Tag Archive for disasters

Another Day, Another Headline

So, if you and/or the organization you work for are not yet convinced that you need complete and well-rehearsed Emergency Response, Disaster Recovery, Business Continuity and Crisis Management Plans in place today – I am not sure that you will ever be convinced.

In the past few days we have seen an example of an emergency caused by a direct and willful act to cause harm and destruction in the incident at the Boston Marathon; and, an example of an emergency caused through accidental means in West, Texas.  These events occurred as some companies continue to assess their responses to and management of the disruptions caused by Superstorm Sandy – an example of an emergency caused by nature.

Unfortunately, we don’t have to go very far back in our recent history to discover other compelling examples of why we need to be prepared for these types of emergencies and catastrophes.

It has been less than two weeks ago since I delivered a final Findings and Recommendations Report to a large international company with numerous physical locations in the Northeastern United States that were impacted by the carnage caused from Superstorm Sandy.  This analysis included the evaluation of other, like sized companies, in the region and how they responded to and managed this incident.  One of the not-so-surprising conclusions reached was that the ability to efficiently and effectively respond to this event was directly related to the amount of pre-planning and plan exercising that had been completed in the years prior to the storm.  This is a common finding following most of these types of incidents.  Those organizations that prepare for and practice their responses to emergencies fare better during these events than those that do not.  This only makes sense.

What stops many organizations from preparing and exercising is their belief that they are not susceptible to these types of events.  The headlines of the past few days, few months and few years, suggest that that is just not true.  Everyone is at risk.  Even if you are not in an area that experiences violent weather events, floods or earthquakes; even if you operate in an area that is relatively secure and isolated, the Boston Marathon and West, Texas incidents should prove – that it just doesn’t matter.

Bad things can and will occur.  Be prepared.  You owe it to your employees, your customers and family.  If you think otherwise now, you are just not paying attention.  Hoping that nothing happens is no longer a valid strategy.

Once again – our thoughts and prayers go out to yet another community in West, Texas, having to deal with the tragic loss of lives and homes.  I hate to think about what the next headline might bring.

Are We Prepared for the Next Disaster?

I found and listened to this NPR radio story titled, “Is the U.S. Prepared for the Next Disaster?”.  Even though this interview was conducted a year ago, I think the message is still valid and important.

I think the interviewee, Craig Fugate, does a good job in identifying a problem with past disasters being a failure to engage the proper level of support through a formal request for assistance.  Although Mr. Fugate doesn’t use this term, I like to label these the “triggers to engage”.  One of the biggest problems with the response to Hurricane Katrina was that Federal authorities assumed the trigger to engage was a call from the local authorities, whereas the local authorities thought the trigger to engage was the event itself.  While Federal agencies were waiting to be asked for help, local agencies were sitting and waiting for the help to arrive.  Meanwhile, crucial time was slipping by and the losses and damages were escalating.

I was glad to learn that FEMA now self-engages not only when an incident occurs but also when the threat of incident rises.

I think this is an important lesson to learn and address in our own plans.  I think it is important to identify and practice those “triggers” for engaging certain components in our Emergency Response, Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Programs.  What are the “triggers” for: putting vendors on alert; communicating with employees; mobilizing resources; alerting customers and other stakeholders; declaring a disaster; etc.?

Also, Mr. Fugate notes that having a single entity in charge introduces a single-point-of-failure in the response process.  Whereas, I understand his point, I also think it is important to mention that when you have lots of links in your communication and control “chain” you have lots of opportunity for the chain to break.  If the mayor engages the governor who engages the president – well, there are lots of mis-engagements that can occur.  And, if one link in the chain breaks, all the links that follow are missed.

I agree with Mr. Fugate that we are better prepared today than what we were in the past, but saying you are in better shape today than you were when you were grossly out of shape, does not mean you are in good shape.  Unfortunately, I also believe that the further removed you are from the last significant event, the more likely you are to get back out of shape.  We are never more prepared to respond to a disaster than we are immediately after a disaster occurs.  Lessons learned are fresh in the mind, implementation guidelines and procedures are reviewed, refreshed and rehearsed.  But, as time goes by, we start to, once again get complacent and once again start to slip back into our bad habits.  And, as soon as we start to believe we are in good shape, I start to get more worried.

In conclusion, I think this is a terrific interview with important messages that are worth listening to again.  I encourage you to think about and rehearse the “triggers” in your program and to identify potential weak links in your communications and engagement chains.  And, never allow yourself to believe we are prepared for the next disaster … continue to work on improving your level of preparedness.  After all … how do you think people would have responded to the question, “Is the U.S. Prepared for the Next Disaster?” on September 10, 2001?

Time Inc. Special’s, “Disasters That Shook The World”

While traveling this week, I picked up a magazine/book published by Time Inc. Specials titled, “Disasters That Shook The World”.  This is a very simple and interesting read.  It is a quick synopsis of a number of disasters with no great detail, but some very interesting insight into these events.  The articles focus on the human element and what was learned about our responses to these events and what could have been done to mitigate the impacts of, and in some cases prevent, these disasters from occurring.

Many of the case studies included in the book were very familiar to me, such as:

  • The Sinking of the Titanic
  • The Hindenburg Disaster
  • The Great Chicago Fire
  • The Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster
  • The Exon Valdez Incident

This book also included relatively recent case studies, such as:

  • The Costa Concordia Accident
  • The Miracle on the Hudson
  • The Tsunami in Japan
  • The Oil Spill in the Gulf
  • Hurricane Katrina
  • The Nevada Air Show Crash

And, this book included case studies of lesser known and forgotten events that should be remembered for the lessons learned and changes they influenced.  These included:

  • The Triangle Sweatshop Fire in NYC
  • Munitions Ship Explosion in Halifax, Nova Scotia
  • Cocoanut Grove Nightclub Fire and Stampede in Boston
  • Circus Fire in Hartford, Connecticut

And a few more.

Even with those that I was familiar with, the articles included shared something that I was not aware of.  Anyway, I just found the read to be fascinating and great airplane fodder, although the chapter about “Disasters in the Air” I was very careful not to leave those pages exposed to my fellow travelers.

If you happen to come across this magazine at the Newsstands, I recommend you pick it up.  It will only take you a short time to read it and you might find it interesting and, perhaps, even learn a thing or two.

Deadly Volcanoes

Last night I stumbled upon an interesting episode of “Nova” on PBS – “Deadliest Volcanoes”

Now I am not suggesting everyone update their emergency preparedness and business continuity plans to prepare for a volcano eruption, but it did present a pretty scary scenario of just how devastating a volcano can be.  We even have recent history of how volcano ash clouds can be very disruptive to the air travel industry with the recent eruptions in Iceland – (Eyjafjallajökull in 2010) and Alaska (Mt. Redoubt in 2009)

There were stories included about potential eruptions all over the world, including some relatively highly populated regions, including Naples, Italy; Japan; Yellowstone and others.  The Yellowstone situation is actually pretty interesting, because it is not what one would normally think about when considering volcanic eruptions.  The Yellowstone “super volcano” does not include the cone shaped mountain spout that most of us associate with volcanoes. 

Then they started talking about the volcano that practically sits in my backyard!  I am awed by the sight of Mount Rainier each and every clear day that she appears on my horizon.  I have lived here for only 4 years, but natives of the area tell me she is always an amazing sight that you will never get used to.  I knew Mt. Rainier was an active volcano – similar to her sister mountain, Mt. St. Helens, which erupted relatively recently in 1980 with significant damages being incurred – but, never really thought about the risk too much.  Well, this episode has given me a little greater appreciation of what could be in our future.  Interestingly enough, this segment suggested that the eruption itself, as devastating as it may be, would probably be the least of our worries.  No, there is a phenomena known as a Lahar, which is a catastrophic mud and rock slide that flows down the volcano into the valleys below.  A Lahar caused by an eruption in Mt. Rainier has the potential to reach all the way to Seattle destroying much of what lies in its path.  The nearby town of Orting, WA, even has a Lahar warning system installed in their community. 

I found this episode to be very educational and informative.  You may want to watch it, too.  Unfortunately for me, my seven year old son was listening to the show from another room and is now terrified by that beautiful mountain that we often hike near and around.  I hope he is not so scared that he won’t want to take another hike out there with me – it is truly inspiring. 

Check out this show if you have time – and, check out the risks that might be near your places of business.

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.

The Next Disaster

So is your “Falling Satellite Hits Building” plan up to date?

Although I do not think this is a serious threat and do not suggest anyone become too alarmed by this story, I am somewhat amused with the quote:

“Since the beginning of the Space Age in the late-1950s, there have been no confirmed reports of an injury resulting from re-entering space objects. Nor is there a record of significant property damage resulting from a satellite re-entry.”

For many disasters that occur throughout history, prior to the event, you could probably safely say there was no record of that particular event occurring.  For example: Were there any records of significant damage resulting from a tsunami compromising a nuclear power facility?  Were there any records of significant damage resulting from terrorist attacks into high rise buildings with hijacked airplanes?  I could add a few more, but think you get the point.

Now, I am in no way suggesting that this threat has the potential to equal either of those two events – or, to even cause any damage at all – I am just saying, we cannot always rely on history to indicate what the next crisis might be.

Please, do not confuse me with Chicken Little here, running around yelling, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling” – I really am not an alarmist, despite the occupation I have chosen – I am merely pointing out the lack of assurance I get hearing someone say, “Well, this has never happened before so why should we worry about it”.

Do not activate your Command Centers monitoring “the satellite threat”.  Do not put business areas or your recovery site vendors on alert.  I am merely suggesting, do not expect your next disaster to necessarily have a historic precedent.

Now go out there and have a great day – just look up every now and then.

Disasters, Disasters, Disasters

One of the challenges that Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Planners have had to face over the years is in dealing with a largely apathetic business community.  Many of the management personnel we try hard to work with just do not buy into the belief that a disaster is likely to occur – or, at least – not during their time in the position, so why invest time and resources to plan for an unlikely event?

In this day and age, that is dangerous thinking.

I have written a few blogs over the past month about real events that have recently impacted the business community – the threats are real; the impacts are meaningful.  Safe Harbor Consulting alone has received numerous calls from companies that have been impacted by these events – even if just impacted by having to prepare for potential losses – realizing the need to update, expand and improve their emergency response and business continuity plans and posture.

It used to be that I would search for disaster related stories on the internet to try to validate the work we do, but now all you have to do is look at the top news stories for the day.

Today, for example, some of the top news stories on Yahoo include:

A Google news search, in addition to similar headlines, includes:

And these are just the top news stories for a typical day.  Each of these events have the potential of causing some sort of business interruption or impacting the workforce in some way for companies in the vicinity of the event.

These stories range from the scary (earthquake) to the sublime (satellite falling to earth), but they all have crisis management, emergency response and potential business continuity concerns.

We can no longer pretend that the threats are not out there.  And, we as professional planners can no longer use the excuse that management just does not appreciate the need for planning – it is our job to make them understand the need for planning!  So, let’s get out there and do our jobs.

I almost hate to see what tomorrow’s headlines will bring!

A Survey: Your Favorite Disaster Movies

Okay, here is another self-serving blog post.  In an attempt to increase the interaction on this blog page, I am going to try to conduct a fun (I hope) little survey.  I can see that this blog page gets a relatively good amount of hits each day, but few (very few, basically almost none) folks are clicking on the “No Comment” button to change it into a “One Comment” or more button.  So – help me out here folks!

So, here goes – the survey question, somewhat related to the topic of the blog, is …


This website includes a long list of what it labels “Disaster Movies” – although I think they really stretch the genre definition.  I looked this list over and saw a few of my all time favorites, although I wouldn’t really have labeled them as disaster movies.  These include:  “The Omega Man”; “A Boy and His Dog”; and, “Independence Day”.  I bet there aren’t too many of you who can say you have seen, “A Boy and His Dog”.

So, what are your favorites?  Please enter your favorite(s) in the reply box at the bottom of this post (or, if the reply box does not appear, click on the “No Comments” button to take you to a page formatted for replies).  Maybe some of these can give me ideas for future facilitated exercises … then again, maybe not.

Famous Disasters

Today I am going to take a little break from the typical business continuity and disaster recovery blog to simply direct your attention to this neat little web site I found listing a few historic disasters.  This is by no means an exhaustive list nor do I necessarily believe these are THE most famous disasters of all time, but it is a neat little page with some interesting facts about a few historic disasters.

If you have the chance, check this page out and read the little vignettes about the events listed.

Seems like 2011 could have a list of its own.  One of earlier blogs looked at the incidents that have occurred the past few months.  And, within hours of posting that particular blog, the lights went out in Southern California and the surrounding area.

I hope that the most famous disasters remain in our past, but something tells me we’ve got a few in our near future and that is why we must continue to be diligent and plan for what comes next.

Disasters Through Time

Disasters come in different shapes and sizes with varying short term and long term impacts.  Some disasters are more significant in terms of human loss and suffering and some are more significant in their impacts on businesses and commerce.

Business continuity and disaster recovery planning historically focused on those disasters that impacted businesses and commerce, but recent events, beginning with the World Trade Center attacks, have required business planners to also incorporate emergency response and crisis management techniques that focus on the human element in their programs.

Looking back in time, the first significant business interruption event to occur promoting the concepts of disaster recovery and business continuity was the First Interstate Bank fire in Los Angeles.  This event occurred on the night of May 4, 1988 and really brought the need and justification for disaster recovery and business continuity planning to the forefront of executive board rooms and has served as the first real case study for these practices ever since.

It was only four days later on May 8, 1988 that a Bell Telephone Central Office in Hinsdale, IL caught fire and disrupted phone services to a wide area of IL including much of Chicago.  Within days, we had one event that severely impacted the entire operations of a large financial firm and one event that had a limited, but widespread impact to phone services for hundreds of companies.  And, the practice of disaster recovery and business continuity gained credibility and importance.

Over the next few years there were a number of newsworthy business interruption events caused by hurricanes, snow storms collapsing roofs, fires, and others, but nothing of great significance until the bombing of the World Trade Center on February 26, 1993.  This event impacted a significant number of large firms requiring alternate site recovery into vendor provided disaster recovery facilities that stretched the limits of these offerings requiring some firms to recover in secondary and tertiary facilities greatly distanced from their home location.

The 1993 bombings, of course, was just a precursor to the tragic events of 9/11/2001.  The attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 highlighted the deficiencies in corporate business continuity programs with regards to the immediate emergency response and crisis management stratagems.  Many impacted firms knew where and how to recover technology and work areas but were not prepared to deal with the immediate needs of responding to a crisis with such severe impacts to its facilities and employees.  This event put the focus on the Crisis Management aspects of a holistic Enterprise Recovery Program.

Like the World Trade Center tragedy, Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and the Southeastern United States on August 28th, 2005 challenged both the emergency response and business continuity aspects for many companies over a large geographic footprint. 

Each and every one of these events brought with them unique challenges and varying response requirements.  And, each event, in the post-event evaluations, provided plenty of lessons learned and opportunities for all of us to improve and expand our own disaster recovery, business continuity and crisis management programs.

Of less impact in all areas, but one of my favorite (if that is the right term to use) business interruption event was the Chicago River Flood in September of 1991.  This event occurred on a beautiful end of Summer Day when a construction error while reinforcing a bridge crossing the Chicago River punctured a whole in an old underground highway flooding the basements in many Chicago Loop area buildings.  Some of these buildings housed computer and electrical equipment in the buildings resulting in severe widespread business interruptions.  It just goes to show you, you never know when, where or how a business disaster might occur.

There have been, of course many other events, to numerous to mention in one blogs, but, I think, these events highlight the growth and changing nature of the business continuity, disaster recovery and crisis management industry in the US.  I think it is always good to go back and revisit these events every now and then to make sure the lessons learned from them have not been forgotten over time.