What to Do in the Event of a Real Emergency

Wayne Rash

Let's forget, if we can, the car bomb in Times Square that fizzled. Instead, let's suppose it hadn't. Or let's suppose that it's a couple of months from now, and a category 5 hurricane hits the East Coast of the U.S. Or that the Big One finally hits-in Seattle. There's no question that these would all be disasters of immeasurable proportions. The loss of life would be great, the loss in property would be huge.

No doubt you're thinking that you've got this taken care of in terms of a business continuity strategy. You have a hot site for your data center, you have an alternate operations center already set up. You back your data up to a cloud storage provider. Your business will go on, right? Well, maybe not.

While your information may be safe, what's going to happen to your employees? Probably what's happened in the past, which is that they'll be trapped at home or in the office, out of touch, out of reach, and in some cases in peril. As a senior manager in a corporation, you need to worry about both the welfare of your staff and the continuation of your business. If you've taken care of the welfare of your business, then your entire focus needs to be on your staff.

Problem is, you and your staff will be out of touch with the rest of the world. Your phone system will almost certainly be out, as will your power. Your cell phones won't work. The infrastructure outside may be damaged. Your building may or may not be intact. What you need is a plan:

  • First, if you have advance warning (like the coming of a hurricane) then evacuate your employees and their families. This has worked successfully for a number of companies along the Gulf Coast for years, and some, notably Northrop Grumman, make it a standard part of their emergency planning.
  • Have a communications plan that doesn't require the use of cell phones or smartphones. You can assume that you won't be able to make a phone call. Fortunately, SMS messages will usually get through eventually, so you still need to make sure you have everyone's cell number.
  • Have an alternate form of communications if necessary to save lives or call for help. Your emergency coordinator should have at least one ham radio operator on staff, with a radio available, even if the company has to pay for that person to take the training and has to buy a radio-ham radio is often the only reliable means of emergency communications in a real crisis.
  • Create a central assembly point that's located somewhere besides your office. If you're located in Washington, DC, for example, pick a place inland, within 50 miles or so, where you can set up a place for employees to check in. Plan to help them deal with the emergency, and then help them get to work.
  • Assume that some of your employees won't be able to make it to the assembly point and have a plan to have their jobs filled until their status is determined. You owe it to your employees to keep the business running and their paychecks coming.
  • Finally, make sure your insurance carrier has you covered for such contingencies. Yes, it's more expensive than a basic fire insurance policy, but it could mean the difference between the survival of your business and its demise.

It may sound overly dramatic to suggest that such extensive planning is necessary, but events over the past decade have shown that companies that have such plans in place survive, and those that don't may not. Obviously, being prepared costs money, but probably not nearly as much as being unprepared.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
May 4, 2010 11:05 PM Max Wallingford Max Wallingford  says:
Great post! People and organizations that think about and plan for disaster get their people out and their operations up. For a great book about the topic check out "The Unthinkable" by Amanda Ripley. Her blog is http://www.amandaripley.com . If you think that you are prepared, ask yourself right now where the staircase is in your building and where it exits. Most of this information is probably going to be in your Active Directory. How easily can you get it out? Reply
May 5, 2010 12:05 PM Allen Pitts Allen Pitts  says:
While I appreciate the compliment paid to Amateur Radio operators and their skills, be very wary of planning any use of Amateur ("ham") Radio for business continuity use. Ham radio is subject to FCC rules and is called "amateur" because of it's NONcommercial restrictions. Here are some key FCC rules about this... �97.113 Prohibited transmissions (a) No amateur station shall transmit (2) Communications for hire or for material compensation, direct or indirect, paid or promised, except as otherwise provided in these rules; (3) Communications in which the station licensee or control operator has a pecuniary interest, including communications on behalf of an employer. (5) Communications, on a regular basis, which could reasonably be furnished alternatively through other radio services. An enterprise, whether for-profit or non-profit, which intends to use Amateur Radio communications on a regular basis for its own basic organizational purposes, but could reasonably use other radio services available to them, should be steered toward those services. A good rule of thumb when evaluating a particular request for communications support is, �Who benefits?� If public safety is the principal beneficiary, then �97.1 is being fulfilled. If the entity itself and not the general public is the principal beneficiary, then they should be encouraged to use radio services other than Amateur Radio. Reply
May 5, 2010 4:05 PM Leigh WA5ZNU Leigh WA5ZNU  says:
Alan, It's true that businesses can't use ham radio for disaster recovery and business operations, and the recent FCC decisions about hospital drills puts a fine (perhaps too fine) point on this topic. However, everyone needs to remember that businesses include people, and you have a business campus with tens to hundreds to thousands of people, it's quite likely that there will be a need to communicate with government or life-safety entities in a disaster, and having *active* ham radio operators as employees improves chances that life-saving communications can take place. Reply
May 7, 2010 10:10 PM Wrash@mindspring.com Wrash@mindspring.com  says: in response to Allen Pitts
First I want to thank Allen Pitts who is the top PR guy at the American Radio Relay League, the premier organization for promoting amateur radio globally. Allen is correct that ham radio is not for business use, and that's the point of my suggestion in this article. The problem in a disaster isn't that you might need it to conduct business. The problem is that you may well need to find a way to save the lives of your employees. This isn't a business use of ham radio. Emergencies involving the life or safety of a person or of many people are always appropriate uses for ham radio whether those people are in danger at work or somewhere else. Reply

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