UWEM What's New Archive
Emergency Management News Archive
Below are news articles that have been archived by our staff. Some past articles may have been removed from the database.
Help Us Help YOU!
University of Washington Emergency Management is currently in the process of updating our Hazard Identification and Vulnerability Assessment (HIVA). This involves gathering feedback from as many campus employees (staff & faculty alike) as possible about which potential hazards present the most risk to their organizations, and how those impacts would be manifested during and shortly after a disaster.
Please follow the link to complete the survey for your organization. The results will help us tailor future support to the UW community (~70k strong on the Seattle campus!) and will be shared when this update is completed.
There’s a new article from Consumer Reports on disaster preparedness that includes some great information on the realities of insurance coverage for homes.
These same realities hold true for businesses and other organizations such as the University of Washington. The risk of “self-insurance” will eventually be too great when the disaster that hits and organization causes damage that exceeds that organization’s ability to recover from in a timely, cost-effective manner.
Accounting For Loss During Disruptions & Power Outages
This spring has brought several events in which sections of the Seattle campus or the entire community experienced unexpected interruptions in our commercial power source. While these power outages lasted only a few hours, there were real impacts for several departments.
While many offices and facilities have Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) units, these are of benefit only to systems being actively used by employees. An UPS allows enough time and power to save all work and perform a safe shut-down until the main power supply returns to normal. In many cases, equipment powered back on without incident, though it still required staff & faculty members to perform a check for each piece of equipment once they returned to their workspaces. Even if no equipment was damaged, items & specimens under climate-control could have been lost as a result of power loss. How much are each of these items worth in $$, as well as time to be replaced? Can they even be replaced, in the case of research?
When your department was notified of a power outage (you were notified, right?), how quickly was someone able to go check on critical resources? If they were an hourly-wage employee, those wages can be added to the total “loss” your department accrued. At work the next day, any time or resources expended to recover from the aftermath of the power outage can be considered, as well. While individual employees may not have an easy-to-calculate wage to account for loss in dollars, you can still add up the amount of time used for recovery and report it quantitatively that way. If you required replacement resources before routine Business, Academic or Research activities could resume, the cost of the items and the time waiting for their arrival all factors in to your office or department’s total loss footprint.
Business, Academic and Research Continuity planning: It pays to prepare, but it costs to respond!
Hurricane Sandy Offers a lot of Real World Examples
As recovery efforts continue on the East coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, we get to see real-world issues with recovery in real-time.
One of the key resources any organization needs is a place to operate. Business owners, residents and government and non-profit agencies are struggling with being displaced from their primary facilities as the projected recovery for their buildings moves into weeks and possibly months before they are ready for occupancy again. You can read an article on the problem here.
If you can’t work tomorrow, where you worked today, what would you do?
The UWEM Staff
Fire at U of Hawaii Destroys Hundreds of Vital Financial Records
Fire at U of Hawaii Destroys Hundreds of Vital Financial Records A fire at the University of Hawaii Manoa campus on Sunday, Feb 12 was thought to be the result of faulty wiring. The fire resulted in the loss of hundreds of financial documents for the entire University of Hawaii system. These documents included vital records for payroll, procurement, accounts payable and students loan information. Damage was estimated at $600,000. BARC lesson: Disaster can strike anywhere and at anytime. Having a BARC plan can help protect against the loss of vital records through identification and archiving of specific vital records. Should disruption occur, knowing where the information contained on the vital records is and that those records are protected can help a department recover faster and avoid potential lawsuits later. For more information on BARC planning, contact UWEM. The UW Records Management office has a website at that will be helpful as well.
The 4 Challenges for ANY Incident
The University’s Business, Academic and Research Continuity (BARC) program is embedded within the UW’s Emergency Management office. There are many commonalities between emergency management and business continuity, include four common challenges that are inherent in any situation:
1- The Fog of Disaster, which is says that unless events are occurring in your presence, you don’t REALLY know what is going on. Fog of Disaster means that the incident manager must rely on second-hand reports from the scene that are filtered through the personal perceptions, knowledge, skills and abilities of the reporting party with varying degrees of accuracy.
2- The Tyranny of Time, which says that the longer it takes to respond to a disaster, the more difficult it is to respond to that disaster due to the continuation of disruption, destruction and damage caused by the event. For example: the longer it takes to respond to a fire, the more damage and potential loss that fire is causing.
3- Communications challenges. The ability to effectively communicate may accurately be called the “first” victim of any situation. Until effective communications are restored, allowed for proper coordination of personnel and resources, the response will not be efficient.
4- Resources challenges. Resources are limited by capability, capacity, availability and distance. Having the right resource for the need (capability) in the right place (availability) in the right quantity (capacity) at the right time (distance) can be very, very difficult. Resources often requires additional capabilities in terms of movement and deployments. For example: a fire engine can carry only so much water and will need to be replenished once that water is used up. The final challenge is that in large-scale disasters, if you need a resource, chances are good that someone else wants it too. This means that resource scarcity will drive increased competition for those resources.
These challenges I outline above are present in ALL situations to a greater or lesser degree. There is no way to eliminate them. However, with careful planning, an organization can mitigate them and provide for an easier time responding and recovering to a disaster.
BARC: It's Just Good Business
Recently, Eric Holdeman, former Director of King County Emergency Management, published a blog about the importance of Business Continuity Planning in the recovery of a business. You can view it here. In the article, Eric talks about the importance of individual disaster preparedness as part of business preparedness. People are the most importance aspect of preparedness for any organization.
The same is true for the University of Washington. Not only does the University share many of the same concerns and aspects of a business, but both research and academic units have many business-like requirements as well:
*All units have some kind of constituents (students, staff, faculty and PI’s).
*All units are accountable for some form of fiduciary management.
*Significant disruption for any unit leads to lost productivity which equals lost money.
*Too much lost productivity due to disruption or loss will result in lost jobs- even if they are tenured.
While these facts may be scary, the upside is that UWEM can help business, academic and research programs become more resilient to disruption and even recover faster if disruption occurs. To learn more visit our website or contact us.
It’s Getting a Little Chilly to be a Grasshopper
Aesop, the 6th Century BC Greek writer and philosopher once venerated the virtue of hard work and preparedness in his timeless story, the Ant and the Grasshopper.
The general story can be summed up like this: The Ant took time during the Summer to prepare for Winter. The Grasshopper did not. When the Winter came, the Ant was well prepared and survived. The Grasshopper was ill-prepared and did not.
Although the story is ancient and the point a little extreme (prepare or die), the principle of the value of emergency preparedness is still valid today. The very nature of a disaster is such that the ability of the local emergency services to protect individuals becomes severely compromised. Under those conditions, an individual will have only what they have planned for.
A proactive individual will have taken the time to learn the necessary skills and gather the necessary supplies to be more self-reliant until our emergency services systems are back online and functioning well.
The same is true of business continuity planning. Take the time now to help your employees and department be better prepared to endure the next disaster well. If you want more information about how to do this, contact us.
Trick Plays in Disaster Management
Recently, a home-video of a clever offensive play by a middle-school football team in Texas has gone “viral” on the Internet. The play shows the Center passing the ball over his shoulder in a very calm, sedate manner to the Quarterback, who then proceeds to nonchalantly walk across the line of scrimmage and through the opposing team’s defensive front line before reaching the defensive back-field and then running for a 60-yard touch-down. The Defense did not respond until the Quarterback began running, but by then it was too late. You can view the video here.
What can we learn about disaster management from this humorous video? The Defense did not respond in a timely manner, because the Quarterback was not behaving in a manner that the Defense had been conditioned to respond to. Within Business, Academic and Research operations, there are situations that may develop, that are potentially disruptive, but may not unfold in a manner that solicits an immediate response.
This is why I advocate for a planning model that is both All-Hazards and resource-oriented (rather than scenario-driven). It promotes flexibility of thought and action, rather than waiting for a specific set of conditions to occur before decisive action takes place.
For example: let’s say that a particular department has a plan for an office-space fire (scenario-driven planning), but a flood is occurring. Will the staff know what to do? Conversely, if the department had a resource-oriented plan that identified the office space as being critical, then the scenario doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that office space is unavailable.
Proper planning should help us avoid the confusion that is seen in the video by the defense when an event or incident is emerging in a way that we don’t expect.
Scott Preston, UW Business Continuity Manager
Got back up power? Make sure it works.....
Many business, academic and research units are fortunate to have access to emergency-generated power in the event a power failure occurs. Emergency power generators can be a great asset, but as with all resources, require a bit of planning to be properly maintained and ready for use when needed. Here are some things to remember about emergency generators:
1- Like all pieces of equipment, generators require regular maintenance.
2- Generators should be tested at least once per year to ensure functionality.
3- Generators are limited in both load capacity (how much energy they produce) and duration (how long they can run).
4- Improper or poor maintenance of a generator can lead to mechanical failure, or worse, a fire.
5- Generators need to be refueled.
If you have a generator in your building and you plan on relying on it for emergency power, proactively learning about it can prevent a lot of trouble for you later on. Find out the technical capabilities of the generator. Learn who is supposed manage the maintenance and who is responsible for refueling it during use. Don’t leave this information to chance and assumption. Take the time to get the proper information and validate your planning.
Continuity Central has an excellent article on generators that can be read here.
Scott Preston, UW Business Continuity Manager
Best Practice: Think About ALL Hazards; even the ones that are uncomfortable.
UW Emergency Management staff recently attended workplace violence training being offered through the University’s Violence Prevention Office in HR. Workplace violence is an uncomfortable subject for most people because it strikes at the heart of the individual on number of levels. People who have been victimized in a workplace violence incident often are personal friends or co-workers of one or more of the victims. In some cases, the suspect committing the violence may have also been a friend and/or co-worker.
Business, Academic and Research Continuity (BARC) planning must be All-Hazards in focus to be well-prepared and must include consideration for workplace violence as part of a well-balanced plan.
While workplace violence may appear to seem random, there are pre-incident indicators that exist for nearly all occurrences of workplace violence. That means that if these indicators are recognized and reported properly, a potential incident might be avoided. To learn about these indicator, I recommend that you attend the FREE workplace violence training offered at the University. The presentation is interesting, doesn’t take very long and could save a life some day.
If you are interested in learning more about available workplace violence training, please visit HR’s website.
Scott Preston, UW Business Continuity Manager
UWEM Considering Kuali Ready for Enterprise BARC Planning
UWEM recently met with UW IT and emergency management officials from UC-Berkley to evaluate the possibility of purchasing an enterprise-wide continuity planning software tool called Kuali Ready. Kuali Ready is the newest generation of the popular UC Ready software, but has been developed specially for Universities and is much more intuitive than it’s predecessor.
The potential benefit of UW using Kuali Ready for the Business, Academic and Research Continuity (BARC) is the ease of use by faculty and staff of departments wanting to better prepared against disruption and the sustainability of existing BARC planning efforts over the current manual planning processes. Another benefit is the cost. Kuali Ready is a fraction of the cost of other similar software packages from commercial suppliers and still offers much of the same functional benefit, while being easier for users to learn and manage.
If you care to read more about Kuali Ready, you can visit their website here.
Scott Preston, UW Business Continuity Manager
Learning from Disasters: BP and the importance of emergency planning
A recent article in Campus Safety Magazine highlighted the importance of taking emergency planning seriously and warned against becoming too complacent. The best plans are frequently reviewed and tested (at least annually) and focus on realistic expectations. Most importantly, it is the planning process, more than the plan itself that is the goal. Simply taking a planning template and adding the organization’s name to it does not begin to satisfy the need for effective planning. Conversely, an organization that is in the middle of a realistic planning cycle, discovering more information about their core processes and how to protect them, is far better prepared, even though the whole plan has not been fully documented yet.
Disaster creates opportunity. In this case, the tragic disaster that continues to unfold in the Gulf provides an opportunity for us to learn from BP’s planning mistakes. The more we can make our plans realistic, current and valid, the better of we are.
You can read the article from Campus Safety Magazine online here.
Scott Preston, UW Business Continuity Manager
Scenario Planning vs. Resource Planning
One of the most common traps continuity planners fall into is in attempting to develop a contingency for every conceivable threat scenario. They will try to have an emergency plan in case of a fire and one in case of a flood and one in case of a storm and one in case of whatever else they feel requires a plan. The problem is that this sort of approach very quickly overwhelms the planner and frustrates the constituents of the planning effort because it becomes far too complex.
At the UW, we advocated a different approach. Rather than having a threat scenario dictate the planning to us, we determine what resources are most important to our operations and protect them. This is referred to as “resource planning”. If your building is an important resource for your business and you cannot access it, does it really matter WHY you can’t get in? No. The fact is that you are unable to use it. Resource oriented planning helps identify ways to protect a critical resource, like your building and provide redundancies if that resource is still disrupted, despite your best planning and mitigation efforts.
There is a great article on this concept that you can read here.
UW Emergency Management can help you with your planning, from beginning discovery effort all the way through testing and maintenance of the plan. Just send us an email.
Power Outage: Not just in Winter Storms
Seven years ago, the Northeast United States found itself in the grip of a heat-wave. To make matters worse, at about 2:00 PM on August 14, 2003, 50 million customers lost power as a major power outage occurred that impacted most of the NE United States and SE Canada. You can read more about it here.
What are some of the BARC lessons learned from that event? 1- Power disruptions can occur anytime, not just during Fall or Winter storms. 2- While 1 emergency is in progress (a heatwave) there is nothing preventing a secondary emergency from developing that will complicate response to the first one (power outage). 3- Be prepared! As we think about how to protect the resources our business, academic or research work depends on, we should identify solutions ahead of time to provide alternate facilities or equipment options. We should protect and copy data to ensure accessibility and most important of all, we should protect our most valuable asset: people.
Incidents like the Northeast Blackout of 2003 provide an opportunity to learn and adjust our own planning efforts to protect ourselves, if we are wise enough to study the incident and apply the lessons to our own efforts.
Scott Preston, Business Continuity Manager email@example.com