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Short blog today from EMI

Thanks for joining me today.  If you are a first-time reader, Welcome.  I hope you will subscribe and read often.  If you are a regular reader, or have been following me this week, Welcome back.

This week I’ve been sharing with you my observations and experiences while teaching a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) class at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Emergency Management Institute (EMI) in Emmittsburg, MD.

To catch you up, here’s what I’ve written about so far:

  • The history of EMI and the campus
  • Registration and lodging on campus
  • The Learning Resource Center
  • The Chapel
  • The 9/11 Memorial
  • The National fallen Firefighters Memorial

Today, I want to spend time closing out the class I’m teaching as well as continue to share some of the other sites, and activities here on campus.

The class

Today we finished up with our Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Train-the-Trainer class.  The delivery format of the class was different from what I’m used to doing and so as an Instructor, I felt I learned some new ways of doing things.  The instructors I’m working with are very sharp as are the students in the class.  It’s really been a joy for me.

We have a down day tomorrow, and then start our CERT Program Manager class on Friday.

The Dining Hall

"K" building where both the Dining Hall and my classroom are located

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you first arrive on campus and register for your room, you must also buy a meal ticket that covers all meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) while you are here.  Meals are served buffet-style and it’s as much as you want.  You won’t mistake the quality of food served with a five-star gourmet restaurant, there is a decent variety to choose from and the quality is maybe a seven out of 10.

Recreation while on campus

Basketball inside the gymnasium

 

The pool area

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The National Emergency Training Center (NETC) Recreation Association operates the Command Post Pub in the “H” building.  The pub is a private club under Maryland liquor laws and membership ($1.00) in the Recreation Association is required for service.  On Wednesday nights, the Pub hosts Karaoke Night.

In addition to the Pub, the Recreation Association also manages the on-campus gym located in the “B” building.  Along with the gym, there is also a running track, exercise room, swimming pool, tennis, basketball courts, softball, volleyball, golf, fishing and bicycles.

Tomorrow, I’ll be writing about the benefits (WIIFM) of this training and I hope to walk to downtown Emmittsburg and share some sites with you.  Please come back.

TIP:  Here’s something new … take the poll that I’ve embedded in to this blog.

 

Is It Possible To Have A Positive Customer Service Attitude When It Comes To Business Continuity?

Let me open with a brief story I’m sure everyone can relate to.

Not too long ago I was teaching an Incident Command System (ICS) class in a distant city that required a couple of days overnight travel.  One evening, I had a lot of work waiting for me following a busy class day.  In an effort to get as much done as possible I decided to get something quick for dinner and simply eat it in my room while I worked (and everyone thinks traveling is so luxurious!).  I decided to get something from one of the national franchise chains that was a short drive from my hotel.

In addition to an exceptionally long wait after I placed my order, I found the order wasn’t complete upon returning to my hotel room. Now, I’m really not a complainer, but I do feel compelled to speak up when I receive poor service and conversely, I also speak up when I have had great service.  So, I accessed the company’s website and commented on the service difficulties I encountered.  Within ten days (timeliness issue), I received a confirmation from the local restaurant recognizing my comment and mentioning they would send me a certificate to cover the meal I had purchased (appropriate action).  Three weeks later (timeliness again), I received the certificate – which is good only in the distant city that I’ll probably not be back to for some time, if ever again (I guess it was too much to send me a certificate that I could use anywhere that’s convenient for me, the customer).

Beyond simply having a poor customer service experience, this situation got me wondering how, as business continuity planners, our customer service impacts what we deliver.  Too often, business continuity is associated with lengthy and costly BIA’s with results that are questionable, plans that take too much time to develop and are never used, and exercises that take too much time and cost too much money.  By taking a business continuity customer service viewpoint, I think we can change perceptions, deliver valuable results, and strengthen relationships.

Yes, we do have customers.  They work in the business units our plans are written for.  They are the senior managers that fund our programs and to whom we provide feedback.  They are the auditors who review our plans and programs for compliance.  It’s important for us, as business continuity professionals, to recognize who our customers are and make sure we are treating them as if our jobs depend upon them, because they do.

Listen – Often we here “that’s not what I said” or “they didn’t consider what I told them”.  To provide top-notch customer service we have to listen.  Talk less, listen more.

Strive to meet customer expectations.  Your customers don’t know much, if anything, about business continuity planning.  Why should they?  Isn’t that why they have us?  More than likely, participating in a Business Impact Analysis, developing a plan, or conducting an exercise is something your customer has been forced into by someone else.  In the end, they want to get through the process as quickly and cheaply as possible with little to no pain.  But you won’t know for sure unless you ask.  When engaging a customer for the first time, ask up front what their expectations are.  Engage in a discussion to clarify expectations and deliverables.  Only then will you have a good idea as to what the customer wants.

Don’t simply address the immediate need.  By all means solve the immediate need quicker, cheaper, faster than what the customer expects.  But in the process, look for opportunities that aren’t even on the customer’s radar yet.  Maybe it’s a risk issue, a process or training issue, or maybe it’s a recovery issue.  Whatever it is, identify it and have a reasonable solution to present to the customer BEFORE the customer perceives it the problem.  Doing so will cause the price of your stock to go up.

Keep the customer informed – Make sure you are providing regular and timely feedback that is meaningful to the customer.  Remember, address their expectations.

TIP (from FEMA):  Thanks to the keen insights and stellar feedback of the private sector, the FEMA Private Sector Division and FEMA National Exercise Division took innovative steps toward consolidating the whole community approach to emergency management. This year the agency created five distinct options for the private sector to participate in the National Level Exercise 2011. 

The “Option 4 – Self-directed Tabletop” with complete facilitator notes is available now for download at: www.fema.gov/privatesector/exercises.shtm . The exercise is posted online in both Adobe pdf and PowerPoint formats for your convenience with full download instructions for each.  This self-directed table-top exercise is a scaled down version of the full level play, designed to fully simulate the catastrophic nature of a major earthquake in the central U.S region of the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ).  It includes three mock news videos, and interactive discussion and planning questions, including emergency management planning tools for employees and community members with disabilities and accessibility needs.

Leadership In A Crisis – Are You Prepared?

I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve had a conversation with someone about what makes a good leader.  Not necessarily a great leader, but just a good, solid leader.  Today, there seems to be fewer and fewer.  I’m not sure why that is, but I speculate a few of the many reasons might include society’s willingness to accept management over leadership (yes, there is a difference) and fewer opportunities for focused leadership development.  Most aren’t born as leaders.  Like good wine, good leaders have to develop over time.

Having worked in the private sector throughout my career, I have always appreciated good leadership.  You know, those individuals that made you feel good about pushing yourself harder than what you thought you could so that you accomplished more than what you dreamed possible.  And, you eagerly came back for more.  Like you, I’ve had the pleasure of working for a few good leaders in my time (few is the operative word). 

In a “business as usual” environment, organizations have time to select and develop leaders.  They are afforded the luxury of time which allows them the opportunity to carefully observe the talent pool for potential leaders.  Time also allows them the opportunity to allow potential leaders to grow and develop through both experience and training.  Over time, some will develop into not only good but great leaders.  Others, will realize, or be recognized, as formidable managers, but not leaders.

But, what about leadership in a crisis?  At no time is good, solid leadership more important than during a crisis.  When things are bad, someone has to step in and bring order out of chaos.  Could that be you?

For a leader, a crisis can serve as his or her defining moment.  It’s these moments that reflect what leaders stand for and why they chose to lead. It’s at that point that a leader can put all of their experience, compassion, energy, and drive into practice and really make a difference.  A crisis pushes leaders to their limits and tests whether they will be able to hold true to their beliefs under the toughest of circumstances.  When handled appropriately, crisis can be a valuable opportunity for long-term success.  Decisions made in critical or challenging situations not only shapes and defines a leader; they also inform others about who the leader is as a person and a leader.

Solid leadership does make a difference, in both business-as-usual and in a crisis.  Without it, goals cannot be achieved, nor can progress be attained, but becoming an exceptional leader isn’t easy.  It takes hard work, perseverance, and a sincere willingness to work with people.  All are ingredients for exceptional leadership.  As leaders we must remember that our teams can be both the greatest asset and the biggest liability for the organization.  Having the right people gives leaders and their teams, and by extension the organization, the best chance to be successful.

In an effort to better understand leadership in a crisis, I recently interviewed twelve individuals that work in public safety jobs (law enforcement or fire service) and have attained a senior management position that carries a “Chief” title (i.e. Chief, Assistant Chief, or Deputy Chief).  From those interviews, I uncovered the following key traits of good leadership in a crisis:

  • Just because you’re a good manager doesn’t mean you are destine to be a good leader.  Leaders need time to develop.  They start out as managers and gain experience in several key areas including interpersonal skills and communications, operational knowledge, and strategic thinking and decision making.
  • Leaders see the big picture.  Their experience has taught them how to look past the immediate, avoiding a myopic view.  To do so otherwise could cost lives.  When needed, they solicit information from other sources and use it to effectively develop the “landscape view” of the situation.
  • Leaders communicate effectively.  They know who their stakeholders are … up, down, and across.  Their messaging is timely, consistent, and appropriate for the receiver.
  • Leaders make the tough decisions.  They lead with integrity and are prepared to make decisions that may not be the most popular but are necessary for the greater good.  From their big picture view, they can process the information at hand in a timely manner and make calculated decisions that in turn drive action.  They also solicit continual validation of progress.  If things don’t go as planned, leaders stand ready with a Plan B … and a Plan C.
  • Leaders bring calm to stressful situations.   Sometimes this happens using just the tone of their voice and pace of their speech to help put people at ease.  They display confidence in themselves and those that they lead.  They are like a duck swimming on a pond.  From above the water the duck looks relaxed and calm just gliding across the water.  But look underneath and its feet are paddling a mile a minute.
  • A good leader knows the strengths and weaknesses of his/her people and how to effectively use them in a “time sensitive” environment.  A leader also creates environments that encourage followers to succeed.  Leaders recognize the value of people and what they bring to the team.  They surround themselves with talented people.  They empower them and give them the latitude to perform.  They also recognize that if individuals don’t develop and grow, the team doesn’t develop or grow.

So, are you someone that can lead in a crisis?

TIP:  Take a look at the Society of Information Management (SIM) – Regional Leadership Forum (RLF) Booklist (www.simnet.org/?page=RLF_BookList ) for great suggestions of books to read related to “leadership”.

Hello from FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute (EMI) … Let’s Talk About the Importance of Testing … or Exercising … Your Business Continuity and Emergency Management Plans

Let me open this installment of my blog by sharing with you that I’m in Emmitsburg, Maryland completing a week of training at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Emergency Management Institute (EMI; www.training.fema.gov/EMI ).  I’m here completing my final class, “Instructional Delivery”, in the Master Trainer Program.

Over the past 15 years, I have had the honor to attend many classes here at EMI.  EMI is the largest training facility for FEMA and is co-located on the National Emergency Training Center (NETC) campus with the National Fire Academy (NFA).  This year, EMI is commemorating 60 years of outstanding emergency management training.

The campus is on the grounds of the former St. Joseph’s College.  Many of the buildings date back to the late 1800’s but have been maintained impeccably like the rest of the campus.  The beauty of this campus is spectacular.  I remember how awestruck I was the first time I was here, and I have had that same feeling each time I come back, no matter what the season is.  Along with the beauty of the campus and its buildings, students receive top-quality education from some of the finest instructors in the field.  The classrooms are very comfortable and are conducive to effective learning.  On-campus learning is supported by a phenomenal library (the Learning Resource Center (LRC; www.lrc.fema.gov ) as well as numerous computer labs.

What a privilege it is to be able to grow as professional in an environment like this.  If you are ever afforded the opportunity to attend classes at EMI, take advantage of the opportunity.  I doubt you will regret it.

Now, let’s talk about exercising.

From a business continuity perspective, an exercise is defined in the Disaster Recovery Journal (DRJ; www.drj.com ) as a people focused activity designed to execute business continuity plans and evaluate the individual and/or organization performance against approved standards or objectives. Exercises can be announced or unannounced, and are performed for the purpose of training and conditioning team members, and validating the business continuity plan. Exercise results identify plan gaps and limitations and are used to improve and revise the Business Continuity Plans.

On the emergency management side, FEMA defines an exercise as a focused practice activity that places the participants in a simulated situation requiring them to function in the capacity that would be expected of them in a real event.  Its purpose is to promote preparedness by testing policies and plans and training personnel.  Exercises are conducted to evaluate an organization’s capability to execute one or more portions of its response plan or contingency plan.

There are a number of reasons for organizations to perform exercises including: 

  • Test and evaluate plans, policies, and procedures
  • Reveal planning weaknesses
  • Reveal gaps in resources
  • Improve organizational coordination and communications
  • Clarify roles and responsibilities
  • Train personnel in roles and responsibilities
  • Improve individual performance
  • Gain program recognition and support of officials
  • Satisfy legal or regulatory requirements

Exercises are conducted to evaluate an organization’s capability to execute one or more portions of its plan(s).  Research has shown that people generally respond to an emergency in the way that they have trained.  It only makes sense for organizations to exercise their plans and people so that they are better prepared to respond to and recover from an emergency. 

The focus of an exercise should always be on locating and eliminating problems before an actual emergency occurs.  Corrective actions are an important part of exercise design, evaluation, and follow-up.

Types of exercises

There are five main types of exercise activities that planners can use to validate policies and plans and train personnel.  While you, or your organization may call these by a different name (potatoe or potato) they are fundamentally the same.

  • Orientation is an overview or introduction.  It is the least complex type of exercise and its purpose is to familiarize participants with roles, plans, procedures, or equipment.  It can also be used to resolve questions of coordination and assignment of responsibilities. 
  • Drill is a coordinated, supervised exercise activity, normally used to test a single specific operation or function.  With a drill, there is no attempt to coordinate organizations or fully activate a center.  Its role is to practice and perfect one small part of the plan and help prepare for more extensive exercises, in which several functions will be coordinated and tested.  The effectiveness of a drill is its focus on a single, relatively limited portion of the overall emergency management system.  It makes possible a tight focus on a potential problem area.
  • Tabletop exercise is a facilitated analysis of an emergency situation in an informal, stress-free environment.  It is designed to elicit constructive discussion as participants examine and resolve problems based on existing operational plans and identify where those plans need to be refined.  The success of the exercise is largely determined by group participation in the identification of problem areas.
  • Functional exercise is a fully simulated interactive exercise that tests the capability of an organization to respond to a simulated event.  The exercise tests multiple functions of the organization’s operational plan.  It is a coordinated response to a situation in a time-pressured, realistic simulation.
  • Full-scale exercise is the most complex (and costly) exercise.  Its purpose is to simulate a real event as closely as possible.  It is an exercise designed to evaluate the operational capability of emergency management systems in a highly stressful environment that simulates actual response conditions.  To accomplish this realism, it requires the mobilization and actual movement of emergency personnel, equipment, and resources.  Ideally, the full-scale exercise should test and evaluate most functions of the emergency management plan or operational plan.

When an exercise proceeds smoothly, it all looks so easy.  But there is far more to it than the time spent in the exercise itself.  A great deal of thought and planning went into planning the exercise, and more work will follow after the conclusion of the exercise with debriefing(s) and plan updating (maintenance). 

I recently posted a question on a LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com ) group page asking what made a good exercise and what hindered an exercise.  

What contributes to a good exercise?

  • An understanding by all that there are no wrong answers or actions. The purpose of the exercise is to identify what works and doesn’t work.
  • Have a good planning committee that is invested (committed) to the overall outcome of the exercise
  • As a planner, be flexible and look for workable solutions to benefit all
  • It should be Realistic, Relevant and Revealing – No worst-case scenarios or trick injects
  • SMART Objectives – Specific, Measurable, Action Oriented, Realistic, and Time Sensitive
  • Make it fun yet challenging for the participants/responders
  • Putting learned lessons into practice

What can negatively impact an exercise?

  • Time frame too short for adequate planning
  • Trying to cram too much into the exercise or making it too complex – “KISS“ – Keep It Short and Simple.
  • Inadequate preparation by all participants prior to the exercise
  • Less than 100% by all participants in terms of physical and mental involvement.
  • Unrealistic scenario for the players or organization
  • Too many people on the planning committee
  • Any exercise not tied into a cycle of training and exercises is a waste of time.

So, bottom line exercises are conducted in order to evaluate an organization’s capability to execute one or more portions of its plan(s).  Exercises can be used to provide individual training and improve the business continuity or emergency management program.

TIP:  Follow this link www.fema.gov/business/guide/index.shtm to FEMA’s “Emergency Management Guide for Business & Industry” and this one www.fema.gov/privatesector/exercises.shtm to FEMA’s site for “Emergency Planning Exercises for Your Organization”.  Two great resources!

The Japan EQ and Tsunami – A Strong Case for Preparedness

Like you, I have been mesmerized by the video on the television news channels and the internet of the catastrophic 8.9 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck Japan.  Watching the violent shaking that occurred as well as the falling debris and fires.  The visual of that huge wall of water sweeping away everything in its pathway.  Cars looked like simple toys floating in water, homes and buildings being washed away.  People confused, scared, and lost.  Many waiting to be rescued.  And then, an explosion at a local nuclear plant resulting in leaking radiation and a possible meltdown.  If you hadn’t witnessed the event yourself through the power of television and internet you probably would say it’s even too much for Hollywood.  Of course some still don’t believe the United States successfully landed men on the moon.  And now the citizens of Japan must live through the aftershocks.

If there is any shred of early good news coming out of this mega-disaster, it’s that given the large magnitude of the earthquake, the people were prepared (yes, it could have been worse) and that many of the larger buildings in the region seemed to have fared fairly well due to the building codes in place.  Japan is considered the most earthquake prepared country in the world.

It will take years, if not generations for Japan to recover.  And while Japan may be a long way from where each of us is, we must recognize that this is yet another harsh reminder that no matter where we live we face some level of risk and that we should take the time to become better prepared ourselves.

Here’s some of my thoughts on what we can do …

Government

We must make citizen preparedness a priority in our communities.  On a continual basis we need to encourage our citizens to learn and practice preparedness for the risks they face.

Through federal grants, a lot of money has been spent since 9/11 on first responder readiness.  Today, our focus and priorities should be moving increasingly toward greater citizen preparedness.  Why isn’t a significant portion of our current Homeland Security funding being allocated toward citizen preparedness efforts?

Every community should establish an objective that X% of the community (where X is a community set objective) will receive preparedness training (ie. Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) www.citizencorps.gov/cert/ ) training within the next year.  If we don’t set a goal, how will we now we are making progress?

It’s understandable that funding has been very tight given our current and past economic woes.  But with honest determination and creativity there are ways in which to accomplish citizen preparedness with limited financial support.  Start a community discussion with key-stakeholders. Partner with neighboring communities and seek out community partnerships within the private sector as well as with faith-based organizations.  Look further at how working together we can make great things happen.

Business

While traditional teachings hold that the role of Business leaders/managers is to protect shareholder value, they also have a moral obligation to protect their employees.  Some may say that given the past display of greed by some business leaders there is a lack of morals in business.  I hope they would be wrong.  I prefer to think that many leaders want to do the right thing but aren’t sure where to start.

The simple answer is lead by example.  First, become prepared yourself.  Then, look for opportunities to champion preparedness for your business and your employees.

Large Business

  • Start a discussion with those in your company tasked with Business Continuity (you do have a Business Continuity program in place don’t you?) about what’s really needed to improve your company’s preparedness (readiness) .
  • Ensure that they aren’t just looking at how to protect and recover your essential business functions, but that they are also looking at how your company will respond to an event and subsequently  work with external responders that will be at your door step.
  • Ask what is being done in your company to help your employees prepare – not just at work, but at home as well.  If your employees aren’t prepared at home, they won’t be coming back to help with your recovery.

Small and Medium Business

Remember KISS – “Keep It Short and Simple”.

  • Assume you will be displaced for at least 72 weekday hours
  • Identify who your essential employees and decision makers are and how you will contact them in an emergency.
  • Identify and prioritize your critical business functions – not everything is critical.
  • Identify where you will work if you lose access to your facility and what you will need to function while you are there.
  • Identify key suppliers and vendors and how you will contact them in an emergency.
  • Identify the tasks your essential employees will need to do to Respond and Recover from an emergency.  Don’t forget to also include how you will Return your business after the fact.
  • Document Document Document – all of the stuff mentioned above.  Remember KISS.
  • Once you have your documentation – practice with your essential employees.
  • Look for improvement

Here are a few great resources to assist you:

Education

Throughout our educational system we must teach preparedness.  “Drop Duck and Cover” has been practiced in our schools for many years and as a result, we (adults) remember it.  But we need to reinforce those basic skills as children grow older, and offer more mature ways in which to prepare as well.

Again, the CERT training has proven very successful when used in the high schools (referred to as TEEN CERT).  Today, college campuses across the country are developing Campus Emergency Response Teams.  Here’s an example of one program active on the campus of St Louis University SLU CERT

And let’s not forget about the preparedness factor that’s at the core of both the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

Personal

Make it a goal this year to attend CERT training in your area.  If there isn’t one nearby, contact your local Police or Fire Department about starting one.  If all else fails, take the free online version offered by FEMA (www.citizencorps.gov/cert/training_mat.shtm ).

Here’s a terrific program to help you be better prepared.  It’s a program managed by the Missouri Department of Health and senior Services.  The program is called “Ready In 3”.  Very simple to use and great information.  http://www.dhss.mo.gov/emergencies/readyin3/

Places of Worship

In a disaster, people’s spiritual needs will be strong.  People will seek out churches for support whether or not they are members or of the same faith.  Is your church prepared to be that beacon of light?  Are your leaders prepared to be accessible following a disaster to be that Shepard?  If not, take steps now to be ready when needed:

  • Write a plan for how the church will manage after a disaster.  In the business setting, we’d call this a “business continuity plan”.  As the folks at Convoy of Hope say, “to minimize the potential for disruption to church ministries and operations, and to strengthen your position from which to minister to others when disaster strikes, you must prepare”.  Here’s their site for more info:  www.hopebeginshere.org/go/church
  • Also, consider offering CERT training to your leadership as well as your members/congregants.  Contact your local Police or Fire Department for help.
  • Finally, get active in community discussions about how your place of worship can be part of the solution.     

The Great Central U.S. Shakeout 

The Central U.S. ShakeOut Drill (www.shakeout.org/centralus/index.html ) is scheduled for 10:15 AM on April 28, 2011 (Indiana will participate on April 19, also at 10:15 AM). This means that wherever you are at that moment—at home, at work, at school, anywhere—you should Drop, Cover, and Hold On as if there were a major earthquake occurring at that very moment, and stay in this position for at least 60 seconds. There will not be any freeway closures, power outages, or other simulated effects of the hypothetical earthquake, unless your local government or utility company specifically notifies you about something of this nature. The ShakeOut is not something you need to leave work to participate in—in fact, participating at work is encouraged! Businesses, organizations, schools, and government agencies can register and have their employees practice Drop, Cover, and Hold On or have a more extensive emergency drill.

The main goal of the ShakeOut is to get everyone prepared for major earthquakes, so use the ShakeOut as an opportunity to learn what to do before, during, and after an earthquake.   Anyone can participate, from a single individual at their home to a major company at the office. Talk to your coworkers, neighbors and friends about the ShakeOut and encourage their participation.

NLE 2011

In May 2011, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will conduct the National Level Exercise 2011 (NLE 2011; www.ready.gov/nle2011/index.html ). The purpose of the exercise is to prepare and coordinate a multiple-jurisdictional integrated response to a national catastrophic event.

NLE 2011 is a White House directed Congressionally mandated exercise that will focus on regional catastrophic response and recovery activities between federal, regional, state, tribal, local and private sector participants.

The focus of the exercise will simulate the catastrophic nature of a major earthquake in the central United States region of the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ). The year 2011 is the bicentennial anniversary of the 1811 New Madrid earthquake, for which the NMSZ is named. NLE 2011 will be the first NLE to simulate a natural hazard.

Extra Reading

Here’s a book that is a terrific read – Amanda Ripley’s “The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes — and Why”  www.amandaripley.com

In her book, Amanda Ripley explains how our brain works in disasters — and how we can learn to do better when a disaster occurs. 

TIP:  Don’t forget to – Spring ahead on Saturday March 12, 2011 …  change your clocks at midnight for Daylight savings Time.  Also, change batteries in your smoke and CO detectors.  Lastly, rotate supplies in your 72-hour disaster supplies kit.  If you don’t have one – take the time now to put one together (Click here about how to make a kit ).

Improving Your Business Continuity with ICS

Over the years, I’ve observed that many businesses put forth valiant efforts toward developing the strategies, objectives, and tactics that make up their business continuity plans.  I believe businesses can greatly improve the overall effectiveness of their business continuity efforts by looking beyond the boundaries of “business continuity” and incorporating some of the best practices found in emergency management.

Back 1995, I first came to appreciate just how important this concept is.  I was involved with a corporate response to the Oklahoma City bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City on April 19.  We had plans in place for essential business functions but had never addressed the impact public sector responses would have on our response and recoverability.   For the first week following the blast, an entire eight-block radius was closed to the general public. Since it was considered a crime scene, security was very tight in the area which made it very difficult for recovery teams to try and assess the damage.  With the extremely tight security measures in place, getting workers into and out of the area was a challenge and took several hours for each employee. 

Having a better understanding how public safety (police, fire, EMS, and Emergency Management) will respond to an incident can greatly effect how a company might approach their own response and recovery – and vice versa.  Today, the best practice followed by first responders in any response is the Incident Command System commonly referred to as ICS.

For those not familiar with ICS, it’s a standardized, on-scene, all-hazards incident management concept supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA; www.training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IS/ICSResource ).  ICS enables a coordinated response among various entities using common processes for planning and managing resources.  ICS also allows for the integration of facilities, equipment, personnel, procedures, and communications operating within a common organizational structure.

ICS was developed in the 1970s following a series of catastrophic fires in California. Property damage ran into the millions, and many people died or were injured.  Those tasked with determining the causes of these disasters studied the case histories and discovered that response problems could rarely be attributed to lack of resources or failure of tactics.  Rather, After-action reports from ineffective incident responses find that response problems are far more likely to result from inadequate management than from any other single cause.  Without ICS, incident responses typically result in:

  • Lack of accountability, including unclear chains of command and supervision.
  • Poor communication, due to both inefficient uses of available communications systems and conflicting codes and terminology.
  • Lack of an orderly, systematic planning process.
  • No common, flexible, predesigned management structure that enabled those in-charge to delegate responsibilities and manage workloads efficiently.
  • No predefined methods to integrate interagency requirements into the management structure and planning process effectively.

In the past, about the only driver for businesses to include ICS was with respect to hazardous materials thanks to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA;  www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/ics )  standards (29 CFR 1910.120 App C).  Thankfully that’s changed.  Today, we have more encouragement from (not all inclusive):

  • National Fire Protection Association ( NFPA; http://www.nfpa.org ) with the NFPA 1600 “Standard for Disaster/ Emergency Management and Business Continuity”
  • FEMA’s  “Voluntary Private Sector Preparedness Accreditation and Certification Program” (PS-PREP; www.fema.gov/privatesector/preparedness ) and,
  • Professional Practices of the Disaster Recovery Institute International (DRII; www.drii.org ) include two touch points for the inclusion of emergency management considerations, although actual inclusion and implementation will vary greatly among businesses.  Specifically, the two Professional Practices are:
  1. Emergency Response and Operations – Identify an organizations’ readiness to respond to an emergency in a coordinated, timely and effective manner.  Develop and implement procedures for initial response and stabilization of situations until the arrival of authorities having jurisdiction (if/when), and
  2. Coordination with External Agencies – Establish applicable procedures and policies for coordinating continuity and restoration activities with external agencies (local, regional, national, emergency responders, defense, etc.) while ensuring compliance with applicable statutes and regulations.

I recently instructed an “ICS-300 Intermediate ICS for Expanding Incidents” class.  The class was structured purposefully to include both public “responders” and corporate business continuity planners.  At the end of the three-day class, those from the corporate world felt the class was eye-opening and extremely helpful to them.   They mentioned that they thought the use of ICS will be valuable to their companys in that it:

  • defines a  pre-determined  structure which in turn will help avoid the loss of time as people jockey for position and power
  • provides the company with a standard process to be used for escalation, all the way up to their Corporate Headquarters
  • will serve as a foundation onto which solid working relationships can be built with community responders
  • would also drive common terminology across different offices including those in other countries.
  • Improves overall communication and effectiveness 

TIP:  In spite of the technology available today, truly effective response and recovery requires good people.  Train and educate your employees.  An organization is only as good as its people.  Design an effective business continuity/emergency management training model and ensure your employees have the training and tools to do their jobs – either in the office, on the road or at home.

 If you or someone from your company would like to learn more about how ICS specifically, or training in general, can improve your business continuity efforts, please feel free to contact me.

Leadership 911 – Is Leadership in an Emergency Different?

Is “leadership” in an emergency different than that in a business-as-usual environment?

Leadership in general has always been fascinating to me.  For me, watching leadership in action is much like sitting in a public area and “people watching”.  You see all kinds.  The same is true with respect to leadership.  During my previous career, I had the opportunity to work with some very talented leaders.  You know, the ones you’d go to the end of the earth for.  On the flip-side of that, I also had the opportunity to work for some managers that thought they were leaders, but truth be told, they weren’t even good managers.  I’m certain my experiences aren’t unique.  But in both cases, I used the opportunities to learn.

I also had the opportunity in my previous career to participate in a “Regional Leadership Forum (RLF)” that is offered by the Society of Information Management (SIM;  http://www.simnet.org/ ).  This was a terrific learning experience that I still look back on with great appreciation.  I highly recommend the SIM RLF program to anyone interested in developing their leadership skills.

Having worked in a corporate environment and seen both good and not so good leadership, and having participated in a rigorous leadership development program, I’ve often wondered how leadership in an emergency might differ from that found in a business-as-usual environment.  More specifically, how can I become a better leader in both environments and help others become better leaders too.

I’ve read a lot of books and had many conversations with many people about leadership throughout my career.  But to gain some real-world insight, I reached out to several leaders in the public safety arena and interviewed them about their leadership experiences in an emergency.  After all, who sees more emergencies than policemen, firemen, or emergency managers?  I interviewed 12 high ranking officers (Chiefs, Assistant Chiefs, and Deputy Chiefs) in municipal fire and police departments in the St. Louis metropolitan area.  As evidenced by the small sample size and restricted geographic boundaries, I wasn’t concerned about the statistical perfection of my research.  I was only looking for insight.  I should also disclose that I have had a working relationship with these individuals for several years. 

From my interviews, I uncovered the following points …

  • By definition, leadership is leadership.  Whether you are in the public or private sector, business-as-usual or in an emergency, it really doesn’t matter.  It all boils down to leadership being one’s ability to influence others to accomplish goals and arrive at a desired outcome.
  • How we lead is different in an emergency.  Emergencies by nature are dynamic and as such don’t allow for the luxury of time as in a business-as-usual environment.
  • Leaders in an emergency have to be quick decision makers.
  • It’s OK for leaders not to know everything about everything.  But, they do need to solicit input from others and make sure they have someone on the team that can fill the gap.
  • In an emergency, life safety is our number one concern.
  • Timely and effective communication to all stakeholders is critical in an emergency.
  • Not all managers can be leaders, and not all leaders can lead in an emergency.  Experience is a great teacher, but it can be costly.
  • No matter how you slice it, leadership revolves around people.  Leaders lead people.  People work to accomplish goals.  Without people, there is no leadership.  Leaders need to take care of their people, and their people will take care of them.
  • Developing future leaders is strategically important for the organization.

The bigger question becomes how do we educate – prepare – leaders today so that they are ready to effectively deal with the demands of leading through an emergency?  Experience is a double edged sword.  On one side, it’s a desirable strength that we want in our leaders.  However, on the other side it can be a costly substitute for training if it is an outcome of a leader responding to a situation he/she is unprepared to handle.

In this blog, I’ve barely touched the tip of the iceberg on this subject.  I am continuing to develop and refine this material further.  I’ll be sure to update you by way of this blog as well as my profile on Linked In.  In the meantime, I’d like to hear what you think about this.  Feel free to drop me a comment.     

Tip:  Go to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and access their “Ready In 3” Campaign at   www.dhss.mo.gov/emergencies/readyin3 .  There, you’ll find terrific support on the subject of preparing for disasters.

Sustainability in Business Continuity and Emergency Management – Going Green

Hmmmm, the last blog I posted was on Christmas Eve when the tornados tore through St. Louis, MO.  Today, as I’m posting this blog we are in the early stages of a huge winter storm.  Is it me or what?

Well, despite all of the ice and snow,  I’m seeing green.

No, there’s nothing wrong with my vision as I recently had my eyes checked.  And no, Spring certainly hasn’t sprung quite yet here in the Midwest, although I am quite anxious for warmer weather and no snow.

The “green” I’m seeing is environmental sustainability.

For many years now we’ve heard about “going green”.  At work and at home, we’re encouraged to recycle in an effort to protect the environment.  In the private sector, businesses are establishing formal sustainability projects and organizations.  In the public sector, governmental agencies are addressing many of the same initiatives as their private sector counterparts.  Many of these initiatives in either sector are taking place within in the technology side, and more specifically in the IT arena.  Some examples include data center design, server consolidation, strategies and tactics to reduce power, water, and HVAC consumption.

As Jonathan Estes points out in his book “Smart Green – How to Implement Sustainable Business Practices in Any Industry and Make Money”  (www.smartgreenbusiness.com/press/smart-green/ ) the word “sustainable” is used a lot these days but do we all have a common understanding of what “sustainable” means?  Estes says in its simplest form sustainable practices are those that allow the present generation to meet their needs without adversely affecting the ability of future generations to do the same.  Furthermore, it includes at least three main components 1) people, 2) the planet, and 3) profits.

I was in a meeting several days ago with a few professionals that work in the developing field of sustainability.  As we were talking, I began to reflect on the impact sustainability has on business continuity and emergency management.  Surprisingly, there are many touch points that offer synergy between these fields.  And more importantly, I believe there are many more opportunities available in which we can improve sustainability through our business continuity / emergency management efforts and vice versa.

Emergency management professionals have long recognized how vital it is to protect the environment.  So much so that it’s the second of three priorities that are adhered to consistently, right between the protection of life and the protection of property.

Additionally, emergency managers (and business continuity professionals) are often faced with resource management issues.  Issues where response and recovery goals and tasks must be accomplished with resources that are limited in supply – resources that can’t afford to be wasted. 

Business Continuity and Emergency Management professionals can become leaders of change when it comes to sustainability.  Given the extraordinary challenges associated with going green, extraordinary leadership is required.

As we continue on the business continuity and emergency management path, we need to ask the question “how does what I’m doing positively impact our sustainability?”  We need to ask this when we are:

  • managing projects
  • conducting Risk and Business Impact Analysis
  • developing recovery strategies
  • planning
  • exercising
  • training and creating awareness
  • responding to events
  • recovering from events
  • basically, in everything we do

By asking a strategic question such as this, we can then look for opportunities in which to implement “green” strategies that will not only protect our businesses and communities but our environment as well.

On the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website, (www.epa.gov/climatechange/wycd/businesses.html ) the EPA points out that “Leading businesses and corporations are evaluated on many aspects of their performance, including product quality, ethics or standing in the community. These businesses can provide a powerful example promoting greenhouse gas reduction strategies through corporate incentives such as financial assistance for employees who use public transportation, car-pooling and even telecommuting. Other “green” practices such as recycling and purchasing recycled materials also contribute to emissions reductions. Corporate policies involving employees and day-to-day operations can have a positive impact on the climate in and outside the office”.

In a future blog, I plan to “recycle” this piece and further expand upon the relationship of sustainability, business continuity, and emergency management.  So stay tuned.

TIP: This one is fun and the tie-in to sustainability is “regifting”.  Go to the following website  and try this out:   www.regiftable.com/regiftingrobinpopup.html

Happy New Year – Resolution: Get Prepared!

Happy New Year!  I look forward to what lies ahead in the upcoming twelve months.  While I know that there will be challenges I also know there will be lots of opportunity as well, just like in a disaster.  From my challenges I hope to learn and grow, and from my opportunities I hope to prosper.  I wish you great success this coming year.

As we close out 2010, we do so with some wild weather activity.  The recent blizzard in the Northeast and significant storms and flooding in the West.  In the Midwest, we experienced a minor earthquake.  On December 30, 2011.  A Magnitude 3.8 earthquake struck North of Indianapolis, near Kokomo, Indiana.  More than 5,300 “Felt Reports” were received, but no damage reports.  Check out recent earthquakes at: http://www.ceri.memphis.edu/seismic/recenteqs/ .  On December 31, 2011 parts of Missouri, Arkansas, and Illinois experienced strong storms and tornado activity.   Just a week earlier they were enjoying a white Christmas. These events should be continued reminders to all of us that we need to be reasonably prepared.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issued a News Release On December 30, 2011 that said “with the new year fast approaching, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is encouraging all Americans to make emergency preparedness one of their New Year’s resolutions for the coming year.  “Resolve to be Ready in 2011” (www.ready.gov ) is a nationwide effort to urge individuals, families, businesses and communities to focus on being ready and aware of all the hazards that exist in their communities”.

Speaking of being prepared, have you seen the one-hour show “How To Survive A Disaster” that was recently on the Science Channel?  If it’s repeated in your area, I encourage you to watch it.  An interesting point that the program addresses is the impact “herd mentality” has on our judgment to respond … or not respond …to danger.  As was pointed out, too often people don’t want to take action out of embarrassment.  This issue has significance as we address risk and conduct fire drills, building evacuations, and our emergency response exercises.  We need to encourage people to take action.

Looking specifically to the private sector, there are two initiatives we need to pay attention to in 2011:

The “Voluntary Private Sector Preparedness Accreditation and Certification Program” (PS‑Prep) www.fema.gov/privatesector/preparedness is being championed by FEMA.  According to FEMA documentation, PS-PREP was mandated by Title IX of the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007.  Congress directed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop and implement a voluntary program of accreditation and certification of private entities using standards adopted by DHS that promote private sector preparedness, including disaster management, emergency management and business continuity programs. Participation in the PS-Prep program is completely voluntary.  No private sector entity will be required by DHS to comply with any standard adopted under the program.  However, DHS encourages all private sector entities to seriously consider seeking certification on one or more standards that will be adopted by DHS.

The other initiative is the “Ready Rating Program” sponsored by the American Red Cross (ARC) www.readyrating.org .   According to the Red Cross, the Ready Rating Program is a first-of-its-kind membership program, created to help businesses, organizations, and schools improve their emergency preparedness. As a Ready Rating member, you will have access to Red Cross guidance, tools and support that will help you become better prepared for emergencies and disasters – and be recognized for your efforts.

Both of these initiatives offer opportunity for businesses to become better prepared.  If you are someone tasked with business continuity, safety, or security responsibilities take a look at both of these initiatives.

As I close I want to thank my friend David Strom for his help and mentoring as I developed this blog site.  David is a terrific individual and I appreciate his support.  Check David out at www.strom.com .

Last, based on feedback I received, I’m going to change the frequency of my blog from monthly to twice a month (on the 1st and 15th).  This is one of those challenges I mentioned in the opening!  Also, I’m going to close each blog with a small tip.  Some will be useful and some will be fun – I think.

Here’s to a terrific 2011!

TIP: Most of us use the New Year to clean out our house and reorganize all of our “stuff”.  Use this time to begin putting together a family preparedness kit or update the one you already have.  Here’s a link to see what you should include: www.ready.gov/america/getakit