Establish a Protocol of Action

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This article by Bart Jackson was prepared for the April 2, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst

Outside, the fleet of trucks stand all packed, gassed

and ready. Inside, in the corner of every worker’s office, sits his

suitcase, filled with enough personal supplies to last several days.

And within the hub, where disaster is a twice-weekly occurrence, the

staff sits on alert, beneath banks of TV screens and mounds of electronics.

They lean deep into the phones, lining up long lists of possible volunteers

for possible dates of disaster — just in case. At the American

Red Cross, Central Jersey Headquarters, 707 Alexander Road, a wartime

atmosphere is business as usual.

But in the conference room next to the hub, a score of people wearing

visitors passes are visibly less settled. For these central New Jersey

business executives, disruption and destruction are anything but routine.

Their goal is to keep their firms running and their people safe —

today, every day, regardless. Yet the idea of maintaining these deceptively

simple goals in the face of crisis has been posing slews of unanswered

questions and uncovering sins of omission in even the most caring

of companies.

Business folks don’t like that. By nature, executives are problem

solvers; they want to get things fixed and done. So, what is the plan

for getting employees’ children picked up from day care when a snow

storm locks all 500 workers in the plant? When news comes that a bomb

has exploded in the city block where our sales convention is being

held, how does the crisis management team get all the facts? Who tells

whom what first? What’s a crisis management team? Questions. Omissions.

To help close these windows of confusion and vulnerability, a network

of local businesses has turned for answers to the world’s prime crisis

consultants — The American Red Cross. On the morning of March

20th, representatives of dozen firms gathered in the conference room

of the Central New Jersey Red Cross chapter conference room to experience

"A Disaster Simulation" and to take back some strategies to

their own firms.

The first surprise of the morning comes from the chapter CEO Kevin

Sullivan, who announces that this partnership is not just a one way

street. In return for tapping into the Red Cross information pipeline,

Sullivan expects businesses to join as middle links in the preparedness

chain reaching into the community. He points out that most of the

businesses before him have access to building space, transportation,

and above all, have the ability to funnel information through their

employees. "Part of any effective crisis response," he notes,

"must come from this mutual interdependence of information and

supply."

Launching quickly into the simulation, Paul Carden, director of the

Central Jersey chapter’s emergency services unit, steps forward and

forms Corporation X. He appoints Gordon McDonough as CEO. In real

life, McDonough manages health, environmental safety, and security

for Siemens. Rose Marie Delaplain, in reality the office manager for

the Archer & Greiner law firm, takes the CFO chair.

All the slots get filled for this fictitious corporation. Mathematica’s

director of facilities, Patty Fenner, becomes communications officer.

Karen Stutts, an ITXC Corporation human resource generalist, takes

on the role of "rank and file employee" and Chris Ulriksen,

who actually coordinates health and safety for LaureatePharma, is

shipped across the Pacific to direct Corporation X’s Asian office.

All participants are given roles outside of their own specialties.

Poised in their new assignments, they sit, waiting for

Carden to lay out the full scope of Corporation X’s disaster. It doesn’t

come. Instead, like a detective in a television drama, he provides

incomplete pieces of information — which may or may not be reliable.

"You have an office in Washington D.C. with 50 employees,"

says Carden. "News broadcasts say that an explosion appears to

have taken place in the area where your D.C. branch is located."

A thousand considerations flood the team at once. How do we communicate

with the Washington office if the area phones are down? How do we

confirm information? What is our role as head office? Do we keep the

business open? Who has that list of all the Washington D.C. employees

and their home contacts? What is the CEO’s role, and should he take

charge of this problem?

The benefits of preparedness strike home hard. The Corporation X team

begins to list all those ahead-of-time items which should have been

set in place.

"This is exactly what hit me on September 11th," says Mary

Evslin. "I was sitting there and realized I have employees traveling

in over 200 countries throughout the world, and I have no idea of

where any of them is at any given moment." Setting up a simple

E-mail check-in of flight schedules and hotel contacts would solve

that problem at no cost. On the homefront, Evslin saw the need for

neighborliness. "I kept thinking," she recalls, "I don’t

know any of the people or company resources next to me along College

Road. What if my employees had to evacuate? To whom would we turn?"

Mary Evslin and her husband Tom are scarcely the types to let post-crisis

helplessness wash over them. After leaving AT&T in l997, Tom returned

to his Library Place home in Princeton bearing a neon "open"

sign. Enlisting the aid of seven employees, the Evslins launched International

Internet Telephony Service Carriers (ITXC). Today, the 275-person

ITXC team is the world’s largest wholesaler of call completion services

in the telecommunications industry.

Through her life, Mary Evslin has launched several businesses and

moved frequently. "But throughout it all," she says, "the

Red Cross has always been my personal support system." While living

in Vermont, she served as chapter director. Volunteering for the Central

Jersey Red Cross chapter, she spent one week in Perth Amboy helping

to establish shelters and to provide necessities for victims of gas

main fires. Last New Year’s, she spent a week in Edison aiding immigrants

left homeless after fire destroyed their homes.

"September 11th showed us how definitely we businesses needed

a disaster network," Evslin says. Last June, she gathered seven

corporate neighbors along College Road to form the Business Disaster

Resilient Community. Evslin was not sure what the response would be.

Recently, safety has taken a bad rap as tales of duct

tape and plastic sheeting purchased with welfare families’ meager

grocery funds have spread. Fears have been fueled — and countless

jokes told — about the government’s seemingly meaningless color

code schemes. There is some worry that the warnings are, at least

in part, a ploy, part of some political agenda. The accompanying worry,

always with us, is that 9/11 will happen again. None of us wants to

be suckers or lemmings. But we don’t want to be unprepared either.

The goal is to separate common sense from hysteria and politics in

order to safely prepare and to get on with business.

Such a common sense approach is what Bob Morgan, Laureate-Pharma’s

director of facilities engineering, noted right from the start of

the disaster exercise. "All of us had pieces of disaster plans

in place, but we desperately needed to share each others ideas,"

he says. Morgan, himself a long time American Red Cross volunteer,

saw the business link with the Red Cross as a natural.

Back at the New Jersey headquarters of Corporation X, more news filters

through about the Washington, D.C. incident. After an hour of uncertainty,

it is confirmed. An explosion in the corporations’s Washington office

has taken place. National news is covering the story. Police presence

in Washington, New York, and Philadelphia has been increased, but

news is limited. Somewhere in the United States a plane has crashed.

The disaster simulators have differing suggestions, but all agree

that action is needed here at this office. We are now beyond the rumor

mill and into real concern. Karen Stutts, our rank and file employee,

states emphatically that she wants honest assurance and leadership.

Interestingly, CFO Delaplain, speaking for financial upper management,

says he wants exactly the same thing as Stutts. She is happy to let

the financial damage numbers drop to a less pressing priority.

Everyone agrees, now is the time for CEO McDonough to personally take

the helm. They do not want to hear his voice in the intercom. They

want to see him walking the floor and talking one-on-one his staff.

Everyone is hungry for news.

Communications officer Fenner and the team decides that the latest

solid facts should be announced, along with the promise of hourly

updates and more frequent bulletins as vital information becomes known.

The regular updates are chosen as a way of quashing rumor and showing

corporate concern. Even though it is 3 a.m. across the world, there

is a decision to wake up Asian director Ulriksen and keep him abreast.

"This is my company," Ulriksen states. "I want to know

every concern of the firm, not just the daily business."

It may seem a bit alarmist to spread the bad news to corporate outpost,

but someday business as usual will resume. Imagine how the Asian director

will view his value if he has been left out of the loop.

The final news bulletin for Corporation X flashes an hour and a quarter

later. Ten people are confirmed dead in Washington, D.C., 100 are

wounded. Corporation X employees have been moved to a shelter one

half mile away. Forty-five out of the 50 are accounted for. The plane

crash proved to be a small commuter plane with no connection to the

Washington, D.C. disaster.

Vital questions still remain. Decisions must be made

on best available information. The team wrestles with choices. Should

they address clients and vendors? How can they craft press statements?

What information should be released to families? No matter how thorough

the preparation, disasters bring the unforeseen. Manuals and checklists

help, but in the end, as always in business, it is clever management

flexibility that will see you through.

In rugby, when the opposition gets really thick, players find that

the best way to move forward is to lock arms and advance through a

mutually dependent line called a scrum. Evslin and her College Road

Business Disaster Resilient Community has enlisted a scrum of more

than 50 Mercer and Middlesex businesses. Only two other similar disaster-readiness

networks exist in the country, both smaller.

Playing point in this scrum is the Red Cross. Within the week of the

disaster simulation for the ficticious Corporation X, the Central

Jersey Chapter of the Red Cross has answered the real needs of victims

of two house fires and has lent assistance to Pennsylvania chapters

in Newton. When the gas main explosions ripped through Perth Amboy,

the Central Jersey chapter set up a $5 million rescue corporation

involving 200 people in 72 hours. Shelter, food, clothing, medicine,

and transportation were all coordinated. The organization has a response

time most military units might envy.

But as chapter director Sullivan notes, area businesses must perform

a vital outreach link to unite the community. Inventory lists of available

supplies and human resources are necessary. But the most valuable

preparedness function business can offer is to its own people. The

workplace can be the training ground where employees learn first aid,

volunteer for crises, and learn how to protect their own households.

The business network meets bi-monthly to discuss various crisis response

systems. At the latest meeting, March 25th, Dr. William Gluckman,

clinical instructor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of

New Jersey, outlined a fascinating, if somewhat grisly, list of biological

and chemical agents terrorists might employ.

With each he detailed precautions and warning symptoms. At the end

of his talk, Sullivan thanked all the businesses attending and reminded

them that "this is the world we live in and we had best get used

to it."

Perhaps for the professionals of the American Red Cross, this is the

world. But odds of a receiving an anthrax envelope still remain right

up there with lightning and the lottery. Still, companies must prepare

to face a variety of threats squarely. Security is, after all defiance.

As the meeting ends, Dan Tumolo, head of facilities for Lenox, stands

up and says "you know, the company makes you come to these things,

and that’s why I first attended. But each time I learn some new things

— make changes in the plant. It feels good to be prepared."

— Bart Jackson

Top Of Page
Establish a Protocol of Action

The instant any crisis, from a hurricane to an anthrax

scare, strikes the pot boils and everyone wants to scurry — not

always in helpful directions. Establishing a protocol of action calms

workers, and often keeps a business running productively. A few of

the ways to get the jump on a crisis include:

Establish a crisis team. This need not necessarily be

top management. But it should include a broad spectrum of company

experts on communications, facilities, human resources, and management.

Appoint a crisis captain. Funneling all information into

a central point allows for the most enlightened decisions. If those

decisions come from a single source, conflict and wasted energy can

be averted.

The disaster plan: Write it, rehearse it, update it. What

do we do on snow days? How do we cope with on-site fires? Which essential

personnel stay, despite weather or bomb scares? The answers should

be published throughout your business and fine-tuned in drills.

Prepare a troubleshooter. Select one person to go to the

disaster site armed with records, orders, and the ability to gather

information. Supplying him with ample cash (not credit cards or travelers

checks) assures his mobility.

Chart information flow. If you talk to the press first,

your employees’ families may learn of their loved one’s death via

CNN. Painting too grim a picture too early may frighten employees

and vendors unnecessarily. Yet brushing the incident aside makes you

seem callous. Along with the frequency and the content of bulletins,

the method of issuing them should be established.

Keep current contact lists. Prepare and update a contact

lists of employees, vendors, neighbors, and helpful agencies. Such

a list should include home and non-business contact numbers. Storing

these emergency records on electrically-dependent computers or in

the closet of the office that’s on fire may not prove ideal.

Prepare evacuation and dismissal plans. When it comes

time to close and let all workers out early, traffic can be avoided

by coordination with neighboring companies. If your evacuation plan

in case of fire brings everyone out of the plant into the parking

lot, where do they go when it’s five degrees and snowing? And once

you have dismissed workers, do you have a plan for getting them back?

Provide first aid training. In the Columbine High School

shooting, a teacher bled to death because no one in the crowd knew

how to staunch the wound. Your staff is your strongest defense in

times of disaster. Equip them well with knowledge of first aid and

CPR and provide all the necessary tools.


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