Survival Guide: Perspectives from the field

Sue Hornstra Kerr, co-founder and co-president, Continuity First

Sue Hornstra Kerr

Rick Steele

It's unlikely that anyone needs reminding of the loss of life and home and livelihood, of the billions of dollars in damage and devastation caused by storms during the last hurricane season.

Although much of the Gulf Coast, laid waste by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, has yet to recover, rebuilding efforts have well begun.

As businesses and residents look to get back to living normal lives, a new hurricane season approaches. And most businesses are not ready for what is likely to be another season of powerful storms, said Sue Hornstra Kerr.

Kerr, who consults with businesses and agencies on business continuity, spoke with Staff Writer Ethan Butterfield on how to prepare for the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season.

WT: Is it true that most businesses have no disaster preparedness plan?

Kerr: Vast numbers of businesses do not have these plans. The ones that do usually are the regulated businesses, such as financial companies, and some health care companies.

But when you get away from larger organizations and into small and midsized companies, they just have not put the effort into the planning.

WT: How long does it take to put a plan together?

Kerr: You can probably come up with the framework in three months or so, depending on the size and complexity of the organization. To get a full-blown plan, you're talking about six months to a year, but part of that depends on the resources available and how much time they can devote to it.

WT: Maybe it's too late to develop a plan for this summer, but there must be some steps companies can take to better prepare themselves for this hurricane season?

Kerr: Absolutely, because every day, when you leave your office, you need to be prepared not to go back to it the next day. You need to have a plan that says, "This is what I'm going to do in the event I can't walk back into my office tomorrow."

WT: How should companies prepare for when disaster strikes?

Kerr: Set up a structure within your organization where you have command and control. If you have not established command and control before an incident happens, your probability of surviving that disaster and moving forward decreases considerably. You need to make sure that you know who's going to be making the decisions, that you've got an alternate for that person, and that these folks know what they're doing and how they're going to do it.

WT: Do they have to establish backup offices?

Kerr: Correct. They have to know where their emergency operations center is going to be, where they are going to go to make those decisions. Is it going to be a conference bridge? That's fine, but they need to make those decisions now, so the conference bridge is established now.

The next important thing for them is to set up a communications mechanism. Ensure that personnel know how they will communicate and how they can be reached.

The next thing is to know what their mission critical processes are. What are the most important things to bring back up first?

A lot of businesses don't necessarily understand that, and so waste their resources on less critical things.

WT: For an IT company, what might those key functions be?

Kerr: Your computer operations people; in other words, those who are going to keep your systems up and running. Make sure you know whom they are, that you've got backups for them, and that the systems themselves stay up and running. Which brings us to the next point about backups: Make sure the system backups are up to date, and that they're going offsite.

WT: Can you give one more key aspect of ensuring that your company is ready for a disaster?

Kerr: Make sure you encourage your personnel to have family plans. You can't expect people to come in and work for you if they're worried about their families. You can't make them do it, but you should at least encourage them to do it or to have food and water. And make sure their pets are included in those plans.

Go to the American Red Cross' or the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Web sites, both have excellent resources on the types of things that you would put into a family kit and the types of family plans you should have.

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