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Volume 31, Issue 1

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It Can’t Happen Here

The morning solitude was deafening. There were no birds singing; no children playing; no traffic scrambling to make the morning commute; and most notably there were none of the wonderful smells associated with the preparation of a morning meal. The solitude of this day was broken with the sound of relief workers, generators, and chain saws as teams of people converged on this small Charleston, South Carolina neighborhood that had been devastated by the winds and waters from Hurricane Hugo. Thousands of trees were snapped like match sticks. Boats were thrown ashore and beached hundreds of yards from their docks. Homes, businesses, and public buildings were damaged with many left in a terrible state of disrepair.

I had an opportunity to be involved as part of a work detail that had volunteered to perform temporary home repairs, cut and clear tree debris, and make sure that the people had sufficient emergency food and supplies. Churches, volunteer organizations, and agencies were actively involved supplying goods for the needs of thousands of people. By the end of this work effort I was left with indelible impressions in my mind. All too soon I would find myself back in a very similar situation working a relief effort for Hurricane Andrew in Homestead, Florida. The people in each instance found little solace in asking the question that needed no answer; Who would have thought that this could have ever happened here?

The collateral damage left behind after the two storms was much the same in each city with countless homes, businesses, and public buildings damaged; age old landmarks demolished; road signs sand blasted clean with no visible traces of lettering; animals roamed freely in a confused state as they foraged for something to eat and drink. Despair was evident as people did what they could to recoup their losses, but for many the things that mattered most could never be replaced. I saw what I envisioned as communities in ruin, but what I witnessed were communities filled with determined people that did whatever it took to recover from a devastating situation.
Who me? Prepared?

I learned several lessons during these events that I’d like to share with you in this article. My purpose in writing this article is to prompt you to make preparations for yourself (family) that will mitigate much of your discomfort if you find yourself impacted by a disastrous situation. I view personal preparedness as the foundation, or a first tier, of recovery for any business or community that has been impacted by a regional disaster. In short, the best plan can be proven ineffective if you don’t have the people necessary to work them. Personal preparedness must then be considered as fundamental to the overall successful recovery of any business and ultimately any community.

Regional disasters can be caused by natural, man made, or technological means. During one of these disasters you can find yourself isolated from the world, in need of help, and on a long waiting list to receive assistance. During a smaller disaster you too may find yourself isolated from the world, in need of help, with the only difference being that there is less assistance available for the less devastating, less visible, disasters. In either case, personal preparedness measures made well in advance can provide you comfort while living through a bad situation, and yes it can happen to you, just ask the thousands that thought it couldn’t happen to them.

72 Hour Emergency Kit

The initial hours of isolation after a disaster are yours to weather on your own. There are preparations you can make to ensure that this waiting period is as pleasant as possible. Consideration should be given to the preparation of a 72 hour emergency kit for each person in your household to ensure that you have necessary items to not only survive, but thrive after a calamity strikes. These items should be packed so they are easily mobilized and taken with you during evacuation. They can also be used to sustain you when returning home to start the damage assessment and repair after the event has occurred.

The following table is a sampling of the types of items that you might include in your 72 hour emergency kit. It’s important to remember to include items that would support life for the area of the country where you live.

72 Hour Emergency Kit Packaging: Zip-loc bags — water proof for storing items within the kit; garbage sacks — shelter, water proof, waste disposal; backpack, suitcase, polyethylene bucket, duffel bag, trunk, footlocker, plastic garbage cans; water: suggest two quarts per day per adult; water purification tablets.

  • Include food items in your kit that are nonperishable and that each person likes to eat. Pack enough to supply you with several small meals a day. You won’t be eating hearty meals but will be burning off many calories during cleanup efforts. Freeze-dried foods store nicely (but require extra water in preparation).
  • Meals Ready to Eat (MRE)
  • Dried fruits • Snack Crackers • Hard Candy • Instant oatmeal• Powdered milk • Jerky • Bouillon cubes • Raisins / nuts •Instant Rice / Potatoes • Dried Soups • Gum • Granola Bars • Instant Pudding• Powdered Drink Mixes

• Family tent • Tube tent • Backpackers tent • Rain poncho • Garbage bags, nylon rope, cord, duct tape • Space blanket• Space sleeping bag


  • Should be warm, lightweight, waterproof, compact.
  • Sleeping bag — 2 � pound hollow-fill.
  • Insulation — use 3/8 inch foam padding for comfort & insulation from ground.
  • If you have to use blankets, use wool blankets because they keep you warm even if they get wet. Space blankets and Space sleeping bags are light weight, water proof, and very warm.

Clothing: Include in your kit one change of clothing, preferably work clothes. Anticipate severe weather conditions. Refresh clothing in the kit as sizes change. Wool clothing is best for cold weather.


Every family member should have fire starting materials in their kits and know how to start a fire with it. Ensure that all gas is turned off before using any open flame around your home.

  • Matches — carry at least two dozen wooden kitchen matches that have been dipped in wax or fingernail polish to waterproof them. They should also be stored in a waterproof container.
  • Metal Match - Waterproof, fireproof, durable, and nontoxic. Will light thousands of fires. Available at sporting goods stores.
  • Butane lighters.
  • Magnesium fire starters are good for starting fires with wet or damp wood. Shave off magnesium into the wet material and light it. The magnesium strips burn very hot and can start a fire even with the wettest fire kindling.
  • Small magnifying glass.
  • Flint and steel are effective at starting fires with dry kindling, paper, or toilet tissue.
  • Commercial fire starting kits.
  • Steel wool (no soap) can be used for tinder. The use of a battery and steel wool can start a fire.
  • Candles can be used to help start a fire and provide light.
  • Car battery — run two wires off the battery terminals and arch them together in the kindling to create sparks for starting a fire.
  • Sterno is good for cooking on and for starting fires.
  • Cotton balls and gauze can be used as tinder.
  • Butane and propane stoves are a good source of fire and light easily.

First Aid Kit: First aid book — Red Cross version is great. Waterproof container, assortment of Band-Aids, gauze pads, butterfly bandages, cotton balls, gauze, adhesive tape, cotton swabs (Q-tips), safety pins, Pepto-bismol tablets, antacid tablets, (good for bee stings too). Cold Pack, smelling salts, Hydrogen Peroxide, alcohol, alcohol wipes, medicine dropper, tweezers, Benadryl capsules, aspirin, Tylenol, scissors, thermometer, crushable heat pack, special prescriptions or equipment, antiseptic cream, ointment, small spool of thread / two needles.

Miscellaneous: Light stick, small flashlight, extra batteries, tools — hammer, wrenches, screw drivers, camera to photo damage, pocket hand warmer, compact fishing kit, compass, pocketknife, 50 ft. nylon cord, plastic poncho, garbage bag, plastic bags, paper or cards, pen, pencil, fine wire, small game, toy, etc., spare glasses, money, field glasses, toothbrush / toothpaste, metal mirror, comb, razor, pre-moistened wipes, toilet paper, feminine products, sunscreen, soap, lip balm with sunscreen, bandanna - hat, washcloth, mask, sling, tourniquet, tube soap, bar soap, waterless soap, identification / medical cards, portable radio with extra batteries.

Family Records

Fire proof, water proof box for storing items; full name and social security numbers of all family members; listing of vehicles, boats, etc. (with identification and license numbers); listing of all financial account numbers — checking, savings, credit cards, insurance policy numbers, deeds, and loan numbers showing name, address, and telephone numbers. Name, address, and telephone number for each: schools, fire / paramedics, family contacts, employer, utility company, police, doctor, hospital, attorney, civil defense, location of important documents, insurance policies, deeds, securities, licenses, loans, will, safe deposit box key, vehicle titles, birth / death certificates, social security ID cards, citizenship papers, letter of instruction, tax returns - last five years. **source Emergency Preparedness Manual www.burgoyne.com/pages/gpope/epm/72hourkit.htm

Self Reliance - the Individual

Hurricanes are not respectors of people: They know no social class, no income bracket, nor education level. We found ourselves working in many areas during Hurricane Andrew - One of our last stops was at a Doctor’s home in a fairly affluent area. His home and property had suffered extensive damage from Mango trees that had fallen during the record hurricane force winds. He and his family were "camping out" in the home and had made tremendous progress cleaning up from the storm damage by the time we arrived to offer our help. With the man’s concurrence we attacked the remaining yard damage with a vengeance and in several hours we had all yard waste piled at the curb. We felt good about the work that we had done during this trip and were ecstatic that we were finally ready to head back to the comfort of our own homes. Since our work team was scheduled to leave that night I offered the Doctor and his family the last sodas and supplies that we had in our coolers, a seemingly trivial thing to me, but what I saw in reaction to this gesture took me by surprise. This man, a prominent physician, broke down and started to cry. All of the emotion that he had managed to contain during the destruction and subsequent cleanup of his property had finally hit him. His family was safe, his property was cleaned up, his home was inhabitable, and this man had weathered it all. The survivors of these types of tragedies know all too well the array of emotions that accompany such events and I think all would agree that personal preparedness would, in all cases, have eased some of the burden while awaiting "official assistance," or starting repairs on their own.

Very few people make proper preparations for weathering prolonged times of need. I’m afraid that many of us would find ourselves in a very uncomfortable situation if we had to endure an event like our friends in these hurricanes. I struggle to find the words that would provoke you as a reader to take action in making adequate provision for weathering a disaster like this, but if you are still reading at this point perhaps there is hope that you will take appropriate action. If we can make preparations that will meet our basic personal needs then we will be in a much better position to work in recovering our businesses and communities, which is the ultimate goal of any community that has been hard hit by a disaster.

In contrast to my experience with the Doctor in Homestead, some years earlier when I was working Hurricane Hugo relief in Charleston, I found myself working with a family of modest means on their property cleanup. When we finished with the assigned cleanup of this family’s home we, along with some of the members from this family, started working on neighboring homes where help was needed. As the day progressed, our work group grew in numbers as people joined us in helping others after their initial needs were met. By mid-afternoon we were getting tired and hungry so we walked back to our host families home to get our lunches out of our vehicles. The thought of one more lunch eaten from a can, in combination with the enormity of the devastation, created a recipe for a fairly somber crew. Much to our surprise when we got back to our cars we were met with a hot lunch and homemade desserts. The family in that home was living on food that they had preserved and stored just in case they ever needed it. The preparations that this family made were done well in advance of the need, and from a hungry worker’s perspective their preparations were very much appreciated. With the luxury of 20/20 hindsight I’ve got to say that the preparations that this family made were very insightful and superior to the preparations that the Doctor and his family had made. From my experience working these hurricanes there were too many people who made no advance preparations and found themselves with little food, drink, and supplies thus rendering themselves incapable of extending themselves to assist others.

The lack of preparation exponentially magnifies the stress that disaster victims feel. In addition to the 72 hour kits there are preparations that you should make to sustain you and your family in the event that the need arises. Critics view these preparations as excessive, others see them as essential, and I’m not here to judge one way or the other. I’m only here to point out that advanced preparations can take the sting out of unplanned interruptions to your family’s life style. There are items that you might want to have on hand and things that you need to do in the event of an emergency situation that could span several weeks. The key is to become as self-reliant as possible so you can extend yourself to help with the needs of others.

Self Reliance

Shut off gas supply - no open flames; stay clear of downed wires; food and water storage; tarps— patching up roofs, etc.; tents; trucks; ladders; plywood and 2x4 lumber; pumps; squeegees; sleeping bags; portable cook stoves; portable lighting - battery and propane; generators; extension cords; chain saws, extra chains, oil, fuel; security for home and equipment; fuel; cash; trim trees around your home; some quantity of a canned food supply; buckets for storage and cleanup; bucket for sanitary purposes; household cleaning items.

Assuming that we’ve made adequate personal preparations to ensure that our basic needs are met, we will need to take the next step and ensure that our businesses are adequately prepared to weather disasters.


Studies have shown that 29 percent of businesses that experience a disaster fold within two years. To avoid this fate, many businesses have developed programs/ plans to ensure their ability to survive a disaster and contribute to the aid of the community.

Any business that requires people as a critical resource should identify their team of critical human resources and put plans in place to ensure that their team is available when needed. The fear that most businesses rightfully have is that the person(s) that they need won’t be able to report to work because of responsibilities in caring for the needs of their families who have been impacted by a disaster. Businesses must assume, that despite the best planning, that personnel availability is going to be a problem. The business can choose to make provisions to support key employees and their families during disasters, or they can work with key employees to help them make adequate preparations to enhance the odds of their availability at time of disaster. Some companies have reconciled that they won’t have adequate skills in the event of a disaster and are sourcing key resources from vendors and strategic partners. Once the business has adequate staff to fulfill the tier one human resource requirements, they can start their business recovery efforts which are fundamentally key within the hierarchy of recovering a community.

As part of the community, businesses need to have well-exercised recovery plans in place that return them to full operation in an expeditious fashion. What good is underground fuel storage if you don’t have emergency procedures and equipment to pump the fuel? What good are ATM machines that have no power or network connectivity to them? What good are empty store shelves? You need to inspect all aspects of your business so you can discover in advance all vulnerabilities that could put you out of business. Have your suppliers made similar provisions so you won’t suffer from their lack of preparation? Do you have a backup plan for your computer systems and networks? Have all elements of automation been inspected to ensure that they are covered in your recovery plan or that they have been identified as items that can be done manually?

The odds of staying in business after suffering a disaster are low unless proper planning, testing, and an expedited recovery have been accomplished. The only advantage a disaster stricken business can give itself is adequate preparation.


It takes prepared individuals and businesses to heal a community that has suffered the devastation of a regional disaster. There are many concomitant activities going on in the community operations centers including coordination of public utility repair, certification of building occupancy, and emergency management activities. Healing the community is the third tier in the continuum of recovering from a regional disaster situation.

The healing of a community takes a great deal of money, energy, and time. FEMA reports that between 1989 and 1994, the United States suffered an unprecedented number of large-scale natural disasters, including flooding in the Midwest, Georgia, and Texas; a massive winter storm on the east coast; earthquakes in California; hurricanes in North and South Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, Hawaii, and the Virgin Islands; wildfires in California; and volcanic eruptions in Alaska and Hawaii. During this period, the President of the United States declared 291 disasters, thereby making Federal assistance available to stricken individuals and communities, at a cost to the US Treasury of over $34billion. Seven of these disasters were among the worst in American history causing over 370 deaths and running up losses of over $85 billion. The trend since 1994 has continued as evidenced by the first quarter of 1998 with additional Federal disasters being declared in 15 states due to ice, tornadoes, and floods. Clearly these events serve to heighten our sense of awareness regarding the level of impact that these risks can pose to our families, businesses, and communities.

As our business recovery industry focuses on preparation, planning, and testing we serve to mitigate risks and minimize their impact in the event that a business is effected by a disaster. FEMA has launched an effort known as "Project Impact" in an effort to further mitigate risks within each State and community. Each State will have their own programs and structures in place to interface with this FEMA initiative. I’d encourage you to become familiar with "Project Impact" and what it means to your populace, businesses, and communities.

Testing it all

The best recovery plans can be improved through testing. This testing should involve everything from testing the use of the 72 hour emergency kits at the family level, planned business recovery exercises for the businesses, to emergency response exercises in the communities. Adjustments to these plans after the test exercises will be required and are to be expected. It is through this iterative process that your plans are perfected, your people are prepared, and your recovery is expedited. Regardless of whether you are acting as an individual, a business, or as part of a community, preparedness will pave the bridge that links them all together in a seamless fashion.

Doug Porter is the Customer Support Manager, North America, for IBM Business Recovery Services. He has 20 years of experience in the Information Technology Industry. He joined IBM in 1989 as a professional hire. Doug has witnessed first hand the personal impact disasters can have on those affected. He holds a Bachelors Degree in Information Technology from Jacksonville University and a Masters Degree in International Business from Johns Hopkins University.