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

before

a major hurricane was to strike. Nearly 170 people from varied fields

— education, law enforcement, pharmaceutical, and financial,

ranging

from small to large companies — came to the all-day event on

September

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

frightening

"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

Terrorism

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

employees.

It’s costing all of us money, but it is the only way to prevent a

terrorist attack."

Formerly with the FBI, Caspersen gave examples of "target

hardening,"

the law enforcement equivalent to prevention. When New York City

subways

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

Jersey,"

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

security

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

minimum

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

operations

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,

whistle,

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

sticking

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

subjected

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

perform

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

tablets,

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

design it."

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.

"If,

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

transportation

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

September

11, two from her team went to New York, two to the plane site in

Pennsylvania,

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

Alaska

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

employees’

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.

Because

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

parents

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

airplane

travelers provide next of kin information on the back of their

boarding

passes and that companies require their travel agencies to have the

information readily available.

When crisis management is done right, it engenders loyalty. An

Atlantic

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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