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Spring Journal

Volume 32, Issue 1

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When disaster strikes, it comes without warning, without expectation, without limits, and often without any preparation. Since 9/11, the issues of business interruption and recovery have been brought to the forefront for both corporate and emergency response organizations.

What has become evident is the need for corporate leaders to develop comprehensive all-hazard emergency plans that rise above simple business continuity/data protection procedures. Emergency responders need to gain a better understanding of the impact that business interruption has on the community and the importance of business recovery to the local economy.

The responsibility falls on key corporate officials and their business restoration support contractors to know how to coordinate with first responders, so they can resolve critical issues such as access and safety. Each must know how the other operates. Each must know what needs the other must fulfill. Further, the threat of terrorism has added a new dimension to that interaction: criminal investigation of the event. Every terrorist incident is first and foremost a crime scene; that status changes the way in which emergency personnel respond to the incident and will likely impact the ability to immediately restore the facilities to a greater degree.

The best solution is being prepared through comprehensive emergency planning. Planning includes coordination and cooperation between corporate and government officials (i.e. office of emergency management, law enforcement, and fire department) before the event even takes place. This is the only way corporate officials and those in emergency response will fully comprehend what each should or can expect from one another so that the most critical initial period of mitigation and restoration can take place.

The following factors play a significant role:

-The emergency management process: preparedness, response, mitigation, and recovery.

This means that those responsible for crisis management and business continuity are able to plan for their worst-case scenarios. Does the crisis management team have the right resources available to mitigate the damage and recover critical infrastructure and records in the event that an incident occurs? What, for example, is the plan for safeguarding personnel, mitigation, and decontamination of key equipment and documents for a company whose central mail distribution facility may have been impacted by a bio-terrorist event.

An example is those who were downstream from the anthrax contaminated U.S. Postal facilities. Though unthinkable in the past, this scenario, among many others, now must be taken into account. This scenario may be incorporated into a disaster recovery plan.

-It is key to understand the essential elements of an emergency response plan from the perspective of preparing for the worst-case facility emergency. These include:

• Competent and trained management team.
• Worst-case scenario capable response, mitigation and restoration vendors on call 24/7 with pre-set pricing and emergency contact list.
• Comprehensive community contact list, which includes the appropriate emergency management and law enforcement officials.
• Ability for the company to fit its response plan into an area-wide contingency plan which enables responders to work more closely with company officials to evacuate personnel, secure facilities, and provide access to mitigation/restoration personnel.
• Training employees and exercising your plan. This includes: tabletop and on-site drills utilizing in house team, officials and response vendors. This will provide the interaction experience with emergency responders: to determine roles and timing in performing response activities.

-Understanding the details surrounding the crime-scene investigation. Accessibility during investigation and the ability to deal with the types of hazards may remain on site as resulting from police activities are significant issues. In many instances, it’s the mitigation/restoration HAZMAT-trained personnel who actually have to decontaminate the area in advance to make the area safe for law enforcement access.

-Media and community relations. Perception is of utmost importance. Thus information must be carefully disseminated through one key individual. All response personnel in-house and vendors must fall in line with the command and communication structure.

-Pre-certification and access for key corporate personnel. Make sure that all in-house and vendor responders are sufficiently trained and qualified for their levels of access and activity. In the example of 9/11, since the area was both a military zone and crime scene, building facilities personnel and insurance adjusters were not able to get access to their critical documents and facilities for weeks. Access to the conditions surrounding the site were limited at best, but for those who had a working relationship with the chain of command and could get a quick reading on what activities would be safe and allowable, were able to bring personnel and materials into areas for evaluation and decontamination. It was critical to maintaining businesses in the financial district that temporary power and other utilities be provided. Although the local power authorities were doing their best to restore service, they were overtaxed by all the immediate needs of the businesses in the area. Those who did not pre-align themselves with an emergency response provider for temporary power were left with no transformer capability as the existing inventory in the country was being utilized.

-This involves training such as the incident command system and hazard awareness, depending on their experience and physical capacity to use personnel protective equipment such as respirators and protective suiting. The key issue is being able to establish the level of personnel safety on site before recovery activities can take place. In-house personnel should not put themselves at risk by entering hazardous areas for which they are not prepared. In the case of a major disaster there may not be any environmental enforcement (such as OSHA, EPA) one must therefore establish their own rules based on the guidelines they know are needed. A lot of times, liability for improper protection comes far after the fact, as we are seeing now months after the events of 9/11.

-Most importantly, the mitigation/restoration vendor should have personnel who are experienced in working effectively while wearing high levels of personnel protection, including Level A (“moon suits” with self contained breathing apparatus or SCBA). Equally as critical, the persons responsible for critical documents, electronics, and other items should have at their disposal a vendor resource for rapid assessment, retrieval, and restoration of these items.

-Insurance factors – The fact is, “preparedness” as earlier described brings everyone into the loop, including the insurer. The involvement early on in planning is mutually beneficial because pre-approval of pricing methods and vendors will not slow the process down when a catastrophic event occurs. A very comprehensive plan with the proper support system may lead to lower insurance costs on the front end. Lowering business interruption risk and minimizing the destruction of critical documents and data will result in lower claims. Though the exact data is not readily available, the trends in the industry demonstrate that this will be and is in fact becoming a loss control. There are in fact industry leaders in the insurance arena that are providing this pre-event planning and even response services to their large commercial clients. The driving force behind this has been environmental underwriters.

Preparing a company for a worst-case scenario involves a great deal more than the risk managers, and business continuity planners may have initially anticipated. There must be continuity between the offices of emergency management that are in the process of enhancing their capabilities to gain better control over a crisis and to restore critical services.

These are areas that the corporate risk management should be involved with and work in tandem to insure that when the combined efforts are needed, they are not working on diverse tracks.

David Harvey joined Trade-Winds Environmental Restoration, Inc. in December of 1995 as vice president of business development. In addition, Harvey is president of the New York Testing Laboratories, Inc. division.