Corrections or additions?
This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the September 24,
2003 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Prepare for Terrorists, Be Ready for Storms
Nervous laughter greeted Kevin Sullivan, CEO of the
American Red Cross of Central New Jersey, when he joked about how
it felt to convene a disaster preparedness conference on the day
a major hurricane was to strike. Nearly 170 people from varied fields
— education, law enforcement, pharmaceutical, and financial,
from small to large companies — came to the all-day event on
17 at the Westin in Forrestal Village. It was one of three similar
conferences held by the Red Cross nationwide, and it was the only
one in the northeast.
If the participants were uneasy as the conference opened, they had
even more reason to be anxious as the day went on. They heard five
major speakers and six workshop leaders, one by one laying out
"What If" scenarios — ranging from fire bombs to floods
to workplace violence.
As the state commissioner of health and senior services, Clifford
Lacy, advised, "Prepare for the enormous threats, and you are
prepared for the contained threats."
Sidney Caspersen, director of the New Jersey Office of Counter
and Homeland Security, described the vulnerability of New Jersey,
the most densely populated state with the most transient traffic.
A concentrated population? "For me, that means more death."
Said Caspersen: "Every business decision should be made thinking
about how to protect your business, your customers, and your
It’s costing all of us money, but it is the only way to prevent a
Formerly with the FBI, Caspersen gave examples of "target
the law enforcement equivalent to prevention. When New York City
were endangered by suicide bombers, New York City police walk the
subways and tunnels wearing chemical detection monitors.
"My office studies every attack and tries to apply it to New
said Caspersen. Before 9/11, the local police were left out of the
terrorism network but now the 550 departments are what he calls the
"boots on the ground," equipped by his department with a new
intelligence database. See a suspicious truck? Report it. You will
be taken seriously.
An example of what any company can do is to protect the HVAC system
against chemical or germ warfare. If systems are outdoors, monitor
them for suspicious activity, and designate one person to deal with
HVAC service calls, so an unwitting security guard doesn’t turn your
heating vents over to an enemy.
Caspersen claims to have the best state department of homeland
in the country, at least in part because the private sector has indeed
stepped up to the challenge. Each of 23 industries is charged with
coming up with a "best practices" strategy for preventing
terrorist attacks. Adhering to this strategy is now voluntary, but
in the future, he said, corporations could be required to conform.
In Princeton the private sector network is particularly
strong. The network, called the Disaster Preparedness for Business
Partnership, has about 10 members so far, each company paying a
of $1,000, according to size, but about 40 other companies participate
in some of the network’s activities. Network members get reduced rates
on everything from CPR training to table top disaster simulations.
"Through this partnership we know each other better. We learn
how our neighbors can help us and how we might help them," said
Patty Fenner, director of facilities for Mathematica, the 250-person
firm at 600 Alexander Park. "Now we wouldn’t hesitate to act as
a group, rather than as individual firms. For instance, I could call
someone in a neighboring building to set up a temporary base of
for our senior management."
Several of the conference exhibitors were selling emergency operations
space in the form of tents, trailers, or offsite locations. Together
with the freebies in the goody bags (tiny flashlight, first aid kit,
and personal safety package containing dust mask, light stick,
and water packet) the exhibits were a reminder that money can be made
helping companies get prepared. Aside from a radio station, the only
Princeton exhibitor was Research Way-based SES Americom (formerly
GE Americom), which can provide satellite phone systems.
Almost all of the speakers effectively correlated their agency’s work
with suggestions on how conference attendees could prepare their own
organizations for disaster.
Stark & Stark attorney Cynthia S. Ham quoted a report that one third
of the nation’s large companies are no better prepared than before
9/11, and the record for small companies will certainly be not much
better. She talked about the legal implications of a company’s
its head in the sand, ostrich style. "Employers have a duty to
provide a safe work environment against the threat of preventable
harm. If you do nothing to plan, that will be difficult to deal with
in court. You must take some proactive action."
Legal problems can be triggered by anything from negligent hiring
(an employee with a criminal record assaults another employee) to
faulty evacuation procedures (and the person in a wheelchair can’t
get down the stairs), to bias (persons from different groups are
to different monitoring precautions).
"Working with the Media in a Crisis Situation" was presented
by Eric Scott, vice president of news for Millennium Radio New Jersey,
who detailed the differences between working with print, radio, and
television reporters. In general, Scott suggested, never reply with
"No comment," and don’t be afraid to say, "I don’t know,
I’ll find out and call you back."
Dealing with public health is very simple in a crisis situation, said
Ivan Walks MD, the keynote luncheon speaker. Walks had been chief
health officer in the District of Columbia during the anthrax crisis
and was profiled in the September 10 issue of U.S. 1. "During
a time of crisis, public health consists of getting everyone to
one task at once, to move from point A to point B," said Walks
at the luncheon.
What makes planning complicated is diversity. Different populations
respond to public health orders in different ways. "There are
real people in your business, and they bring to the job whatever their
life experience has been. Every misstep is a price you pay later on.
Don’t get caught thinking you know."
During the anthrax crisis, his department first gave out Cipro
then found out that a cheaper alternative was just as effective. He
had trouble "selling" the alternate drug to postal workers,
who thought they were being discriminated against. He convinced them
it was just as effective by telling them it was being administered
to the Supreme Court justices. "And that made it all right."
Look at any plan from the point of view of both the work and the home
communities, he said, and get everyone in on the planning process:
"If you did a plan for your business without input from local
government, you haven’t finished your plan. And if your plan turns
out not to work very well, it is much better if everyone had helped
Executives should duplicate themselves. He himself had an opposite
number because, he said, "everybody knew that if the other guy
walked into a room, the message was the same. He knew what I was doing
and vice versa. In a crisis, you might be stuck in an elevator."
Employers need to take disaster planning seriously, said Walks.
in any emergency, you don’t take as good care of your employees as
your competition, that’s where they’ll go."
Sharon Bryson, deputy director of the office of
disaster assistance for the National Transportation Safety Board,
described her seemingly horrendous job — investigating accidents
and notifying victims — in a matter of fact way. She is one of
five NTSB staff members who is on alert to investigate plane crashes,
train derailments, cruise ship disasters, and bus tragedies in the
northeast and coordinate services to the victim’s families. If the
accident resulted from criminal intent, the FBI is in charge, if not,
then the NTSB is in charge, but both agencies work together.
"I’ve been always on call since 1977," said Bryson. On
11, two from her team went to New York, two to the plane site in
and she "did" the Pentagon victim assistance planning, because
of her previous experience at Dover Air Force Base. She used to direct
the family support center there, and the base was the headquarters
for identifying the bodies and working with the victims families.
She also managed the family assistance response for the crash of
Air flight 261 and the crash of EgyptAir flight 990.
As Bryson ticked off accident after notorious accident and she dished
out advice for corporate HR directors on what preparations could have
helped those victims’ families. For instance, know where your
children go to school, and preplan with that district for a crisis.
"If you work for a school, know where your students are,"
she said, recounting a disaster where one of two planes crashed.
the school didn’t know which students were on which plane, and the
rosters were not available, the NTSB was not able to notify the
before the announcement came on CNN.
"If you are sponsoring travel, know how to contact the family
members." Ghoulish though it may seem, she recommends that
travelers provide next of kin information on the back of their
passes and that companies require their travel agencies to have the
information readily available.
When crisis management is done right, it engenders loyalty. An
City casino’s plane crashed, killing all the unlucky gamblers aboard,
but the casino paid such good attention to the victims’ families that
they still talk about how good the company was to them, said Bryson.
Bryson gave out her unlisted hotline number (the listed number is
202-314-6185 or www.ntsb.gov). "This conference is the most
perfect partnership between government and the private sector,"
said Bryson. "Call if I can be of any assistance."
— Barbara Fox
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