, fact-based procedure for making decisions, planning allows disaster recovery professionals to minimize risk and uncertainty. Planning is a key way to define purpose, mission, and objectives and to develop strategies for achieving them. The basic process of planning includes four major steps:
- Deciding what goals are to be achieved
- Determining where one is relative to the goals
- Determining aids and barriers to the goals, and
- Developing a plan and time frame (if possible) for reaching the goals.
Goals represent the desired future conditions that an organization strives to achieve. In this sense, goals include purposes, missions, objectives, strategies, targets, quotas and deadlines. The concept of a “goal” has obviously acquired a variety of meanings depending on the perspective of the person using the term. The most effective performance results when individuals accept challenging goals and when feedback is provided regarding progress toward goal achievement. A performance system of planning, development and assessment is an extension and systematic applications of the planning process itself.
Development is any systematic attempt to alter the professional practices, beliefs and understanding of individuals. If disaster recovery professionals are to succeed, they must expand their knowledge and skills, be made aware of new challenges and be encouraged to exercise leadership and team skills. Successful development programs are linked to disaster recovery goals and involve individuals working as effective teams.
Accountability systems drive assessment activity. The most effective assessment system seems to be goal-based. Assessment findings in successful disaster recovery activities provide both a feedback and a feed-forward loop that influences ongoing planning.
The probability that a business or a country will be affected by some type of natural or manmade calamity is very high. Although disasters are largely unpredictable, the effects of disasters on a business, state or nation can be predicted with some accuracy. It is in this context that we must define recovery goals, conduct an analysis of functional requirements, determine recovery strategies, purpose and implement a disaster recovery plan, perform realistic testing of the plan, update and refine the plan, and be prepared to declare a disaster.
The future success of disaster recovery programs rests on agreement of plans shaped by all partners. The challenge is one of planning for improvement, developing people and programs, conducting meaningful, real-world assessment and initiating bold change. It is a strategy for beating the odds. It is a strategy for disaster preparedness and recovery success in the 21st century.
Dr. William L. Johnson is Executive Vice President at Texas-based Digital Documentation Systems, Inc. (DDS). He has published over 200 professional articles and presented at over 50 conferences. He has consulted for both government and industry and has been quoted numerous times on national news.
Scott A. Wiens is Executive Vice President for Operations at DDS. He is a former instructor at the University of Texas at Tyler.
Dr. Annabel M. Johnson, a former university department chair, is now a professional writer and researcher based in Texas.