Monday, October 28, 2013

A great honor

Events near the end of October have a way of forcing me to choose among equally enticing prospects.  Rather than attend this year's Executive Women's Forum in Scottsdale, I flew to Reno to help present the 2013 Hall of Fame Awards & Gala for the International Network of Women in Emergency Management and Homeland Security.  The event is only three years old.  I was honored and amazed to be inducted in 2011, along with Eleanor Roosevelt and Clara Barton.  Last year's inductees were splendid.  And this year, we kept the bar high.

Two distinguished Washingtonians were honored:  Mary Schoenfeld, a pioneer in the field of emergency management and school crisis management.  She's been in the field over 30 years and has written 5 books and countless articles. She is an inspiration to each of us.  Here, she is pictured in the president of inWEM, Dr. Jacqueline McBride, who also hosted the evening's festivities.

Also honored in memoriam was Ben Dew from FEMA Region
X and prior to that, Washington State emergency management.  He is the author of the strategy we now call
"Neighbor Helping Neighbor."  More than one person remembered him and his "Never give up" mantra during the evening.

And there were others who received awards that evening as well, including four of the women pictured below.  Left to right:  Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes (Red Cross),
Cheryl (on behalf of Delta Sigma Theta), Fire Chief Toni B. Washington, Dr. Meloyde Batten-Mikens (2012 awardee), and Fire Chief Debra Prior.

Here's Mary Anne McKown, author/synthesizer
extraordinaire for some of our finest national documents, including the National Response Plan, the National Response Framework, and the National Emergency Communications Plan.  That's just a small taste of the work she began when she left Booz Allen become a government employee after 9/11.

Different stories for each of the awardees, but overall you could say that each of these women understands public service, the notion of giving back on behalf of something larger than yourself, and a keen desire to leave the world a better place.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Earthquake planning

In yesterday's operational risk seminar that I teach at the University of Washington, our guest speaker was UW seismologist and information scientist Bill Steele.  In the first hour of class, he used a presentation he had recently made to state government on the development of an alert system that could mitigate certain types of public safety issues during an earthquake.  I've seen parts of the presentation before, and was struck again by the message that is driven home: disaster preparedness reduces costs over the long run.  And it may also reduce business interruption costs by as much as 20%.  Despite these facts, we are a long way from having an effective earthquake alert system in this state that could provide up to 3 minutes of warning before we felt the shock; and that could also be used to stop trains and elevators, and alert schools so that children could drop, cover and hold.

In our seminar the previous week,  I had talked about neuroscientist Tali Sharot's book, The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain.  For those of you who might be curious, I've included a link to her TED talk.

How does this optimism bias play into disaster preparedness at the personal level?  You have only to listen to some of your under-prepared friends and neighbors -- "It will never happen in my lifetime" and/or "I know it's going to happen but I have plenty of time to put my emergency kit and plan together."  Sharot calls this underestimating negative events.

So to nudge you along -- including those who live outside earthquake zones but in areas where floods, hurricanes, extreme weather or tornadoes happen -- here's a link to the pull-out center section of last Sunday's Seattle Times magazine, titled "Ready to Rumble."  You can use it as a guide to preparations on your home and for your family against most types of events.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

It doesn't cost much to ensure your home's security

I might have written this article by Deborah Abrams myself.  It bears a great similarity to the advice and points I provide in the first chapter of Advice From A Risk Detective, including my recommendation to use wooden dowels to secure windows that don't lock well.

As fall turns into winter, and it becomes darker earlier in the day, it's worth it to review what easy and inexpensive steps you might take to secure your home.  As you're doing fall cleanup, do make sure that shrubs are not covering windows.  The only shrub we have near a first floor window is a prickly holly bush, which is an effective deterrent on the curb side of the house.

Friday, October 4, 2013

"That which does not kill us makes us stronger." -- Frederich Nietzsche

 Many of you have heard me comment on these issues previously, but this is the first post I am making on, and I wanted to set up some of the issues I will be discussing in the future.

We might argue with any number of Nietzsche's philosophical tenants, but this statement seems to define not only the human condition but also the quality of resilience that we aspire to in the plans and programs we build around business continuity and disaster recovery.

Americans are not the only people tested sorely in the past several years by hurricanes, tornadoes, tropical storms, wildfires, floods, extreme heat or earthquakes.  Nor have we had to bear the triple scenario that included a magnitude 9 earthquake, a tsunami, and the failure of major nuclear power plants in Japan in 2011.  Debris from those events is still washing up on the coast of the State of Washington, where I live.  That series of events in Japan should lead all of us in business continuity and emergency management to reconsider the fundamental assumptions on which we make our plans, and ask "What really is the worst case, now that conditions on the Earth have changed so significantly from climate change?"  For there's no doubt that things have changed, even though our plans have probably not been dusted off more than once a year for a drill or exercise, rather than an actual fail-over for the technology components.

The world has changed in other ways than natural disasters.  The intrusion of technology into all aspects of our lives and work means that a company's ability to respond to certain types of disasters is not wholly within their own hands.  Its technology and online presence are dependent upon the power grid to drive both physical and virtual assets; and, as individuals, we are dependent upon the communications sector to provide sufficient bandwidth to power our multitude of smartphones and other devices.

Technology and online are also dependent upon strong online security so that websites are not compromised by cyber amateurs or terrorists.  We know clearly that certain parts of our critical infrastructure, in particular our power grids, offer relatively easy targets to those who wish to disrupt the physical infrastructure upon which most of us have come to depend.  Other parts of our infrastructure like banking and finance offer more ready targets to cyber-terrorists.

Then there's social media.  Some of us deal better than others with it, and its power to do good or wrong.    I've written previously on cyber bullies as well as on exceptional social media programs managed by police, fire and public utilities. In future blogs, I'll look more closely at examples of each.

In business, the foundation for practical, usable, streamlined business continuity plans is the information derived from the tool we call the Business Impact Analysis (BIA).   That information identifies and ranks the most critical business processes for a company.  In doing so, it acts also as a repository of the company's operational risks, as well as estimates of what the failure of the business process would cost to reputation, to revenues, and in terms of regulatory compliance.

I'll stop here by suggesting that it's not until we go all the way back to review our critical business processes to ensure we have absolute breakdowns into sub-processes that we can strengthen our respective levels of resilience by re-ranking and re-architecting business processes based on the current conditions.  So we're not dead yet, but we have fewer dollars to spend to close the gaps.  In the meantime, fires, floods, hurricanes and the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) continue to present unprecedented challenges.