Be Prepared in Case of Disaster

Planning ahead can prevent harm to people and the bottom line

When severe tornadoes struck six Southern states in April 2011, the ensuing crisis tested the mettle of emergency responders. In Tuscaloosa, Ala., the worst-case scenario became a reality when an F4 (Fujita scale) tornado ripped a 6-mile path of destruction through the city’s most populated areas, causing millions of dollars in damage, killing 53 people and injuring hundreds.

When the first twister struck the region shortly before 6 a.m. on April 28, the management of a Tuscaloosa medical center and hospital activated an emergency plan. As a result, although the tornado passed within 100 feet of the facility, the hospital was able to provide care and services to thousands of patients and became a staging area for the distribution of disaster kits and water.

Such events offer lessons in contingency planning for any organization. Contingency planning is a difficult discussion every organization has to navigate, and being prepared requires a range of solutions. Because every organization’s structure and circumstances are unique, applying a one-size-fits-all approach is ineffective when it comes to preparing a business to withstand a crisis.

Getting it right is critical. Businesses that effectively meet the challenge of planning for disasters and emergencies are able to protect critical assets more efficiently, achieve greater value from their disaster preparedness investment and deliver a better experience to the people they serve.

Business Continuity is a Priority

Business continuity involves thorough planning to prevent harm to staff, property and the bottom line. When a disaster or emergency strikes, it can threaten the livelihood of millions of people, affect thousands of businesses and cause billions of dollars in damages. It’s no wonder more companies are prioritizing business continuity management.

A recent Forrester Research survey conducted for Disaster Recovery Journal estimates that 72 percent of businesses have established business continuity plans, and 25 percent that have not set up plans said they intend to implement them in the next year. Topping the list of risk concerns is IT failure, followed closely by natural disasters, power outages, fire, telecommunications failures, epidemics/pandemics and floods.

Simply put, business continuity plans are more than a good business practice—they are a responsibility to employees, partners, shareholders and customers. Companies need comprehensive disaster and emergency security planning to quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively prepare for and respond to crisis situations of all types.

Elements of an effective disaster preparedness and emergency response plan include:

  • A customized and flexible approach, incorporating a variety of manpower and systems that can be adjusted as needed to the severity and type of crisis.
  • Establishment of standard operating procedures (SOP) that can be implemented as soon as a crisis arises.
  • Availability of highly trained and experienced security staff, including a rapid response team with specialized disasterresponse officers.
  • Establishment of an emergency operations center to coordinate logistical, regulatory, operational and administrative processes

Role of Security Officers

Security officers play a central role in disaster preparedness and emergency response. Well-trained and experienced security officers are often central players in the aftermath of a disaster.

For example, after the tornado struck Tuscaloosa, G4S security officers on duty at the medical center and hospital that day quickly secured the facility and volunteered to help the hospital staff. Security officers assisted with triage and held up IV bottles in emergency room hallways that were stacked three deep with patients. Many officers worked more than 24 hours straight and rested only after being ordered to do so.

Even though two G4S officers’ homes were leveled by the twister, the officers reported for duty as soon as they secured their families. Other officers who had just ended their shifts returned to duty to assist in the response effort.

The roles of security officers in an emergency can range from handing out water and helping to check on policyholders to opening and closing down sites or even handing out teddy bears and coloring books to children.

Effective use of security officers in other recent emergency situations include:

  • 1,500 officers deployed to support clients and secure their facilities after Hurricane Katrina, the costliest hurricane in U.S. history.
  • More than 1,700 security officers deployed for clients after Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008, which caused a combined estimated $46 billion in damages.
  • 350 security officers posted along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
  • Security officers supporting construction of a massive berm to protect an agricultural facility from Missouri River floodwaters in Omaha, Neb.

After a disaster, insurers dispatch teams of adjusters to assess damage to policyholders’ properties and assist them in getting back on their feet after devastating losses. Security officers accompany the teams to ensure their safety and security as well as the security of any facilities, property and equipment on hand.

Preparing for a Disaster

Preparing for a disaster that may never happen can be a quandary for businesses and institutions of all types and sizes. Ensuring ongoing business continuity requires that management take steps to be prepared in case of a disaster, but investing internal resources and personnel to prepare for a disaster can be expensive. However, high expenses await businesses that are not prepared when disaster strikes.

Services provided by outside vendors can help fill the gap in an organization’s business continuity plan while minimizing cost and use of internal resources.

Every situation is unique, and it’s critical that entities work closely with outside vendors to develop the right plan and define the role of security officers in case of an emergency. Most important is the ability to react quickly, using established and proven processes and procedures in the event of a worstcase scenario.

This article originally appeared in the August 2012 issue of Security Today.

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