Emergency preparedness: Compliance, care and the long view

Learning from risk events can improve preparedness and resiliency

Our current fluid global risk cannot be read in the carefree faces of children at play. They are blissfully unaware of foreboding hazards that endanger them and their protectors. In fact, the multi-trillion-dollar all-hazard landscape - most vividly rendered by the World Economic Forum's 2010 Global Risk Report - remains unknown to many (The report, which outlines some of the issues most likely to come to the fore of the global risks landscape and describes their interconnectedness, can be downloaded from www.weforum.org/en/initiatives/globalrisk/Reports/index.htm). Those with insight into these risks have a duty to help increase others' awareness of them and to measure mitigation progress.

If we hope to lead our organizations through this complex global risk landscape, we must learn what we can from man-made and natural risk events to improve preparedness and resiliency. Effective risk mitigation requires investments of time, money and mindshare. We must assess our current capabilities and close the gap on the people, process and technology resources we need to ensure a more resilient future.

Clearly, even the most aware and prepared family, institution, community and nation state is not immune to catastrophes such as accidents, crime, terror, severe weather and tectonic events. Yet, our relative individual preparedness and nimble cross-sector response to imminent threats can mitigate far more serious consequences to our emotional, physical and fiscal health.

Compliance Is a Partial Solution

Those of us who are skeptical about our organizational leadership's commitment to all-hazards preparedness may be heartened by evolving liability and regulatory recommendations. In June, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced final standards for the Voluntary Private Sector Preparedness Accreditation and Certification Program (PS-Prep). A recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, this program attempts to improve private-sector preparedness for disasters and emergencies. The adopted standards include those of the National Fire Protection Association, the British Standards Institution and ASIS International.

Each standard is valuable and merits serious review. Collectively, they are helpful to those who have not yet undertaken an all-hazards risk mitigation assessment or plan. Others will find them useful for formulating gap analyses. But for those who are inclined to think that preparedness is now the law of the land, I urge caution.

While PS-Prep is a step forward, it is still a voluntary program. Because of the recent near-collapse of the global financial system - with its arguable failure of risk oversight and resulting contraction of resources - security planners and their cross-functional risk mitigation teams face an uphill struggle. Even organizations that are inclined to comply with PS-Prep or to advance preparedness in other ways may be constrained by smaller purses, downsized capacity and skeptical program supporters who have witnessed billions of dollars in global security investment since 2001 with little persuasive return on investment. Add to those concerns the reality that these voluntary standards will compete with other government mandates, including state and federal requirements around commercial and healthcare information protection including PCI and HIPAA.

Compliance alone is only a partial solution. We must help our organizational leaders find deeper motivation for improved preparedness by focusing on stakeholder confidence and shareholder value.

Culture of Care

Corporate entities, governments and not-for-profits all depend on stakeholder confidence. Customers, citizens, donors, employees, investors, suppliers and their dependents have increasing expectations of care. Cared-for and engaged stakeholders are more productive in core process performance. People-care can also protect brand reputation - when an event does occur, companies that have shown a high standard of care for their people are more likely to enjoy the "benefit of the doubt" in the public mind.

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