A Hard Lesson in Preparing for the Worst
October 01, 2001

By Staff
Appeared in Facilities Design & Management

The management of the City of New York learned all too well of their own grievous error: situating their emergency bunker, a fortress ready to withstand hurricanes, bombs, blackouts, and nuclear assault, on the 23rd floor of 7 World Trade Center. It was not, however, able to take on two jumbo jets fully laden with fuel. The command center, now reduced to a pile of rubble, clearly was not an emergency response system equipped to handle the full gamut of disasters.

The city is obviously rethinking its placement of their crisis centers, pinpointing locations far from landmarks like the WTC. One official said the police department already has begun considering a site for a secret bunker from which to direct the response in the event of a sustained attack or other cataclysmic event. This center would be in addition to a more publicly acknowledged command post, where city officials would deal with emergencies such as snowstorms.

With more of an emphasis now on hot sites, secondary facilities for businesses to resume operations in the event of an emergency, there is also more of a concern to maintain the security of the hot site. According to Syska & Hennessy OnLinEnvironments, a member of the Los Angeles and New York-based firm specializing in consulting, engineering, technology and construction, preparedness lies not just in securing a remote site, but also in knowing precisely the people, infrastructure, and systems necessary to restore critical functions. "It may seem like a monumental task for a chief executive to imagine the unthinkable, but there are six essential questions to ask that will identify the key processes and plans that underlie true preparedness," says Jim McEnteggart, associate partner.

The CEO Essential 6:

1. Have you rated each facility within your organization by how critical it is to supporting business operations?

2. Within each facility or data center, have you identified the components that are most essential to operations?

3. What is the threshold for the hours or days that these different operations can be down before essential services must be moved to a new site? Typically, customer call centers need to be back online immediately. In contrast, an internal function such as accounting may be offline longer without a significant impact on operations.

4. Are documented plans and processes in place to transition from the damaged facility to the new site? If personnel cannot easily transfer to the remote location, skilled labor should be available nearby to get business back on track.

5. Have time limits been set for recreating essential support services? A trader may have phone lines, but he can't operate without access to market data or customer accounts, for example.

6. Are regular drills performed to keep the staff prepared for any disaster? The current disaster plan should be tested to see how it would have held up under conditions similar to the tragic events of September 11, 2001.