Archive for Emergency Response

World Vision: Humanitarian Services and Emergency Response

Last week, I had the opportunity and privilege to have lunch with the gentleman responsible for business continuity planning at World Vision, United States.  Not only did I have the honor of meeting a real nice, intelligent and engaging individual, who I hope to be able to share a number of lunches with in the near future – but, I also got an interesting education on the World Vision organization; an organization of which I knew little about.

Taken from their website, (, “World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice.”

At my guest’s recommendation, I arrived for our appointment a half an hour early to allow me time to tour the World Vision museum at their World Headquarters prior to our lunch.  This was a fascinating self-guided tour through the history, mission, successes and future hopes of the World Vision organization. 

And, not only does World Vision help tackle the causes of poverty and injustice, they are also one of the first organizations on site, and the last to leave, providing emergency support and care in the wake of natural and man-made disasters.

World Vision may not be as known or recognizable here in the US as the American Red Cross is, but they provide many similar services and are very well known in other regions of the world.

While walking through the museum, I was, of course, particularly drawn to the displays and information available describing their disaster and emergency response efforts.  There was one plaque on the wall that included this quote:  “The World Bank has estimated that every dollar spent in preparing for a natural disaster saves seven in response.”  I find that a remarkable statistic supporting our cries for the need to prepare in advance for disasters and business interruptions.  I wonder if similar results are realized in business continuity situations.  It seems to me that they would be.

Anyway, I just thought that I would draw your attention to this lesser known organization that provides tremendous humanitarian services throughout the world and is also very involved in disaster and emergency response, care and relief – especially focused on the needs of children and those without the means to provide care for their selves.  I highly encourage you to visit their website and learn more about World Vision for yourself.

FEMA and Joint Agencies’ Emergency Alert System Test

For those of who are not aware, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), will be conducting a joint nationwide Emergency Alert System test on November 9, 2011 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern / 1:00 p.m. Central / 12:00 noon Mountain / 11:00 a.m. Pacific time.  For more information on this exercise you can click here to go to the FEMA website.

This will be the first nationwide test of this kind and, I think, a good idea to ensure a consistent delivery of notification for a national emergency.  There is some concern that a test of this nature and magnitude could cause some unnecessary concern from those who may not be aware it is only a test, so, do your part in making others aware of this event.

You might also want to monitor the test yourself and witness how this message is broadcast via multiple medium.  Turn on your radios and televisions and maybe even tune in to several stations or channels (use your teams if you have to) and see if there are any differences or flaws in the process.  Might be an interesting little exercise for ourselves.  And, wouldn’t it be neat to see how our security or crisis management teams would respond to a message like this if it were real?

It is probably too late to coordinate an internal exercise around this event, but it might be a good idea to just send around notice of this test to key response areas and ask them what their process would be if a national emergency was announced through the public media channels.  Their answers might be interesting, if not surprising.

So, be on your toes and remember, this is a test, this is just a test.

EDIT:  A reader provided me with this update information: Nov. 9 Nationwide EAS Test Shortened to 30 Seconds

The North East Snow Storm – 2011

Certainly, snow storms on the North Atlantic Coast are no surprise … but, in October!?!?  I mean, really?  We haven’t even turned the clocks back yet!  Even before the kids go trick or treating?  Madness, absolute madness.

And, of course, snow storms while trees still have leaves on them brings down more branches.  More branches falling take out more power lines.  More power lines out results in more businesses being interrupted.  Snow!  Before the end of October?  Absurd.

I guess it just goes to show, you need to always be prepared.  I am sure most cities had not yet received their supplies of salt/sand or other snow-treating chemicals yet.  Trucks, snow plows and snow blades probably had not been maintenanced or put into service yet.  And, other “winterizing” activities had not yet occurred.  Snow!

People love to talk about how bad the weather is in the Pacific Northwest.  Yes, we may have a lot of rainy and overcast days, but what we didn’t have this year are: floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, draughts or snow storms in October!

It has been a crazy weather year for much of the United States this past year and forecasts suggest much of the same this year.  I can’t wait – (that is in sarcasm font).

Testing Your Automated Emergency Notification Systems

Do those of you who rely on automated notification systems test the process regularly?  I know quite a few organizations that have invested in these software products and/or internet based services but yet never test them.  I think that presents a huge risk if and when you need to implement the service.  There are a number of issues with these products that you should make sure you have vetted besides validating that the phone numbers entered are correct.

One thing you should find out is what displays on a phone’s caller identification when the service is activated.  Some products allow you to customize the display while others may display an 800 number or the name of the service provider.  Many of your employees may see the caller ID displayed, not recognize it and ignore the phone call.  This can result in a very low percentage answer rate at time of crisis.

Also, if your service provides a computer generated voice message from typed text, you will want to make sure you are comfortable with how numbers and company jargon is interpreted by the voice module.  I have used several systems where you needed to be creative with the use of spaces, periods or commas to ensure the proper flow of the message.  Phone numbers entered as we normally type them were read too fast or specific company jargon was mispronounced and needed to be phonetically typed for the voice module.  People typing in the messages have to be trained to enter the message so it is read properly by the computer voice system.  One example where this became an issue was with an airline company where the employees regularly typed in airport codes in messages.  The message, “Problem on Flt 999 from EWR to LAX”, did not come across well when sent out as a voice message.

You may also need to make sure people are trained in the response method to indicate they got the message and, in some cases, to indicate their response posture.  And, be sure that there is no confusion with how to respond if the message is being picked up as a voice mail message.  I worked with one company where the message gave instructions to “Press 1 to listen to the rest of the message” or “Press X to indicate if you can respond”, etc.  This worked great if you received the message live, but pressing numbers while listening to the message in voice mail had no effect.  Employees were confused as heck while trying to follow these instructions in voice mail.  The messages had to be altered to indicate, up front, that if you are listening to the message in voice mail you will not be able to respond directly.

You may also need to test the system to see if there are any problems caused by the call volume.  I have seen, on more than one occassion, where business phone numbers were the primary number called and by issuing an alert, the company PBX was so innundated with incoming calls that it brought the system down.  This, needless to say, was a big problem.

One thing people should know and your management teams should be made aware of is that even for systems that are perfectly implemented and regularly tested, an 80% hit rate on weekends and after hours is still a very good response.  You should test your systems and track the success rate to get a realistic sense of what kind of response you can expect during a real emergency.

I understand there may be a cost incurred by phone call and doing too many tests can become expensive.  I also am cognizant of the delicate balance between making sure people know how to send a message and how to respond to the message with creating a “cry wolf” syndrome where too many tests result in people not being responsive to the phone calls.  It is up to us to make sure we come up with the proper schedule and frequency of these tests to ensure the use of this tool is effective and efficient at time of need.

Earthquake in Turkey

Earthquakes in foreign countries and underdeveloped, remote regions certainly have less business continuity impact and garner less of our attention, but the destruction, devastation and loss of life is no less tragic and no less heartbreaking.  Our thoughts and best wishes go out to the people of Turkey and the surrounding areas impacted by the devastating earthquake experienced there over this week-end.

The, now reported, 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit near the cities of Ercis and Van in eastern Turkey over the weekend has resulted in enormous damage to the two cities and numerous villages in the area.  Rescue efforts are still underway as both death tolls and stories of survival continue to rise.  There have been, and no doubt will continue to be, a number of large after-shocks that will add to the terror and losses.

We, at Safe Harbor Consulting, will continue to follow the news stories and hope for more accounts of rescues and survival.  If there are stories of lessons learned from this event that might be applicable to other regions of the world, we will attempt to pass those along as well.  For now, we just hope and pray for the best.  We invite you do to do as well.

Emergency Response – Language Assistance

I am happy to report that our blog post inviting other companies to include a link to their websites on our blog page has resulted in a number of phone calls and emails.  Glad to see you all found us and are interested in being included on our page.

One company that contacted us, LangCommLive, eloquently pleaded their case for how an online, language interpretation company can have a role to play in Emergency Response programs.  They did not need to convince me.  Having recently been responsible for an airline’s emergency response program which includes having to provide passionate care and assistance to passenger families, some of whom may be foreign nationals, having to have access to professional language interpreters was something we were very cognizant about.  This was even a very important requirement for domestic flights that did not fly over foreign airspace – you never know what the demographics of your passengers, or their families, might be.

For any company that provides transportation services and must adhere to the Family Assistance Act of 1996, having access to this type of service is crucial.  The LangCommLive website includes a Case Study on how they were able to assist Carnival Cruise Lines during an emergency they recently experienced.

There are many other situations where language interpretation services may be necessary at time of crisis.  Including a firm like LangCommLive in your directory of service providers may prove valuable to you at time of your emergency – especially if you are an international firm.

We are happy to include a link to LangCommLive on our blog page and encourage our readers to consider how and where a service like this might be necessary in their emergency response and/or business continuity programs.

Thank You / Gracias / Merci / Danke / Arigato / Xie xie / Spasibo / Salamat / Tack / Dank / Diolch / Cam on / Dyakooyu / Khawp khun / Hvala / Fa afetai / Dannaba / Obrigado / Dziekuje / Tashakkur / Achiu / Grazie

Disaster Response – Enforcing Time Limits

Do you have a policy in your business continuity, disaster recovery, emergency response and/or crisis management program that establishes a limit on the number of hours responders can work before requiring a mandatory break?  Are you in position to enforce this policy?  Do you enforce it during recovery tests?

I know that during time of crisis people rise to the occasion and can sometimes exhibit superman (or woman) like powers and appear to go strong for many, many hours – but the fact of the matter is, the longer they are active, the less effective they are likely to be and the more errors or poor decisions they are prone to make.

I strongly suggest that your programs – all of them, technology recovery teams as well – have a stipulated policy that no one individual can work for more than 12 straight hours without taking a break.  And, I highly recommend that you have individuals on your team responsible for ensuring that this policy is followed. 

I think a 12 hour on, 12 hour off schedule should work fine, requiring only two subject matter experts for each role in the program.  I would prefer three 8 hour shifts – this can still be accomplished with just two individuals – but 12 on / 12 off makes it easier to ensure your primary team member is on during the most important 12 hours of the day or night.

I know it can be difficult making the second shift team members stay away from the response during the 1st twelve hours following the disaster, but you need to let them know how important it is that they show up 12 hours into the crisis, rested, refreshed and ready to operate. 

I also recognize that the 12/12 shift does require some turnover time from one shift to the next, but we need to make sure that that turnover does not draw out too long.  It will be tough to get the first shift team members to remove themselves from all the activity after 12 hours, but it is for the benefit of the individual and for the benefit of the organization that they should be required to remove themselves from the event and get some rest.  I think it is also important to have them physically removed from the crisis, as much as the situation allows, and put up in a location where they can rest undisturbed and away from all the activity.

I know this is not easy.  It is not easy for me to follow my own rule.  But it really is for the benefit of all that this policy be established and enforced.  I remember the old days, during mainframe recovery tests, where teams of us would go almost 48 hours non-stop in the recovery process.  And, still today, there are technology, network, database and other recovery teams that have few, or even a single, subject matter expert that will work on an issue until it is resolved no matter how long it takes.  I think it is up to us, as planning professionals to identify these employee-related, single points of failure in our solutions, communicate the problem to management and seek options for remedying this exposure.

If you have technology recovery tests scheduled for more than 12 hours – you need to let it be known that no one individual will be allowed to participate in the test exercise for more than 12 hours – and, you need to make sure that that rule is enforced.

There are actually companies that provide employee health and well being services who can help you enforce this rule and help provide mental health counseling for employees impacted by and/or participating in crisis situations.  You may want to check them out for advice on how to implement this particular component of your program.

This blog was written in less than 12 hours – just so you know.

Today’s Disaster – Wild Animals on the Loose!

Okay, here’s a new one – a city in lockdown mode because there are wild animals on the loose roaming the city streets!

I can’t help but chuckle imagining the broadcast message that one would send out to their employees telling them the office is closed due to a city lockdown caused by wild animals.

I really have no more to say about this one, other than I just had to share this story with you.  I will have to challenge myself a little harder to come up with a legitimate blog post – but, you can read the story and adjust your plans accordingly for this risk.

Risk Free, Satisfaction Guaranteed Program Review

Safe Harbor Consulting (SHC), a management consulting firm specializing in business continuity, disaster recovery, emergency response and crisis management, is offering a risk free, satisfaction guaranteed Program Review.  SHC will review your program documentation, interview employees with key responsibilities in your solutions and review other program material in an effort to discover opportunities to strengthen your programs, improve your strategies and/or expand your solutions.

If, at the completion of the review and following the delivery of the SHC Findings Report, you are not satisfied that we have identified valid, substantial opportunities to advance your program and/or better position your organization’s response and recovery posture, you will not be invoiced for SHC services.

“I have found that having outside experts review program material prior to conducting a Tabletop Exercise or Physical Program Test is an excellent technique for ensuring your program material is in tip-top condition prior to sharing it with internal management and employees”, says Joe Flach, CEO and Lead Consultant at SHC.  “If the material we review is in excellent condition and, other than a few cosmetic fixes has no real identifiable issues, problems or concerns, than our review will indicate as much and we will not charge you for our efforts.  Only if we discover legitimate opportunities to improve the program or program material, and only if the customer agrees that we have achieved this, will we prepare an invoice for our agreed upon fees.”

To take advantage of this Risk Free, Satisfaction Guaranteed Program Review offer, please contact Safe Harbor Consulting at (253) 509-0233 or email them at  To learn more about Safe Harbor Consulting you can visit them at

Emergency Preparedness Plans: Evacuating Persons With Disabilities

Do your emergency evacuation plans include procedures for assisting persons with disabilities?  The American Red Cross has a few tips for how to go about this on their website.  Although they seem to no longer use the term “Buddy System” it seems to me that that is what they used to call it years ago.

When I did a little research on this lately, I found many University plans that include some pretty good documentation on their “buddy system” approach for this.  I have included some of them here for you to look at for yourself.

What I have found, over time, is that even for those organizations that have a pretty well established “buddy system” in place it is usually well implemented for people who have permanent disabilities but not so much for those who may have temporary disabilities like a broken leg, recovering from surgery, or, although not a disability but a condition that may require evacuation assistance, women in their third trimester pregnancy.

I am not always up on the most recent politically correct terminology, but I know some folks who have taken to using the term, “mobility challenged individuals”.  This is probability a more apt description that would include pregnant women and other similar situations that are not disabilities but could result in the need for evacuation assistance.  I remember talking to first responders who helped with the evacuation of the World Trade Center following the first bombing in 1993 and they told me that they were surprised by the number of pregnant women requiring assistance – some of them were evacuated up to the roof top because they could not go down some 100 flight of stairs in complete darkness.  (Just an aside you may not be aware of – during the evacuation in 1993 they discovered that there was no emergency lighting in the stairwells.  People had to evacuate in complete darkness.  Not only that, but they did not know that stairwells only traversed about 30 floors, requiring an exit to a lobby area to find the next set of stairs.)

Persons with permanent disabilities are somewhat used to and less embarrassed by seeking assistance and pro-actively engaging in a buddy system program.  They can be assigned and trained with a buddy(ies) prior to an actual evacuation.  And, HR usually knows who these employees are and can solicit their involvement in these programs.  Persons with temporary mobility challenges are less likely to be aware of the program; are less likely to identify themselves as someone who might need a buddy; and, are less likely known by HR personnel.

If your program includes floor wardens, you should alert them to be aware of employees who might have temporary disabilities and train them to delicately approach these individuals to educate them on the buddy system and try to assign them a buddy until their recovery is complete.

If your organization has a buddy system in place – thank you!  If not, maybe you might want to check out a few of the links provided.  Thanks, Buddy.