By: Kelly de la Torre Issue: Transformation Section: Government
Creating Business Continuity and Resilience
A resilient community depends on all of us, says Tim Manning, Deputy Administrator for Protection and National Preparedness for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Years of experience in wilderness mountain rescue, as a fire fighter, an EMT, and the former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management for the state of New Mexico uniquely situates Manning to help create and implement FEMA’s whole community vision. FEMA is in the process of building scaffolding to link disaster to recovery with its Whole Community Approach to emergency preparedness planning. This scaffolding consists of a community network, appropriate tools, and strategies that are put in place before disaster strikes so that critical recovery mechanisms can be mobilized immediately. “Our collective preparedness relies on the strength and preparedness of everybody,” says Tim Manning. “Building resilient communities is a top priority.”
Manning explains that the “Whole Community approach is a reflection of what FEMA has learned over the years in responding to and preparing for disasters and emergencies. We have learned that the public isn’t a liability in the response but is the most important part of the team in responding to a disaster.” Manning draws on his experience as a fire fighter to explain. “As a firefighter, there was no emergency where the public wasn’t already helping when I arrived on scene. The public helps in the community in an emergency.” It happens naturally. Historically, however, emergency planning was undertaken from the perspective of what the government needs to do. For example, deployment of police and fire department assets in this manner often treats the public as something that needs to be worked around. “The reality,” says Manning, “is that the majority of response in an emergency is neighbors helping neighbors.”
Resilient communities depend on multi-stakeholder participation. “It’s a large team effort,” stresses Manning. FEMA targets partners from every critical sector, including state, local and tribal government agencies, cities, counties, private sector companies, and the public, to name a few. Next, the planning needs to coordinate with FEMA operations. Comprehensive Preparedness Guide (CPG) 101 “provides FEMA guidance on the fundamentals of planning and developing emergency operations plans” and in one respect, “provides methods for planners to conduct community-based planning that engages the whole community by using a planning process that represents the actual population in the community and involves community leaders and the private sector in the planning process.” The goal is to achieve coordination and integration of plans “across all levels of government, nongovernmental organizations, the private sector, and individuals and families.” Manning notes that this is fundamentally different from what FEMA has done in the past.
Business continuity and resilience enables disaster recovery. “Disaster recovery is characterized by having a restored and thriving economy in an area and you can’t have that until your retail and business sectors are operating, the tax base is operating, and the people of the community are back to work. You can’t have that until you have resilient supply chains and resilient businesses,” explains Manning. At its most basic level, recovery can’t start until consumers have access to resources. Ensuring access to critical resources means that businesses need to work to identify weak links in the flow of information and in their supply chains so they can establish procedures to eliminate downtime. Importantly, industry is recognizing that they can use emergency preparedness to gain market advantage over competitors. According to Manning, FEMA has seen large retailers insist on continuity in their first and second tier supply chains.
Inherent in FEMA’s Whole Community Approach and directly applicable to the ability to maintain business continuity, is the understanding that the community is a critical element in preparedness planning. Indeed, preparedness planning is personal to a community requiring consideration of a number of characteristics including, for example, its population distribution, its resources, and its culture, just to name a few. Based on this philosophy, says Manning, FEMA is taking a more holistic approach to planning and encourages all members in the community to undertake advanced planning.
Companies are critical and integrated members of a community’s ecosystem and their business resilience is directly dependent on its employees, the people that are dedicated to both the community and to getting operations back up and running. This can’t happen if those employees can’t get to work. To address this, FEMA recommends that companies encourage their employees to individually prepare for disasters so that they can get to work. In another example, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and FEMA developed a process to credential personnel. For companies and their supply chains, credentialing their employees can help expedite their drivers through road blocks and cordoned areas in order to get supplies to where they are needed. This can be especially important where an employee is “borrowed” from another utility in order to get power lines up and running.
Employee preparedness is just one way that private industry is stepping out-front on the issue of planning in order to drive company preparedness. The issue is multi-faceted and another way for companies to build market advantage is to explore opportunities to use emerging technology. Under Federal law, FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security do not endorse private enterprises or their products. And while Mr. Manning did not discuss any particular technology or company, private industry is making strides in developing innovative solutions to address emergency needs. For example, emergency and disaster situations are frequently accompanied by a disruption to the power supply. Companies can prepare by investing in alternate means of electricity generation sized to at least power critical operations.
Preparedness however, does not need to be limited to traditional tools. Advanced technologies can be incorporated into the toolbox and some of these new technologies can provide viable and economic solutions for times when there is not an emergency while adding benefit when there is. For example, mobile solar generators could provide an alternative to traditional diesel generators. Mobile solar generators can provide a lifetime of energy savings because they can be placed at the facility in advance of an emergency and be used to reduce facility energy use and cost during times of peak load demand—the time when energy costs are highest. The facility energy savings realized can help offset the cost of the unit and decrease the pay-back period.
For example, SolaRover, a Colorado company, offers a rapidly deployable critical-output mobile solar power generator system that properly configured, can deliver up to 50 kW of continuous power. Comparatively, the cost per kilowatt hour is dramatically less than that of a diesel generator because the diesel includes fuel costs, resupply logistics, maintenance and overhauls that must be taken into account over the lifetime of the generator. A mobile, zero emission and silent generation unit addresses not only the need to restore power to get operations up and running, but has the unique ability to be “pre-positioned” next to the most critical services for public safety and commerce. These mobile solar power units can be strategically placed throughout a region or a predicted disaster zone to power systems or assets vital to recovery, like emergency clinics, police, fire, emergency room facilities, refrigerators and street lights without the requirement to find a safe storage facility for fuel or undamaged functional infrastructure for resupply support. Because the system is mobile, however, if a critical need is identified during the recovery process, or the disaster strikes in near proximity to the preparedness area, the units can simply be “unplugged” and transported to the new location. Strategic distribution of units throughout a region can help by providing clean and silent back-up power that could be rolled into neighboring cities if required.
For communities, it is also critical to protect assets that support public health. A strategic use for a mobile unit like this is to power pharmacy refrigeration units. In the event of an emergency, uninterrupted power ensures the community access to critical life-saving pharmaceuticals and from the insurer’s perspective protects against loss. During a natural disaster, loss of refrigeration can wipe-out stock piles of essential pharmaceuticals costing upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars. A small up-front investment in clean mobile solar technology can mitigate this type of asset loss to the benefit of the community on multiple levels. A clean and silent energy mobile unit could further be used to power cell phone towers or could be integrated with water purification units. In essence, in a disaster, the mobile solar generator could function as a mobile operations center for a facility by powering critical assets, enabling cell phone use and providing access to clean water to the facility and also to the community. In short, removing power disruption from the equation, expedites recovery by maintaining business continuity.
With its Whole Community Approach, FEMA is transforming the historical approach to preparedness planning. Meanwhile, the private sector, the community and the state, local, tribal and federal governments each have a role to play in mitigating and preparing for potential disasters. For each of us, “The time for planning is right now; take a few minutes and get ready,” says Manning. If each member of the community contributes, and we integrate not only the stakeholders but also the right kinds of material and equipment, we can bridge the gap between disaster and recovery and bring all of our communities back on-line quickly.
FEMA encourages everyone to take a look at www.ready.gov for tips on planning.