Saturday, September 09, 2006
Learning from Katrina: Value of Contingency Plans
Learning from Katrina: The Value of Contingency Plans
The order to evacuate New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina stormed through the Gulf of Mexico on Aug. 28 sent more than a million people rushing to find safety. The mass evacuation choked the interstate system and other roads for miles upon miles -- although many people, no doubt, waited to flee the oncoming disaster while they frantically searched for family members. With communications knocked out by the hurricane, however, thousands of people still remain clueless as to the whereabouts and well-being of family, friends and employees. The point is that this chaos followed some warning, albeit short, that danger was imminent. Should a disaster on a similar scale happen with no warning whatsoever, even worse bedlam would erupt.
In order to successfully cope with a natural disaster on the scale of Hurricane Katrina -- or with a major terrorist attack such as the detonation of a dirty bomb in a large city -- it is vital to have business and personal contingency plans in place. Such plans will mitigate much of the confusion and panic that make dealing with a calamity difficult for companies and individuals. Corporate contingency plans should focus on re-establishing contact with employees and assessing the impact to business operations brought on by the event. Personal contingency plans should focus on establishing contact with and accounting for family members.
Perhaps the most value derived from having a personal contingency plan is a reduction in the amount of stress that would result from not being able to immediately contact a loved one. Knowing that everyone is following the plan -- and that contact eventually be established -- frees each person to concentrate on the more pressing issue of evacuation.
Corporate contingency plans should establish a centralized operations center with reliable communications. This center would serve as a single point for integrating information and keeping track of the status of employees and business operations. Executives and employees should know to establish contact with the operations center as soon as possible after the event. Provisions should be made for retrieving vital electronic data, which, incidentally, should have been backed up regularly before the event to prevent a total loss. In case of a disaster on a huge scale, an alternate location for the operations center should be established. All employees should be familiar with the contingency plan and know when to initiate it.
Personal protection details for executives should have plans that allow for multiple scenarios and include alternate transportation and safe havens. Other people can at least make personal plans tailored to their particular situation.
Eight Hours to Escape America, Page Four of Five
Those responsible for the security of executives and other VIPs should develop contingency plans for the home office and for areas where the executive is traveling. The plan should be flexible, and account for multiple scenarios with alternate evacuation plans. In some cases, such as when no transportation is available, it could be best to simply stay put and ride out the crisis. Even that possibility should be anticipated.
Those responsible for VIPs also must have personal family contingency plans in place. It is their job to care for their charge, and they will be unable to ignore that responsibility to care for family members. Knowing that a spouse and other loved ones are executing the contingency plan, will allow the security professional to focus on the job at hand.
Even the best contingency plan can be compromised by the reactions of and protective measures taken by authorities in an emergency situation -- such as road or bridge closures, or a shutdown of air travel. It therefore is vital to have several alternate plans ready for use.
Planners should assume that communications will be interrupted, or not available when putting their contingency together. In addition, similar considerations should be given to the potential lack of public transportation and electricity. If ground transportation is available, a nearby "safe haven" location outside the city should be pre-arranged, and equipped for a lengthy stay.
Contingency plans for the traveling executive should be coordinated with the home office, so that the home base has an idea of the status of its people. Even if movement and communication are not possible, having a plan that has been coordinated with the home office will be better than reacting to events as they happen.
Family contingency plans should provide for a rally point, as well as an alternative rally point should the first one be unavailable. Family members also should know whom to call when disaster strikes. In order to ensure that important personal and family documents and information are not lost, a "fly away" kit should be prepared well in advance of any disaster. This kit should contain important papers, titles to vehicles, deeds, licenses, birth certificates, passports and credit card information. Food, extra clothing and medicine can also be included. All family members should know to follow the plan if contact cannot be immediately established with the others. For a personal contingency plan, situational awareness is essential -- as that makes it possible to determine the best way to deal with or to escape an emergency situation.