A Decade of Lessons ― A Time to Remember and A Time to Look Ahead
Special Features
Written by Thad Allen   


As revelers welcomed in 2012 this past January, I doubt that many knew that 2011 was the costliest year on record for damages caused by natural disasters. The combined cost of the earthquakes in New Zealand, the earthquake/tsunami/ nuclear power plant disaster in Japan, the extraordinary number of deadly tornadoes in the United States, and other events throughout the world cost in excess of $380 billion according to the German reinsurance group Munich Re.1

In the United States a single hurricane, Irene, held the entire East Coast hostage and then created one of the largest rain and flooding events in New England history.

In the decade following 9/11 we have witnessed the devastating tsunami in Indonesia, earthquakes throughout the Pacific Rim and in South Asia, unprecedented tropical storms in both the Pacific and Atlantic, volcanic ash that closed European airspace, increasingly violent tornadoes in the United States, drought driven wild fires, and man made events as we move into deeper water to find new sources of energy.

What’s going on here? The answer is a lot. The combined effect of changing terrestrial weather patterns, seismic activity, volcanic eruptions, and shrinking polar ice caps in combination with an ever-increasing man-built environment is creating a complex interaction of forces that are challenging to predict.


At the same time radical advances in mass communication, information technology, and the 24-hour media cycle insures that any response will rapidly involve public and media participation. Non-governmental organizations have become important players along with the private sector.

Against this backdrop there is a growing demand by the public for effective, “whole of government” or “whole of community” response that in many cases is well beyond the limits of any single agency, company, or community group to accomplish. The need for collaboration, networking, and cooperation has never been stronger.

The challenge in confronting these events is to prepare, protect, respond, recover, and adapt based on lessons learned, and mitigate the impact of future events. The word that encompasses the entire life cycle of an event is resiliency. In my view, it is the capability, capacity, and competency of a community (or government) to plan for and execute an effective response and reestablish a “new normal” as quickly as possible.

To that end, we need to develop plans that focus on basic capabilities and coordinating structures that can be used across a broader spectrum of threats and hazards. We will never be certain as to what the next event will be nor its magnitude, impact, or consequences. Building organizational capability, communications networks, and trust through realistic exercises increases our resiliency against any hazard.

This Disaster Resource GUIDE looks at all facets of the resiliency cycle and provides insights from a decade of experience. We have found in some cases that while we understand the problem (interoperable communications among first responders) our good intentions or legal mandates are not self-executing. The devil is always in the details. For that reason a wide spectrum of issues is addressed including planning and management, human factors, information availability and security, terrestrial and satellite based communications systems, facility issues, and crisis communications & response.

A new response paradigm is emerging. It is based on the understanding that horizontal and vertical integration of effort across the federal government, private sector, state and local communities, and volunteer organizations is the only way to achieve a whole of community response. Further, it is what the public expects. This resource guide is intended to facilitate and promote that effort.

About the Author
Thad Allen was appointed National Incident Commander for the unified response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill by President Obama. He previously served as Coast Guard Chief of Staff, during which he was Principal Federal Official for the US response and recovery operations for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. He served as the 23rd Commandant of the Coast Guard before joining Booz Allen Hamilton as a Senior Vice President managing thought leadership and client engagement in law enforcement and homeland security.

1 www.theblaze.com/stories/report-most-expensive-natural-disasters-in-2011-wereunrelated- to-climate-and-weather


9.11.01 ― Communication Failures Cripple Response

By DRG staff writer Cheryl Knight


The evening of September 10, 2001, was just another typical end to the weekend for many U.S. residents. But only a day later, world-changing events would reshape America’s landscape forever.

By 10:30 a.m. Eastern Time on September 11, 2001, an American symbol of capitalism was gone, as aircraft piloted by terrorists hit World Trade Center Towers 1 and 2. The same day, hijackers crashed a plane into the Pentagon in Virginia and another jet was purposefully crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. Almost 3,000 died on 9/11, and life in America would never be the same again. What lessons have been learned since that tragic September morning, and how can they be applied to everyday business crisis management?

Communication Gaps Make Disaster Worse

As one of the worst disasters in America’s history, 9/11 was fraught with emergency preparedness and response failures, from unrehearsed disaster plans, to nonexistent relocation strategies, to major interoperability failures. But the biggest failure during the terrorist attacks and their aftermath was a lack of communication between emergency personnel, as well as businesses, in New York City. The 9/11 Commission found that communication problems and a lack of evacuation plans hampered rescue efforts in the World Trade Center. “Fire chiefs did not know what the NYPD knew, and knew less than what TV viewers knew,” said commission chairman Thomas Kean, a former governor of New Jersey, and vice chairman Lee Hamilton, a former congressman from Indiana, in a joint statement after the Commission released its finding.

The Biggest Communication Gaps Included:

Lack of interoperability between agencies led to confusion and misinformation.

The New York Fire Department, which led efforts within the towers, had no way to communicate with the NYPD, whose police helicopter pilots had a better idea of the extent of the structure fires, according to EMS Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) and Port Authority Radio Repeater Transcripts.

“The inability to communicate was a critical element at the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Somerset County, Pa., crash sites, where multiple agencies and multiple jurisdictions responded,” according to The 9/11 Commission Report. “The occurrence of this problem at three very different sites is strong evidence that compatible and adequate communications among public safety organizations at the local, state and federal levels remains an important problem.”

Significant progress has been made since 9/11 on communications interoperability. Both police and fire dispatchers have been moved into a central location, allowing for better coordination between agencies. Radio systems have also been adopted that are compatible with each other instead of competing with each other.

And according to www.govtech.com Associate Editor Elaine Pittman, in an August 31, 2011, article assessing National Public Safety Network changes after 9/11, “Solutions have been developed and implemented in major urban areas to facilitate voice communications between agencies. Bridging devices and 800 MHz networks have helped to make this possible, and federal programs are testing technologies like multiband radios that allow first responders to communicate with other agencies regardless of which radio band they operate on.”

The 911 emergency call system was overwhelmed, and operators could not effectively direct callers because they did not know the scope of the disaster.

It took more than 11 years for a new solution to be implemented, but in 2012, and for the first time in NYC’s history, 911 operators (from the police and fire


departments) and the Emergency Medical Dispatch services are located on the same floor of the Public Safety Answering Center in Brooklyn, according to www.govtech.com in a January 9, 2012, article titled “New York City Completes Major 911 System Overhaul.”

Both emergency response departments are now operating on the same technology, which can handle 50,000 calls per hour, more than nine times the “peak hourly call volume” that took place on 9/11, according to www.govtech.com.

“We now have all of the city’s emergency response agencies in one place and on the same system, with state-of-the-art technology that can handle the large number of calls we see during big emergencies,” NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement.

The Emergency Operations Command (EOC) at World Trade Center 7 was out of operation due to its proximity to the WTC.

Because the center was so close to Towers 1 and 2, it lost power, caught fire, and was eventually destroyed, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency World Trade Center Building Performance Study.

Following the loss of the EOC, emergency officials were able to use a temporary EOC which had been established at Pier 92, north of the WTC complex. This is one example of emergency officials’ flexibility during 9/11. The temporary EOC had been set up for an exercise simulating a biological attack that was scheduled to take place on September 12. This temporary headquarters was utilized in the NYC rescue efforts.

NYC officials have since learned a hard lesson that the EOC should be based away from high-hazard areas and in a survivable building. Today, the command center resides in a WWII-era bomb shelter.

Applying 9/11 Lessons Learned to Private Businesses

Communication is the single most important component to any successful disaster preparedness and response plan – both before and after an event. Communicate your plan through new-hire orientation, monthly or quarterly employee meetings, e-mail updates, newsletters, or policy manual updates.

During a crisis, have all communications go through one central authority so instruction is consistent and channeled appropriately, avoiding mixed messages. Also create contingency plans in case “normal” channels of communication are disrupted, allowing for safe and effective response in any emergency situation.

Don’t forget that a disaster response and recovery plan includes communication with more than just employees. Have a defined communication plan for clients, vendors, and any business partners outside of your organization.

How can businesses apply lessons learned from 9/11 to their own emergency preparedness and response plan? The bottom line, according to Mark Haimowitz, of the ABC Television Network: “Plan for what you don’t know.”

“Develop your plans with an all-hazards approach,” Haimowitz says. “Focus less on the event and mostly on the impact. This way you can feel ready for an event that you never even imagined.”

Businesses Must Continue to Improve Disaster Plans

Since 9/11 altered our perception of business and personal safety more than 10 years ago, both government agencies and private businesses have improved disaster preparedness and response. However, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure safe and effective recovery when the next disaster event strikes. Businesses must continue to refine and streamline emergency plans for optimal disaster preparedness.


Hurricane Katrina

By DRG staff writer Cheryl Knight


As one of the the costliest disasters on record in the U.S., 2005’s Hurricane Katrina was also the thirddeadliest hurricane in the country, according to http://geology.com.

With a total loss of life as a result of the hurricane and subsequent floods standing at 1,836 people, the damage it wreaked was estimated at $81 billion.

Disaster Preparedness and Response Questions

While there is plenty of blame to be passed around for the lack of prompt and helpful emergency response during and after Hurricane Katrina, where did the most critical failures surface? Should the mandatory evacuation have been implemented 48 hours before Katrina hit, as experts advised, instead of the 20 hours that was actually given? Should the aid of U.S. military forces have been sought with the first call for assistance from the federal government by the governor of Louisiana? Should FEMA have been more prepared to respond when that call was made?

Regardless of the overwhelming negative media reports surrounding the disaster response, there were many positive actions from state and federal agencies during Hurricane Katrina. The United States Coast Guard, the National Weather Service, and the National Hurricane Center were all applauded for their actions both before and during the disaster. These organizations provided accurate tracking of Hurricane Katrina and gave forecasts with sufficient lead times to respond to the changing situation as Katrina made landfall.

One of the main causes of the initial failure to respond was the way that disaster response was set up pre-Katrina. With Hurricane Katrina, specifically, little was done in the years before 2005 to reinforce critical levees even though their design was deemed questionable at the time, according to a www. washingtonpost.com article titled “Experts Say Faulty Levees Caused Much of Flooding.”

Another major response failure after Katrina included a lack of relief resources for both individuals and businesses. The sheer number of those affected by the hurricane and flooding greatly outweighed relief efforts, leading to further chaos and even more casualties.

The results of both emergency response and levee design failure during Katrina were devastating.

According to the report “Is Federalism the Reason for Policy Failure in Hurricane Katrina?” by Thomas Birkland of North Carolina State University and Sarah Waterman of University of North Carolina, School of Government, “We find that some policy failures are related to policy design considerations based in federalism, but that the national focus on ‘homeland security’ and the concomitant reduction in attention to natural hazards and disasters, are equally, if not more complicit, in the erosion of government disaster management capacity that was revealed in Hurricane Katrina.”

The report went on to say that while September 11 triggered “wholesale change” in federal-state emergency management relationships, the events of Hurricane Katrina have done little to alter federal attitudes toward the division of responsibilities.

Create a Culture of Preparedness

How can the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina be applied to businesses and government agencies going forward?

“I think the real lesson from this event was that the surge of people hitting relief organizations and the poor implementation of response organizations had a cascading effect – there were more people that needed help than could be given help,” said Jim Leflar, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “The allocation of resources to help the affected was lacking.”


Having a plan of action in place beforehand can go a long way toward successfully weathering a crisis situation. This includes having an alternate business center outside of your normal operating environment, as well as the staging of necessary materials that could prove a vital part of the success or failure of surviving crisis situations. Hoping for the best, but planning for the worst-case scenario, will allow you to adjust your response according to the severity of the situation.

Also, if you see gaps in your disaster preparedness and recovery plan, don’t ignore them. Address them promptly and fill those gaps. This particular lesson was learned the hard way during and after Hurricane Katrina.

“Use the plan you’ve developed and rehearsed. Louisiana and New Orleans officials did not do so even though they recently had tested and reviewed their plan in a federal exercise,” according to Mark Haimowitz, of the ABC Television Network. “Even though your plan will not follow to the letter every disaster event, it’s not meant to. It’s meant to be a guide with numerous alternatives, strategies, and options to choose from.”

The Role of Local Resources in Recovery

In a Businessweek.com article entitled “For Disaster Management, Louisiana Looks to Business,” John Tozzi describes the state’s strategy to utilize the resources of the private sector. “After enduring calamities such as Katrina, Gustav, and the Gulf oil spill, Louisiana has discovered that businesses, from corner gas stations to big-box stores, can help improve the state’s response to disasters.”

Officials there and at the federal level recognize that companies are often better equipped than government to help. When Hurricane Irene approached the East Coast in late August, retailers extended store hours and shipped extra generators, bottled water, and other supplies to the region. “The private sector owns an enormous amount of infrastructure that the government depends on,” said Joseph Booth, a former state police official who now directs the Stephenson Disaster Management Institute at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

The cornerstone of the state’s strategy is the Business Emergency Operations Center at LSU, which Booth helped set up last year. During an emergency the center brings together 40 representatives from critical industries, such as food, energy, transportation and communications, to help match assistance offered by companies with needs on the ground. Through e-mail and online updates, officials in the center alert a network of more than 1,300 registered businesses that may be able to supply required materials. For example, during the BP oil spill last year, the group put out a call for oil containment booms to protect the coastline from the slick. Tozzi reports that FEMA is now following Louisiana’s example.

What Are the Most Important Lessons of Hurricane Katrina?

There are lingering questions and differing opinions when answering this question. However there seems to be widespread agreement that the most helpful resources are to be found at the grassroots level. Communities must educate and motivate their citizens toward 72-hour preparedness. The private sector must have a seat at the table with government agencies that are in charge of response and recovery.

Al Berman, executive director of Disaster Recovery Institute International, summed it up, “Recovery requires the use of local resources, not centralized government ones obtained through federal procurement. This solution has a two-fold effect in that it is more economical and it helps revitalize local community businesses.”


Haiti Earthquake

By DRG staff writer Alison Dunn


When a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti on January 12, 2010, it left untold devastation in its wake. The earthquake struck a nation that was already the statistically poorest in the Northern Hemisphere, and left approximately one-third of the country’s 9 million people in need of aid.

While there have been other earthquakes of greater magnitude, the Haiti quake was particularly devastating because its epicenter was in an urban area. The U.S. geological survey estimated more than 2.3 million people in Haiti likely experienced “violent” levels of shaking.

The quake caused a humanitarian emergency on a scale that had not been seen in the Northern Hemisphere before, according to Paul Weisenfeld in a speech given to the National Academies Disaster Roundtable Workshop in March, 2011. An estimated 230,000 people were killed and 1.5 million were displaced.

Response to the earthquake was immediate and robust, Weisenfeld also said. The international community sent more than 5,000 aid workers to the area and provided more than $1.12 billion in funding for earthquake relief.

Nevertheless, the Haiti relief efforts faced a number of challenges. Those challenges resulted in a number of new lessons for emergency response and recovery. Here are just a few:

Growing Use of Information Communication Technology (ICT)

As technology grows in leaps and bounds, so, too, does our use of ICT in disasters.

In an article in The Haiti Earthquake Response, Dennis King, senior humanitarian affairs analyst within the Humanitarian Information Unit at the U.S. Department of State, looks at this very issue.

He says three loosely-connected communities of interest (including the U.S. government, the United Nations and the international community, and a new group of virtuallyconnected academics, humanitarians, corporate foundations, and ICT professionals) were able to collect, share, and act upon the enormous amounts of digital information made available during the crisis.

The problem, he writes, is “There is therefore never going to be one single, universally accepted website or database that contains all knowledge, serves all functions and meets the needs of all users.”

That is because each community he cited has different needs. “Some users need information for operational purposes: planning, coordinating and implementing a humanitarian response or programme. Other users want information to provide them with synthesized situational awareness or strategic analysis.”

What can be done in this new world of ICT? King says a start is to use unclassified information whenever possible in a disaster situation to help government agencies share information with ICT organizations like Google, Thompson Reuters, Microsoft, and even portals like CrisisMappers.net.

That’s what the Defense Department and SOUTHCOM both did to share information in the Haiti response and recovery, allowing virtually-connected volunteers access to information they needed to deploy a response.

Social Media Now Plays a Key Role in Disasters

Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or any other form of social media, the Haiti earthquake taught us how to use social media to help in a disaster.


According to Geoff Livingston, an author and co-founder of Zoetica, social media helped the world witness the devastation in Haiti first-hand. In an article on the Mashable.com website, he says social media also gave people across the globe the opportunity to offer their support. In no way was this more evident than in donating funds.

“Overall, Americans raised more than $200 million to benefit Haiti, roughly the equivalent of what was donated to Thailand after the tsunami in 2004,” he writes.

“The use of mobile media to drive fundraising was unprecedented,” he adds.

But social media is about more than just fundraising; it was also used in Haiti to launch response and recovery efforts. “People got to experience the disaster and the relief efforts through the eyes of those on the ground, and felt compelled to act,” Livingston writes. “Many people used social media to create Crisis Camps and organize widespread efforts… Online, nonprofits and activists scrambled and successfully created many different ways for concerned individuals to act immediately.”

The benefits of social media also brings some drawbacks to response and recovery. “At the same time, tweets, texts and Facebook updates did not tell a larger story – the depths of Haiti’s incredible poverty,” Livingston writes.

“Online media’s ability to create compassion was compelling, but at the same time lacking when it came to the plight of the Haitian people, at least so far.”

Human Factor and Disaster Response

Emergency response has always dealt with the human factor during a disaster. But Haiti showed us we haven’t fully taken into account that we need to understand the cultural environment when delivering aid.

Dee Grimm, associate executive director, national preparedness for the non-profit BCFS, Emergency Services Division, was part of a response team in Haiti and said the country’s vastly different social structure made response an even greater challenge.

“For example, when we went to the orphanage, we were asked not to wear shorts or blue jeans out in public,” she says. “Skirts would have been preferable for the women, but our scrubs were acceptable.”

Similarly, Grimm says her team couldn’t take pictures of anyone without their permission, and most people wanted to see the pictures after they were taken.

“In a country experiencing the worst disaster in their history, politeness and social etiquette were still critical,” she says. Responders also had to work with religious beliefs and work with local Haitian medical treatments.


Iceland Volcano

by DRG staff writer Alison Dunn


When a remote volcano in Iceland erupted in April, 2010, few companies, if any, could have predicted the impact it would have on their businesses.

On Wednesday, April 15, the Eyjafjoell volcano, situated under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in southern Iceland, erupted, and began spewing a cloud of ash straight up 30,000 feet in the air.

Throughout the next week, the cloud of ash spread over much of Northern Europe, cancelling flights and disrupting businesses throughout the northern Hemisphere. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimated that airlines were losing approximately $205 million per day in lost revenues. Travel companies, tourism, importers, and exporters were also negatively affected by the disruption.

And while the event didn’t involve catastrophic loss of life, it did provide an opportunity for BC managers to observe some valuable lessons.

Redundancy plans are good for business: Those businesses that had natural redundancy and resilience capabilities built into their everyday operations were more successful at dealing with the disruption. In an article for Continuity Central, author and BC expert Keith Sherringham says those companies were well placed before, during, and after the crisis.

“Businesses that focus on implementing redundancy and resiliency into business because it is good for business anyway and achieve business continuity, disaster recovery, and crisis management capabilities as a bonus, are likely to get more from these activities than those that just use consultants to develop business continuity, disaster recovery, and crisis management capabilities in isolation,” he wrote.

Crises are a routine part of business: Companies need to stop planning for crises as some kind of special event and think of them as part of the cost of doing business, Sherringham says. “Crises are part of the business landscape,” he writes. They are “a routine part of business as usual.” If businesses start looking at a crisis as an eventuality rather than a “might be,” they can put effective structures and business contingencies in place that can be invoked when they’re required.

Plan for outcomes, not scenarios: When planning for a crisis, a lot of companies plan for things like natural disasters (floods, earthquakes, tornados) or acts of terror. And not many people could have foreseen that a remote volcano in an almost uninhabited part of the world could have such a massive impact on businesses. But for good BC planning, the scenario itself is irrelevant, says Patrick Gray, founder and president of Prevoyance Group, in an article on the Tech Republic website.

In his article, Gray says too many companies still focus on the scenarios that trigger a disaster. “Rather than considering all the possible incidents, consider some potential outcomes,” he advises in the article. “You don’t have to be the most creative person to consider ‘something’ could cause the majority of European airports to be closed, and this can be readily planned for, whether it’s earthquakes, plagues or aliens that shutdown the airspace, reactive planning is similar.”


BP Oil Spill ― A Crisis in Leadership and Management

By DRG staff writer Cheryl Knight


On the eve of Earth Day 2010, British Petroleum’s (BP) Deepwater Horizon oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, leading to the tragic loss of 11 lives, the injury of 17 others, and the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

By the time the oil well was finally capped on August 4, 2010, more than three months had elapsed, 4.9 million barrels of crude oil had spilled into the Gulf of Mexico, and a halt had been called for all oil drilling in waters deeper than 500 feet for six months. The subsequent public relations nightmare created by the incident severely hurt BP’s image and brand reputation, mainly as a result of the initial response by company leadership to the crisis.

BP’s Risk Management Questioned During and After Spill

The major lessons learned during and after the BP oil disaster included failures in risk management and a lack of effective crisis communication. The major failure that led to the disaster initially, according to The National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling assembled by President Obama, occurred as a result of serious risk management failures.

“The immediate causes of the Macondo well blowout can be traced to a series of identifiable mistakes made by BP, Halliburton and Transocean that reveal such systematic failures in risk management that they place in doubt the safety culture of the entire industry,” reported the commission report, Deepwater: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling.

The commission proposed new federal regulations and the creation of a new industry safety group that would work to fix the systemic problems identified in the commission’s report.“The oil and gas industry must adopt a culture of safety,” the commission wrote in a press release outlining its recommendations. “Much as the aviation, chemical and nuclear power industries have done in response to disasters, the oil and gas industry must move toward developing a notion of safety as a collective responsibility.”

Another critical failure during and after the disaster by BP leadership was a series of public relations miscues, leading to intense negative feedback from U.S. state and federal governments, as well as residents who lived in the area affected directly by the spill. BP made a huge error after it downplayed the initial oil spill’s severity and duration. Crisis communication, which is an important part of any enterprise risk management plan, broke down on every level during this disaster, according to the White House oil spill commission.

Applying Lessons Learned From the BP Oil Spill


What can be learned from BP’s risk management and communications failures following the oil spill, and how can those lessons be applied to how businesses handle safety and communications before, during, and after a crisis?

Leaders must bring safety assessment and risk management to the forefront of disaster preparation plans, implementing these vital areas into the organization’s overall management. Doing so will further mitigate the chances of loss following a disaster or crisis, according to www.epa.gov.

Another aspect of an effective risk management plan is a crisis communication model. Timely and honest communication following a disaster is extremely important to an organization’s overall reputation and brand.

“No matter how well you manage a disaster, you can be judged as a failure for poor crisis communication,” said Greg Shaw, of the George Washington University Institute for Crisis, Disaster & Risk Management.

Consumers and shareholders are more apt to forgive a misstep if company officials are up front about the situation. Show that the situation is in hand by giving accurate details about what your company is doing to alleviate the crisis. Appoint a crisis response team to carry out preplanned communication strategies.

It is also important when dealing with the public or shareholders to show empathy for the situation at hand, according to risk communication speaker and consultant Dr. Peter Sandman’s report on Empathy in Risk Communication. Nothing is worse than coming across as being “put out” by a crisis when others are dramatically affected, even to the point of loss of life. Such was the case with BP leadership during the Gulf oil spill.

Business leaders must also embrace social media during a crisis, according to www.redcross.org. “Social media is becoming an integral part of disaster response,” said Wendy Harman, director of social strategy for the American Red Cross, in a recent American Red Cross statement.

This growing area can be used effectively in disaster management. By being proactive in what your company has to say, you have more immediate control over the situation. Don’t let others set the tone of your initial crisis management efforts.

“As the numbers of people using these new technologies in disaster situations continue to increase, response agencies, including the Red Cross, have a tremendous opportunity to engage the public where they are spending time,” said Harman. “Through social media, we can listen to, inform, and empower people prior to emergencies, providing them with useful information about evacuation routes, shelters, and safety tips before disasters strike.”

Businesses Must Face a Crisis Head-on

Remember, reputational loss is a viable area of concern when facing a crisis. Loss of reputation and brand confidence can lead to permanent damage of your company’s image, making it hard to recover the trust of your customers and, ultimately, costing your organization significant revenue. It is also important to revisit safety procedures and standards as an ongoing part of your risk management program.


Nashville Floods

by DRG staff writer Alison Dunn


In early May, 2010, torrential thunderstorms dropped more than 13 inches of rain on Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi in just two days.

The downpour caused the Cumberland River, which runs through Nashville, to overflow its banks, displacing thousands of residents and flooding hundreds of businesses.

Among the wreckage was damage to the Grand Old Opry, the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, and the Opry Mills shopping center. News helicopters captured shocking images of the devastation. The Opry Mills, in particular, bore the brunt of the floods as electrical systems, walls, and merchandise were ruined as floodwaters poured throughout the facility.

The devastation of the Opry Mills Mall alone was enough to jolt the economy. In an article in the Nashville City Paper, Pierce Greenberg observed that the mall, which totaled $279 million in sales in 2009, generated roughly $26 million in sales tax and more than $4 million in annual real estate tax. The mall didn’t reopen until March 29, 2012 – which meant the city and state were short that revenue for almost two years.

Dealing with flood emergencies, though, is nothing new for emergency planners. Planners, particularly in the 100 year floodplain, have long known that creating a comprehensive plan is critical, and not every business in the Nashville area suffered the same fate as the Opry Mills Mall. Here are a few of the lessons observed from the Nashville floods.

Planning Matters

It’s a truism in emergency management, but the Nashville floods were a critical reminder: The time for creating an emergency plan is not during an emergency.

“One of the most obvious preparations that can be done is to prepare an emergency manual that outlines the potential ‘events’ and ‘responses,’” Colin Reed, chairman and CEO of Gaylord Entertainment, told the Nashville Chamber of Commerce in a speech in August, 2010.

Reed should know. Like the Opry Mills Mall, the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center was right in the path of the floodwaters. But unlike the mall, the resort had a plan that worked.

“They [resort staff] had an emergency plan in place and acted on it, quickly moving 1,500 hotel guests to safety,” meeting and event planner Allison P. Kinsley wrote on her company’s blog after the flood. “In media interviews, their guests praised hotel staff for their care and efficiency.”

Just five months after the flood, the resort was finished rebuilding and held a grand opening ceremony, a contrast from the almost two years it took to reopen the Opry Mills mall.

Insurance Doesn’t Take the Place of a Good Plan

While the Nashville community benefits from the re-opening of the Opry Mills mall, which is expected to bring more than 3,000 jobs back to the area, there’s still the issue of a multibillion- dollar lawsuit between the group that owns the mall and the insurance companies.

In November, 2010, Simon Property Group, which owns the Opry Mills mall, issued a statement on the reason mall reconstruction was moving slowly.

“We have already spent $50 million to clean up the mess left by the flood water, but unfortunately, because of the failure of the various insurance companies to live up to their contractual duties and fund this loss, there is no money left to complete the reconstruction work,” the statement read.

At the heart of the lawsuit are the mall’s owners and 16 insurance companies, according to Greenberg’s article. Mall owners say the insurers owe an additional $150 million to help with cleanup and restoration efforts. At least 14 of the insurers, however, say the mall was clearly located in a floodplain and owners are only entitled to the $50 million already received.

The case highlights the difficulties of trying to rely on insurance as part of a recovery effort. The lawsuit is expected to drag into the summer, with a three-week jury trial set for July, 2012. Similarly, the mall itself took almost two years to reopen, which is a scenario other businesses may not be able to afford.


Japan 'Quake & Tsunami

by DRG staff writer Alison Dunn


On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake occurred 80 miles off the coast of Honshu, Japan’s most populous island.

The quake set off not just one, but three major disasters in a short period of time. After the earthquake and its aftershocks, a massive tsunami swept the northeast coast of Japan, flooding hundreds of square miles of land.

The earthquake and tsunami alone affected more than 15 million people, with 28,000 listed as dead or missing. Roads, bridges, ports, railroads, buildings and infrastructure were damaged, and it is estimated the damage would cost anywhere between $122 billion and $305 billion.

But the disaster didn’t end there. The quake damaged the electrical grid at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, and the plant lost the electrical power that supported plant operations. Flooding from the tsunami disabled generators that powered the cooling systems in the reactors, and the reactors overheated, releasing radiation into the air, ground, and water. Officials ordered mass evacuation of the local population, but some were ordered to shelter in place because of lack of transportation and the risk of exposure to radiation.

But despite the devastation, the response and recovery in Japan are both a good example of planning and an opportunity to observe some lessons to help in preparing future response and recovery plans. Here are just a few of those lessons.

A Culture of Preparedness Works

Much talk in the emergency management sphere is centered around creating a culture of preparedness. Japan has cultivated such a culture over the years. In the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear emergency we see very clearly their success. Their efforts put an early warning system in place and educated citizens to follow warnings issued before, during, and after alerts.

In an article for the Heritage Foundation, James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., says planning enabled the government to organize a “massive, speedy response.” Despite the hardships brought on by infrastructure damage, “the Japanese culture of cooperation facilitated the nation’s ability to deal with disaster.”

It wasn’t just planning and a compliant population, however, that helped Japan withstand the disaster. “Japan’s rigorous building codes… meant major buildings survived even in close proximity to the earthquake’s epicenter, and buildings constructed since design laws were overhauled in 1981 were rarely destroyed,” Alexander Campbell wrote in Operational Risk & Regulation.

But how do we implement that same type of culture in North America? “The federal government, particularly when coordinating with states and major metropolitan areas, should emphasize catastrophic disaster planning, which has languished in recent years,” Carafano says.

Complex Disasters Present New Challenges

“Japan – a rich, peaceful country with extensive historical experience of earthquakes and tsunami – should have been better prepared than any other nation for the events of March 11,” Campbell observed. And, he points out, it would have, had the country simply been faced with an earthquake.


Instead, the nation also had to deal with the tsunami and the nuclear fallout at Fukushima.

“The multiple disaster scenario – earthquake, tsunami, nuclear power sources, and then the aftershocks that are continuing – which disaster do you plan for?” John Jackson of Fusion Risk Management told Continuity Insights, in May 2011.

It’s not easy to plan for complex disasters, he added. “When people reflect back on this, they’re going to see that it was an event beyond all expectation, that it’s not necessarily one you can plan for or against. In this situation of a series of catastrophic issues, there is no way to guard against them or plan around them.”

That means we need to ensure your plans consider things outside your sphere of influence, Jackson said. “Everybody focuses on what happens if your data center goes down, but your business is not an island.”

“Multiple and cascading disaster events do happen and need to be rehearsed,” agrees Mark Haimowitz, CBCP, FBCI, Business Continuity Planning Director at Disney ABC Television Network and member of the Disaster Resource GUIDE editorial advisory board. “Tests should include complicated and multiple layered scenarios to bring out issues of critical resources and varied impacts. And see if your recovery strategy would become obsolete with a cascading disaster scenario.”

Supply Chain Disruption – An Important Story

The complexity of the Japanese disaster also led to the conclusion that organizations must consider continuity of the supply chain in ways they had not thought of before.

When disaster struck, companies around the world were impacted if they couldn’t get parts or items from their suppliers in Japan. Apple, for example, wasn’t able to get chips as easily (or as cheaply) for the iPad, and GM was forced to shut down a production line for days because parts weren’t coming out of Japan.

“Even Toyota, known for its superior business management practices, was caught flat-footed after the earthquake/tsunami,” says Denise Harrison, vice president and COO of the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning.

It wasn’t even a huge part missing, she adds. It was simply that chemical giant Merck, who supplied Toyota’s pearl luster pigment, Xirallic, was located in the region affected by the disaster. No Xirallic meant Toyota was left scrambling to meet its production schedules.

There’s a need to prepare for supply chain disruptions ahead of time, Harrison says. Start by identifying suppliers who are the sole source of an item (those who are the only ones capable of producing the product or service) and those who are single source suppliers (those who are your only source of a product, but other suppliers also make the same product).

Then, figure out how fast a disaster would interrupt your production line, and plan alternatives in the event your supply chain is disrupted by an unforeseen disaster.

“An earthquake/tsunami in Japan or a volcano in Iceland or floods in Thailand – no matter what your threat looks like, you should understand the impact that the threat has on your business and develop plans to mitigate your risk,” Harrison adds.


A Culture of Preparedness

By Lt . Gen. Russel L. Honoré (U.S. Army Ret.)


Being prepared pays off because it can save your life as well as save you money. For every dollar we spend on preparedness in America, we save twelve dollars in response.

Family preparedness is not an option, it’s a responsibility. It is a practice that builds resiliency, the ability to quickly bounce back from disasters. Take time to care for your family neighbors, and coworkers. Taking time to gain knowledge of what actions to take in a disaster WILL save your life and the lives of others. Being prepared can empower you to take part in one of the most gratifying experiences you can imagine, saving somebody’s life.

On any given day, Mother Nature can destroy anything built by man. We must be ready for anything she throws at us whether at home or in the workplace.

Basic preparedness starts with the simple mindset that a disaster can take place anywhere at any given time. The American Red Cross provides a helpful guide at RedCross.org/HomePreparedness.

The Red Cross Lays out 3 Easy Steps for Preparedness

  1. Get a Kit
  2. Make a Plan
  3. Be Informed

It also recommends getting a NOAA Weather Radio for your home and your workplace. Take heed to the severe weather alerts put out by the National Weather Service.


A culture of preparedness isn’t built on fear. It isn’t built on any major sacrifices or other draconian measures. All it takes is a small investment of time and consideration to prep your home and community. For example, on Mother’s Day instead of buying Mom that fancy kitchen appliance she’ll never use, buy her a disaster kit. What in the end is more important to Grandpa? A flashy hundred dollar Italian silk tie or a survival kit equipped with medical supplies, clothes, 3 days’ supply of food, water and cash?

After disasters happen the government’s number one priority is to focus on the most vulnerable of its citizens such as the elderly, those with disabilities and the urban poor as these folks will be at the most risk following a disaster. Hurricane Katrina proved that these populations had a higher fatality rate due to the lack of transportation or funds to acquire a means to evacuate.

We can build resiliency in our communities by encouraging businesses to be prepared. Have response plans for all workplaces and ensure employees are well versed in disaster reaction. The most common thing that closes businesses following disasters is loss of electrical power. Local policy should require all drug stores and gas stations to have generators; this would be a great policy that would be a great asset in building community resiliency.

About the Author
Lieutenant General Honoré holds one Bachelors Degree, one Masters Degree, and seven honorary Doctorate Degrees. he was commander of the Joint Task Force for Katrina and led the Department of Defense response to ten hurricanes. he has been awarded twenty-one medals and three badges. retired after 37 years of active service, General honoré speaks and consults nationally on “Building a Culture of Preparedness”. For more information, visit www.generalhonore.com

Reference book Survival: How Being Prepared Can Keep you and your Family Safe by Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré (U.S. Army Ret.) with Ron Martz