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Many of us in disaster recovery and business continuity have been faced with a dilemma. Is the distance between the home site and alternate site far enough away? Three miles? Twenty-five miles? Fifty miles? Typically, those generic guidelines we've all heard are old standards adapted from military specifications. If asked by your customer or manager, how will you say for certain that the generic standard distance will, indeed, be far enough in your specific case? You might err on the side of caution, and place your alternate site or off-site storage location hundreds of miles away. That strategy though increases the costs for transportation and the time required getting to it if needed. It also might eliminate viable, nearby, no-cost facilities, forcing you to lease or contract for far away facilities or services. This article will present a methodology that will allow a business continuity professional with a light to moderate level of experience to produce a map of hazards facing their site. A perimeter may then be created around the identified risks with reasonable assurance that sites outside the perimeter will not share risks with the evaluated site. Tools and sources of qualified information will be identified.

You should obtain several copies of current, good quality street maps for the area being evaluated.

I would also suggest that any business continuity professional first read and understand the FEMA course material 'Emergency Preparedness U.S.A.' This course material will teach you to identify those experts available to you for information. It will also help you use their language and terminology when you contact them. The course material may be obtained off the web at www.fema.org.

I like to follow the FEMA methodology for identifying site risks. It presents the risks in a logical manner, and can be used as an informal task listing for this process. For the sake of this discussion I will provide the list here. Those hazards that lend themselves to identification through this process are bolded above.

The sources of information you will use may include the following:

- Observations
- Local public library
- Emergency Preparedness USA risk maps (available from FEMA's web site)
- North American Emergency Response Guidebook (available from bookstores or truck stops)
- Municipal or county emergency management coordinator
- Local police and fire department officials
- Local airport public liaison official
- Municipal or county engineering department
- US Army Corps of Engineers


1. Obtain several copies of a good street map of the area surrounding the site.
2. Mark where your site is on the maps.
3. If you already have them identified mark where your off-site storage site, alternate business site, and alternate processing site are located on the maps.
4. Identify which of the bolded hazards above applies to your respective site, by observation and data gathering.
5. Locate credible sources of objective information regarding threats and hazards around your site.
6. Methodically go through each identified hazard, identifying a credible source of information in your area. If this hazard appears to be a moderate to high probability of impact to your site then ask the subject matter expert to help you identify the extent of the risk on the map.
7. Graphically transfer the gathered information in the form of a 'no man's land' type mark onto the map. This is where multiple copies of the map will come in handy to prevent confusion, or at a minimum or different colors for several risks on a couple maps. (Keep one copy clean as your 'shared risk area map' when this study is complete.)
8. After identifying all the appropriate risks on the maps use the remaining clean map copy to make an aggregate copy of all the hazards to your site. Then, using the major streets as guidelines outside these hazard zones, draw a perimeter around the aggregate mapped hazards.

Hazard Specific Guidelines

Some hazards, like snow and ice storms, are impractical to map due to their potential for region-wide impact. Many others though can be quantified. The following are suggestions for sources, and methods for establishing the area of exclusion on your maps.

Sources of information include your local emergency management coordinator and library archive for local history. Tornadoes can have a great deal of variance in frequency and duration based on local conditions, large bodies of water, and so forth. Your EMC will likely be able to give you the predictability of severe scale storms.

The local library may shed light onto the history of such area disasters. Even newspaper archives can help you determine damage path length and width. If not you should know that less than 2% of tornadoes in the US exceed '3' on the scale below. Find out the typical direction of the path (such as from west or southwest to east or northeast). Draw lines on your map in these vectors, crossing at your site. Measure out from your site in each direction the path length you determined from historical information and the EMC. Then create an 'alley' with your site in the middle, twice the path width, connecting the two triangular zones. You now have a 'tornado alley' that you should exclude from alternate site selection.


Source of information is your local Emergency Management Coordinator, municipal engineering department, US Department of the Interior, and building management. If you are in an earthquake exposure area, which surprisingly many sites are, the EMC should have a map of identified fault or rift zones. Draw a path ' mile each side of the fault and rifts identified as an area of exclusion. Identify through the engineering office the subterranean stability of the location of your primary site as well as alternate sites. Avoid areas identified as having been built on 'fill', or areas identified as prone to 'liquefaction'. Check building management to assure that your primary, alternate and off-site storage sites comply with building codes.

Source of information is the municipal or county Engineering Department, who have Federal flood plain maps. Transpose all identified flood plains to your map for an area of exclusion. Note also any major transportation routes near your site that might be submerged by a 100-year or 500 year rain. Are they the same routes that you would expect to use to get to the alternate site, or that your off-site storage supplier's emergency delivery driver would need to get critical supplies to your site? Obviously this is valid information to consider in your site selection process.


Source of information is the local Emergency Management Coordinator and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). You should ask for 'storm surge maps', to find which coastal areas would be inundated by seawater if a hurricane came ashore nearby. (Although inland areas are impacted by the hurricane, their damage manifests itself as tornadoes and flooding.) Make sure to identify which traffic routes will be converted to 'inland only' evacuation routes in the event a hurricane warning is issued. Such traffic shifts might prevent your access to your off-site storage. Avoid any location within several hundred feet of the high tide line of the coastal area. Also avoid areas with primary access limited to a shorefront roadway that can become impassable due to erosion and debris.

Tsunamis (tidal wave)

Source of information is your local Emergency Management Coordinator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the public library archives. Coastal areas, primarily on the west coast of the United States, have studies that map the areas vulnerable to damage from these ocean waves similar to those of hurricane storm surges. If historically an area was subjected to seismic sea waves you should be able to identify areas through old newspaper articles or area history books. Do not be surprised if you find those areas which suffered damage in the past are now built upon. Transfer these low elevation coastal areas onto your map as areas to avoid for consideration.

Volcanic Eruption

Source of information is US Geological Survey Department. Primarily a western states risk, the most active areas are southern Alaska, all Hawaiian Islands, and the cascade mountain range of California, Oregon, and Washington. Avoid sites within 21 miles of identified dormant or active volcanic mountains or known vents. Also avoid alternate sites downwind (based on prevailing winds for the area) if your primary site is within the 21-mile radius of an identified volcanic risk area.

Forest Fire

Sources of information are personal observation, and municipal engineering department topographical maps. Risk areas are heavily forested, with minimal open property to act as a firebreak. Avoid areas several miles downwind of your primary site (based on prevailing wind directions during typically dry months). Also avoid sites that share the same canyon or hillside area of your primary site. Inspect potential sites, avoiding areas with chaparral shrubs, or with landscape growth and tree cover directly adjacent to the buildings.

Off-Site Haz-Mat Incident

Source of information is the Emergency Management Coordinator's potentially the municipal risk analysis, as well as personal observation. The North American Emergency Response Guidebook is an excellent tool to help identify the extent of any area risks. Ask the EMC what '302' sites or other hazardous threats are several miles around your primary site.
Note: This is community 'right to know' information. In a worst-case situation you may need to fill out a freedom of Information request as a formality. Such a demand can create a huge bureaucratic nightmare for the office making such a demand under the letter of the law. It is far easier for the EMC to provide you with the information than to comply. The denial of this information by the EMC may indeed be a perceived security concern, but more likely means that the SARA Title III study for the community is long past due, and the office has not complied with the federal law requiring its completion. A recommended course of action in such a case would be a courtesy informational visit to the person's superior, and then a visit to the next EMC organizationally higher up the ladder. For instance, if a township EMC does not have the information the county EMC likely will.

Identify the large users of hazardous or radiological substances in your area, then transfer their site location onto the map. Note the substance(s) used. Draw a line from the user location to your site. Look up the substances in the North American Emergency Response Guidebook's table of initial isolation and protective distances under 'large spill - night'. Use the largest distances for each site in the following steps as a worst-case scenario for each 302 site.

1) Draw a circle around the 302 site using the 'Isolation Distance' as a radius.
2) Measure down the line from the 302 site to your primary site, continuing the line if necessary, until you reach the 'Protective Action Distance'. (This may be several miles from the 302 site).
3) At the end of this line draw a line perpendicular to the downwind line, so that it is the length of the 'Protective Action Distance', and bisected in the middle by the line you drew from the 302 site through your site.
4) Draw another line, equal to the length and parallel to the line at the end of the Protective Action Distance, through the middle of the 302 site. (This line will cut through the circle surrounding the 302 site.)
5) Connect the ends of the two parallel lines to make a square. This square with a semicircle on one side represents what area would be evacuated if there were a spill at the hazardous material site and the wind were blowing in the direction of your primary site.
6) Make a paper template of the square and semicircle, and lay it over the one drawn on the map. Holding down the template at the semicircle rotate the square about so that the square's sides just touch your primary site. Scribe the outline of the box in these two positions. You now have the total area that would be evacuated if there were a spill at the 302 site, and your primary site was just inside the edges of the evacuation area.
7) Repeat these steps for the worst-case scenario at each of the 302 sites near your primary facility.

 On-Site Haz-Mat Incident

If your primary site is a small or large user of hazardous materials or dangerous goods your source of information will be the safety officer or incident response department within your facility or company. They should have evacuation maps identifying the areas surrounding your facility to be evacuated if an accident were to occur. If such a study has not been done, then the methodology above could be simplified by simply drawing a radius around your facility based on the Protective

Action Distance. Identify the major streets or roads outside this circle, which is the likely method used by municipalities to evacuate areas.


Electrical Power Failure

Sources of information include your electric utility and management team. This hazard is more subjective. You will have to examine your own businesses needs for uptime, if they have generation or UPS connectivity, and so forth. Contact the utility and identify the area surrounding your primary facility that shares the same electrical substation and primary feed lines. Based on your own ability to generate power or survive outages you may need to keep alternate sites outside the area supported by this electrical substation or even grid.

Site Fuel Supply Failure

Sources of information include the building management and the site's fuel provider. It has been decades since oil embargoes, but an interruption of a fuel supply can make your primary site, and your alternates, uninhabitable. Even if the occupants bundle up and tough out cold temperatures most equipment has minimal operating temperature limits. Many fuel distribution networks (such as buried natural gas lines) often have diverse routing and alternate pumping methods. It would be suggested that you understand how fuel reaches your primary facility, and understand where alternate routes do not exist. Evaluate the risk before choosing a site within the areas of single points of failure.

Telecommunications Failure

Sources of information include your telecommunications provider and management team. This hazard is subjective. You will have to examine your own businesses needs for communication uptime, if you have alternate communication connectivity, and so forth. Many telephone and data communication providers are using bi-directional self-healing methodologies. Some areas are still serviced by older technology; with a single point of failure that exists all the way back to the telephone company central office. Sites with no alternate communication methodology besides the voice and data lines coming from their facility should not be serviced by the same central office.

Gas Leak/Explosion

Sources of information include the natural gas provider and the Emergency Management Coordinator. Both sources should be able to identify nearby main high pressure or very large low-pressure lines, and any pumping stations in the area. If such exposures are nearby locate alternate sites at least one mile from the shared risk exposure.

Aircraft Accident

Sources of information include the local airport's management, emergency service office, or fire department. Aircraft accidents can happen at any location, but are of highest exposure along the glide path and takeoff path of airports. These glide and takeoff paths typically are several miles long from each end of the runway(s). Besides the recognition that the width of this flight path be at least two miles wide and several miles long, the way such a disaster might manifest itself needs to be considered as well. In the event of an aircraft crash, especially a passenger carrier, a wide area may be considered a 'crime scene' while investigators sift through debris. Therefore, besides not locating primary and alternate sites in the same glide path, do not locate them within 4 miles of each other if the primary site is within near proximity to a major airport.

Radiation Leak

Sources of information include the utility or institution's safety office, Military base public information office and the local Emergency Management Coordinator. There are typically three major sources of radiation leaks: nuclear reactors, research facilities, or military installations. The first two are often easy to plan for, typically having well published plans. In these cases there will typically be an evacuation area and receiving areas. Receiving areas take in those persons leaving the evacuation area. If your primary facility is in such an evacuation area your alternate site should be at least in the receiving area. Due to DOD security measures you likely will not gather any information regarding what military installations threats might be on-site. Some older military facilities have been mothballed. Some research and development facilities may indeed have a radioactive threat still stored on-site. In such a case assume the worst case. Utilize the suggestions of the local or state Emergency Management Coordinator for alternate sites suggestions. This may be 20 to 80 miles away.

Dam Failure

Sources of information include the local office of the Army Corps of Engineer, utility operating the dam or resident dam authority. Most authorities over dams have contingency plans. These plans identify those watershed areas downstream that would be damaged by the huge quantities of water. Even if a commercial structure is not impacted by damage it may be weakened or exposed to contaminants. Do not locate an alternate facility in such a downstream risk zone.

Civil Unrest / Riot

Although the possibility of rioting may exist anywhere, major domestic disturbances typically impact large cities with low-income urban centers known for crime and vice. Incidents of widespread violence and looting are often limited to specific zones of the city. Collateral incidents occur outside of that zone due to copycats and an opportunist acting out while law enforcement is busy elsewhere. If your primary facility is located in a city recognize that you need not be in the actual area of a civil disturbance to be effected by it. Fear on the part of employees will cause widespread absenteeism. Law enforcement officials trying to prevent organization of the looting and violence activities may disrupt local telephone communications. If your primary facility is in an urban center then your alternate sites should be outside the city limits to prevent collateral impact.

Pulling it All Together

After following this investigative methodology you will have a number of maps with zones to be excluded from consideration for your alternate sites of off-site storage locations. Carefully create an aggregate of the outside perimeter of all these. One easy way to accomplish this is to photocopy these hazard maps onto overhead projection film. Line all the copies up, then use permanent magic marker to make a perimeter around the identified hazard areas.

For ease of communication to others it is often helpful to use the next major street or road outside the edges of these identified hazard areas as your perimeter. Transfer the perimeter to your clean copy of the map. You now have several valuable pieces of information:

- You can say with authority if the locations you are currently using or are considering as an alternate site or off-site storage are exposed to the same hazards as your primary site.
- If you do not presently have alternate business and processing sites or an off-site storage location the study will add integrity to your decision process.
- You will know if the transportation routes to these sites or other factors would impede the site's intended use.
- You can add future value to the contract renewal decisions for you existing off-site service or hot site provider so that decisions are not simply based on cost.
- You will be able to say to your customer or manager with educated certainty 'Yes, I know what risks that we are facing. Our alternate sites are far enough away. I'd be happy to show you the study that was completed on that issue'.'

Jim LaRue, MBCP, is President and Senior Consultant of Dreamcatcher Disaster Resilience, LLC. Jim has been dedicated to disaster recovery and business continuity over 10 years, and has over 20 years industry experience. He has created and consulted on over 100 different site plans. He is a Steering Committee Co-Chair of the Great Lakes Business Recovery Group. He can be contacted online at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..