When to Activate Your Emergency Team

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

Quick! Call the Fire Department!

Emergency call

EMERGENCY ALERT!

Just before Christmas we had a fire here in our neighborhood. One of our neighbors heard a “ZAP” as he turned on the overhead light, and noticed smoke curling from the fixture. He ran outside to grab a garden hose, but as he scrabbled around to find it and then opened a sliding porch door to get back into the house, the fire exploded and knocked him right back down the stairs.

Ultimately, the home burned  down. Our neighbor was pulled safely away from the steps by an on-the-ball visitor. And fire engines arrived to protect the houses on either side.

What was our Neighborhood Emergency Response team doing during all this?

One member of our team was the first to call 911. Other members arrived on foot and helped keep the streets clear for emergency vehicles. (When the police arrived, the police took over, of course.)

Somewhere along the way, a few phone calls alerted other members of our team, including our group “Commander” (me), whose home is far enough away that this all went on without my even realizing it!

Later, we discussed how things went.

Decide: Big Emergency or Small Emergency?

Our group has been set up to help people prepare for “widespread emergencies when First Responders are overwhelmed and unable to respond.” Usually, that means preparing for “the big one (earthquake).” In that case, it will likely be hours if not days before our community gets assistance. We’ll need to deal with possible structural damages, roadway blockages, injuries, need for food, etc.

Our group educates and trains for big emergencies. It does not activate for localized, small emergencies, such as a fire or some sort of medical emergency. Those belong to the professionals.

We confirmed that this fire did not officially fall within our charter.

Choose: Active Bystander or Emergency Response Team member?

At the same time, when any of us hear a loud crash, or hear sirens and see an emergency vehicle pull up down the street, we’re curious and want to help if we can.

Individual members of our group have helped out in situations like this in the past:

  • At an accident in town, one member, first on the scene, parked her car across a lane to keep the victim from being run over.
  • One member alerted a hotel employee to grab his fire extinguisher when she saw flames coming from underneath a bus unloading passengers at the entrance.
  • One member used his “gas sniffer” to reassure a neighbor about a strange smell – and discovered a leak in his own BBQ! (That same gas sniffer operator has identified the smell of marijuana, too. Those are stories for another times . . .!)

The point is, many team members are ready and willing to step up without waiting for a formal group activation command.

When you recognize and safely intervene in potentially dangerous situations, you fit the definition of active bystander. (There is also the “passive bystander,” someone who recognizes a bad situation but takes no action to stop or solve it. That’s not likely to fit anyone reading this Advisory.) In those cases, you’re acting as an individual and not as a CERT or neighborhood group member.

Communicate better for better results.

Part of CERT training is being ready to take charge. In the incidents described above, our individual CERT members made decisions and got other people to follow orders. We’ve often discussed the importance of projecting authority with the help of:

  • Loud, simple verbal commands (“Come to me.”)
  • Appropriate hand signals (“Stop.”)
  • A uniform (vest and/or helmet)

And when appropriate, you’ll want to activate your team.

Verbal commands and an authoritative posture work here, too. And for the group to function best, you need appropriate tools and protocols. After the recent fire, we reviewed our own communication protocols.

Communication steps.

Here’s what we agree on:

  1. Use a phone to CALL 911. (Don’t text to 911.)
  2. Use cell phone, landline, email and/or text messaging to alert other members of the team. (Have their numbers programmed into your phone’s memory.)
  3. Switch to hand-held radios (walkie-talkies) for efficient, immediate group-wide communications – or if regular phone service is out.
  4. Set up command center to manage a larger network. (Our command center is an officially-recognized HAM radio station with direct contact to the city’s emergency communications system.)

As we’ve described, our local group practices using our hand-held radios with a regularly-schedule monthly drill. Our HAM radio station operators belong to a city-wide group; they practice weekly.

Essential tools and equipment.

This Advisory points to the equipment that every group member needs to have and be familiar with. In particular:

Simple team uniform – a vest.

CERT graduates have their own vests; all our group members who aren’t CERT grads are issued inexpensive vests like this one. (They’re not likely to be worn often, so they don’t need to be top quality.) We encourage our members to carry their vests in the car, assuming their car will be where they are in an emergency.

Ergodyne GloWear 8020HL Non-Certified Reflective High Visibility Vest, One Size, Lime

Personal cell phone.

Everyone has his own phone, with his own provider. However, for emergency team members that phone needs to be able to store numbers. The owner should sign up for local automated alert programs (iAlert).

And the owner needs to know how to send a text! (Some of your members not too sure? Check out this Advisory.)

Hand-held radios (walkie-talkies) for team members.

We have reviewed walkie-talkies several times. As with all electronic devices, you can expect changes in what’s available. In any case, you should be able to get a short-range pair of hand-held radios appropriate for your local group for $30-40. Read our review page – it has questions to help you decide just what capabilities you need, and shows several popular models. We particularly like this Uniden model because the buttons clearly show how to change channels and raise and lower volume. Some of the smallest walkie-talkies combine functions on just one button, making it harder to figure out.

Uniden GMR1635-2 22-Channel 16-Mile Range FRS/GMRS Battery Operated Two-Way Radios – Set of 2 – Black

If you’re a candidate for a ham radio (and the licensing that goes along with them), here’s an article about these radios, too, with some info about how they differ from simple hand-held walkie-talkies. Prices vary from $50 to $450, so know what you need before you buy!


BaoFeng BF-F8HP (UV-5R 3rd Gen) 8-Watt Dual Band Two-Way Radio (136-174MHz VHF & 400-520MHz UHF) Includes Full Kit with Large Battery

Emergencies happen frequently. Some we can help with, others are handled by First Responders and we have no role. Still, when a real emergency DOES happen, and you are there as witness, being ready to take positive action is something to feel confident about, and proud of.

That’s why we train, isn’t it?!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

The examples in this Advisory are all drawn from our own neighborhood group. They could just as well apply to a workplace group. If you are responsible for emergency preparedness at work, go back and see if your leaders and team members have the essential tools and equipment they need.

 

 

 

What To Do When You Discover a Gas Line Leak

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

(Part Three of a series aimed at neighborhood or workplace teams)

Gas main shut-off

Where and how?

In the first two segments of this special article we talked about where gas lines run, why they leak and how to recognize a leak.

Now, let’s talk about what to do if you find one!

Your response depends in large part where you find it. Let’s look at some possibilities.

Before we start, remember Rule #1.

If you detect a strong smell of natural gas, leave the area, get a safe distance away, and call 911.

A leak in the home

In your home, what’s most likely is that you will get a weak smell of gas. In that case, remain calm. Think.

You may be able to solve this problem yourself and safely.

Possibility #1. Nearly every home has a couple of pilot lights – usually in the gas furnace or water heater, gas stove or oven. The pilot light is really a “starter” flame. When you turn on the appliance, the pilot light ignites the gas coming out of the main burner.

In older appliances, the pilot light burns 24/7. In newer ones, it is turned on when needed by an electronic igniter. (You may hear a clicking sound as it activates.) Fortunately, when the pilot light goes out, it triggers an automatic shutoff valve to the gas supply. So you won’t usually smell a gas leak from this source.

However, in older systems, your pilot light could go out from something as simple as a draft or spill, and if the system doesn’t have an automatic shut-off valve you would smell leaking gas.

In this case, you can attempt to relight the pilot light yourself by following instructions on the appliance. They are likely to be something like this:

  1. Turn off the appliance and wait at least 5 minutes for any leaked gas to dissipate.
  2. Be sure you know where the pilot flame is located. (It may not be near the on/off knob.)
  3. Turn the knob from OFF to PILOT.
  4. Hold down the reset button (could be the knob itself) and light the pilot light with a long match.
  5. Keep holding the reset button until the flame is burning steadily, maybe a minute.
  6. Turn the knob to ON.

If the light doesn’t stay lit, try again. If it still doesn’t work after a couple of tries, quit and call for professional help.

Tip: You can’t light an electronic pilot system using a match! If the electronic system isn’t working, be sure the appliance is turned off and call for professional help.

Action item: Check all your home appliances — gas furnace, gas water heater, gas oven or gas burners — to see where you have pilot lights.  Are they ever-burning or do they have electronic ignition?

OK, so much for pilot lights. You’ve checked, they are working, and you still smell gas.

Possibility #2. Most often, a gas leak is usually the result of an appliance with poorly designed, faulty or damaged connection.

Check your appliances carefully.

  • Sniff to see if you can detect where the rotten egg smell of leaking gas is coming from.
  • Coat a questionable pipe or connection with soapy water. Bubbles will appear where the leak is located.
  • Look at the color of the flame on the appliance. Is it blue (good) or orange (not so good, could suggest a leak)?
  • Check the outside of the appliance for soot or scorch marks.
  • Do you have excessive condensation on the inside of your windows?

In these cases, if you identify the culprit appliance, get assistance from a qualified expert – probably your gas company. You may be advised to shut off the gas to the appliance, or even to the whole house. In either case that expert will have to re-set the system once the leak is repaired.

A leak in a larger pipe or larger system

If you discover a gas leak in a larger pipeline or facility, move to a safe distance and notify your gas system operator or property owner or 911. (Review signs of a major pipeline leak in Part 2 of this series.)

Do not attempt to find the exact location of the leak, to shut off the pipeline or to fight any gas main fire. Dealing with a large pipeline leak is the business of professionals.

However, in a big disaster . . .

It’s one thing to handle day-to-day leaks. After a storm or earthquake, however, there may be multiple or large leaks. Professionals may be delayed.

You may be called upon to shut down an entire system to protect against fire or the spread of fire.

Gas line shut-off valves may be located at an individual home, at the entrance to a building, at the street, or in other places along the system. Different size systems use different styles of shut-offs. The more you know about where gas lines run and the shut-offs on those lines, the more options you will have.

(As we have already indicated, your gas line operators are not likely to tell or show you exactly where the shut-off valves are located without your being clever and/or persistent. Remember that map that we recommended building in Part One?)

1-Appliance shut-off. Individual appliances may have their own shut-off valves, usually with a handle that turns 90 degrees. Action item: Check your own home appliances to find these valves. (Do not “practice” shutting them off!)

2-Building or home shut-off. In an emergency, shutting off the gas to the building likely means shutting it off at the meter. To do this, you’ll need to know where the meter is and have a wrench and an understanding of the ON vs. the OFF position of the valve. Here’s a sample of what a typical home shut-off valve looks like.

Open or closed?

Open or closed?

You can turn a shut-off valve using a regular crescent wrench. You may prefer to use a non-rusting tool specially designed for the purpose, like the one shown below. (Click the image or the link to go to Amazon, where you can buy this tool — less than $15. Full disclosure: we may get a commission.) In either case, you must store the tool near the valve!

SurvivalKitsOnline 515100 On-Duty Emergency Gas and Water Shutoff 4-in-1 Tool for Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Fires, Floods, Disasters and Emergencies

 

Action item: Find your home and building shut-offs and have a wrench placed at each one. Figure out a way to attach the wrench to keep it from disappearing.

3-Automatic valves. Some valves, such as seismic gas shut-off valves, operate automatically. They aren’t required, and many professionals don’t trust them – but you may have them on your system. Action item: Find out if any automatic valves are installed on gas lines leading to your home or in your place of work.

4-Gas main. When it comes to shutting off gas at a larger line, the shut-off may be a larger version of the wrench turn off, or it may operate with a large wheel and gear. It may be locked in such a way that only the operator can access it. Often, these valves are painted red. Action item for your group: locate the pipes and the shut-offs leading to your building or community. Larger line shut-offs may be marked with a sign like the yellow one at the start of this article. Or they may not be marked!

What procedures are in place for shutting off the gas?

As we have emphasized, shutting off the gas is a major event to be taken only with due deliberation. It will require professional assistance to get the gas turned back on again. It may take days for all gas service to be restored.

In a widespread disaster, when fire fighters are delayed, representatives of the gas company may also be delayed, perhaps indefinitely. You or your group may have to make decisions about shutting off the gas.

Questions you need to have answers to BEFORE something happens:

  • Who is authorized to shut off the gas?
  • Which valves are they authorized to shut off?
  • What training and tools do these authorized people need? Do they have what they need?
  • How likely is it that authorized and trained people will be on hand in an emergency, when immediate action may be required?

With this info, you will be far more prepared in case of an emergency.

Getting more answers

Over the years we have found that “the authorities” are loathe to share gas line information. However, as we have built up our own skills and knowledge, we have better luck at getting more. Above all, we have a better understanding of just what our role should/could be in an emergency.

One of our most effective guest speakers was a representative from the Fire Department who talked about the various gas lines in our neighborhood. (We have the usual mains and feeder lines PLUS a high-octane aviation fuel line running beside our community.) Action item: Get a speaker on natural gas safety from your own fire department or local utility. Prepare some questions in advance.

Your invitation will cause that fire official to update his or her knowledge about your neighborhood or building, as well as remind your neighbors and/or co-workers to be more alert. (In our case, the fire department speaker was NOT up to speed on gas mains that had recently been installed near us as part of a construction project!)

_______

We started this 3-part series with the question, “Are you sitting on a gas leak right now?” The question still is pertinent. We hope that by now you have a better idea of how to respond!

And one last disclaimer. We are not professionally trained experts on gas main construction, maintenance or procedures. We offer this special series for informational purposes only. Any time you consider messing with your gas supply or gas lines, we recommend that you do it with the assistance or under the supervision of professionals. Gas is inherently dangerous so treat it with all due caution.

But as emergency responders, you can’t ignore it!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Here are the three parts of this special series. Please read all three parts.

Part One: Are you sitting on top of a leaking gas line?

Part Two: Detecting a gas line leak

Part Three: What to do when you discover a gas line leak

 

Detecting a Gas Line Leak

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

(Part Two of a series aimed at neighborhood or workplace teams)

Are you familiar with your local gas lines?

Could this be leaking? What is it, anyway?

If you have tried finding the location of gas lines in your neighborhood or near your workplace you will have discovered that it takes some time and effort!

Still, using online resources and your local utility you can usually identify the route of:

Transmission lines — long-distance lines, typically more than 10” in diameter (can be as big as 42”), that move large amounts of gas under high pressure (200 – 1,200 psi)

Distribution or main lines –- operate at intermediate pressure (up to 200 psi) and are 2″ to 24″ in diameter

The lines that actually connect to your home are not so easy to track once they disappear underground. These are

Feeder or service lines – pipes less than 2” in diameter carrying odorized gas at low pressures, below 6 psi.

As mentioned in Part One of this series, utility companies are concerned about vandalism and sabotage or even terrorism, so they don’t publicize the location of these lines.

If you have a good relationship with your utility and property manager, you may be able to get some detail; we were actually able to get the construction drawings showing location and sizes of the gas lines for our community.

Action item: create a map of your location, showing the different gas lines as you identify them.

Should we assume that all these lines leak?

Yes!

The gas distribution system is made up of thousands of miles of pipelines, and they operate safely nearly all of the time. Still, all of the time, the system is under one or another source of stress. The amount of gas that is “lost and unaccounted for” – and probably is mostly the result of leaks — ranges from less than 1 to over 4%.

Stresses include:

  • Built-in weaknesses from poor connections, bad welds or incorrectly installed equipment
  • Corrosion or wear from aging
  • Weather-related shifts (winter freeze-thaw cycles)
  • Seismic shifts or earthquakes

(If you’ve seen a cracked slab under a home, you know what “seismic shifts” can do. It’s not unusual for shifts to break gas, water and/or cable lines!)

It is the responsibility of the system operators to monitor and maintain the pipelines under their jurisdiction.

In some states legislation has been introduced to require the utilities to report on leaks and on their progress in fixing them. As you can expect, the utilities oppose this legislation, saying that the number of leaks is exaggerated and that fixing more leaks faster would be too expensive. Find out about legislation in your own state!

Can we prevent a gas line leak in any of these pipelines?

No.

But you can do your community a service by finding out what sort of gas line maintenance takes place.

And, you may be able to prevent a disaster by detecting and reporting a leak!

How can we tell if there’s a leak?

1-Use your nose!

The most common indication of a leak is SMELL. An odorizer called Mercaptan is added to feeder lines for the very purpose of making a leak noticeable.

What does Mercaptan smell like? Most people compare it to “rotten eggs.” In any case, it is distinctive and obvious.

You may be able to get “scratch ‘n’ sniff” cards from your local utility that will give you an idea of the smell.

2-Gas sniffer will help in the discovery.

If you don’t have a good nose for smells, or if you sense you might easily get used to a smell, consider investing in a gas sniffer. This is a simple hand-held gadget that can identify a leak — and some can tell you what gas is leaking – using a lighted meter and/or an audio sound (“tic, tic”). As always, the more you pay, the more capabilities you get.

Our local emergency response groups own a couple of different ones. The “pen” model (less than $40) is used by one group to check around their emergency gas generator when they start it up.

The “tube” model (around $150) adjusts from broad to fine sensitivity in order to pinpoint the precise location and type of gas that is leaking. We have used this model with startling success, using it to identify a propane leak from a gas BBQ, among other leaks.

 

General Tools PNG2000A Natural Gas Detector Pen

 

 

 

UEi Test Instruments CD100A Combustible Gas Leak Detector

 

 

 

Action item: If you suspect or are plagued with frequent leaks, you may want to add a gas sniffer to your collection of safety equipment. They are easy to operate.

Physical signs of leaks from larger pipelines

You’re not likely to find yourself walking along the route of a larger underground pipeline, but a leak can show up anywhere. Here are some ground-level signs you might notice:

  • An unexpected hissing, roaring sound
  • Dirt or dust blowing up from the ground
  • Water bubbling or spraying
  • A spot of dead or brown vegetation when it’s green everywhere else
  • Flames coming from the ground

As a reminder, the gas in these larger pipes may have no odorants added.

What should we do when we discover a leak?

When you do identify a leak, you need to act quickly and decisively. Your goal is to avoid a build-up of gas around a leak or a build-up from gas “migrating” to a nearby area (such as a basement) – creating conditions for an explosion.

Your first response should be to get safely away from the area (hundreds of feet away!) and then CALL 911 or the gas line operator to GET THE GAS SHUT OFF.

As you move away, warn other people about the danger, too, and encourage them to move to safety.

Above all, DO NOT CREATE A SPARK by flipping a light switch, lighting a cigarette, starting an engine, turning on a battery-operated light, etc.

Action item: Discuss with your group the ordinary actions that someone might take that could start a gas fire. (In our community, starting up the car to “get away from the danger” is likely to be the most dangerous action possible. The catalytic converters of cars in a traffic jam can reach 1,600 degrees – plenty hot enough to start a fire!)

Is that all we can do?

Calling 911 from a safe distance is the first and most important step. Not creating a spark is the second.

Every member of your family and of your workforce should know and be able to follow this rule.

However, as an emergency response group, there is more you should know and consider when it comes to getting the gas shut off.

We will address some of these options in our next Advisory.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

Go any stories about gas line leaks or explosions? Feel free to share . . .! And don’t miss the first article in this series.

 

 

Are you sitting on top of a leaking gas line?

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

(Part One of a series aimed at neighborhood or workplace teams)

An often-overlooked threat

Pipeline brochures

Toss as junk mail???

The word “disaster” usually makes people think about natural disasters like tornado, flood, or earthquake.  You’ve probably already talked in your group about how to prepare for these specific events.

Unless we’re reminded by notices from our local utility — Image at left shows a couple of brochures I’ve received recently — we may never even think about the gas lines that run under or near our homes or places of business.

But . . .

A gas line break can be deadly.

When a leak erupts in an explosion or fire, it’s dramatic and dangerous. Surely you remember these three big ones:

  • In 2010 an explosion in an underground gas main followed by a massive fire destroyed over 50 homes and killed 8 people in a mostly residential neighborhood in San Bruno, California. Alleged Cause: stressed system with inadequate maintenance.
  • In March 2015, two people were killed and four injured when a gas explosion in a Brooklyn, New York restaurant reduced the building to rubble and damaged neighboring businesses. Cause: leak from illegal pipe siphoning gas from restaurant to apartments above.
  • In October of 2015, the Aliso Canyon gas leak was discovered north of Los Angeles. The leak was from a well within an underground storage facility – the second-largest gas storage facility of its kind in the United States. Over 97,000 tons of methane escaped in the 5 months before the well was capped; no one was killed but hundreds of people were displaced complaining of headaches, nausea and nosebleeds. Lawsuits continue. Cause: failure of equipment at 60-year-old facility.

Have you or your group asked:

Where are the lines around you?

Finding out where the gas lines run in your neighborhood will take some effort.

In the years that we’ve been studying our own community we have run up against resistance from a number of sources. As can be expected, cities and gas line operators are concerned about sabotage and/or terrorist activities so they protect the details of their systems.

However, a good emergency response group wants to understand its community’s risks, and so perseveres . . .!

Three places to start your research.

1-The National Pipeline Mapping System (NPMS) is an online map provided by the Department of Transportation. As a member of the public you can search by your State and COUNTY to get an idea of where gas transmission and hazardous gas pipelines are located.

I say “get an idea” because the public viewer is good only to +/- 500 ft.  (If you are actually going to dig, then you need to contact your local pipeline operator – or call 811 – to find out exactly where the pipes are.)

Here’s the link to the map (“Public Map Viewer”):  https://www.npms.phmsa.dot.gov/Default.aspx

2-Your local gas company

Here in California we have two of the largest public utilities in the country, and our local utility provides a map showing transmission and distribution lines. Once again, the authors of the map stress that the maps are accurate only to +/- 500 ft. Still, we can easily identify the “hazardous liquid” line running along the railroad tracks very near our home.

My research on other utility companies shows that there is no consistency. Many of the websites simply refer readers to the National Pipeline Mapping System.

3-Your local pipeline operator

The pipeline operator is not necessarily the same as the utility.

Keep your eye open for pipeline signs. They are not required, nor are they necessarily placed in the same way every time. What they seem to have in common is the gold color.

The round warning sign will tell you who the pipeline operator is. (You’ll see a round sign on the brochure in the image above, too.) Write down the name and emergency phone number. You may be able to get further information about that particular pipeline and what it carries from the operator.

Kinder/Morgan is the largest pipeline operator in the country, transporting nearly 40% of all piped natural gas, refined petroleum products, crude oil, carbon dioxide (CO2) and more. I found this map at their website. It shows their biggest pipes.

Kinder/Morgan PipelinesThe point of all this is that with some digging (bad joke!) you can discover a lot about where pipelines are located in your community.

How we got information about our own community.

This Advisory is meant to give you an idea of where to start. Different members of our neighborhood emergency response group took on different tasks in researching our gas pipelines.

  • I tracked down online maps like the ones shown in this Advisory.
  • One member hiked along the railroad tracks and photographed a construction project showing the size and exact location of gas lines.
  • One member went to city hall to get the original construction drawings for our community. These drawings showed not only the location but also the size of the various pipes in the network, plus shut-off valves.
  • As a group we queried the management of our community regarding make-up and maintenance of our local system.
  • Our group invited the fire department, the police department and our local utility to special meetings on gas safety. (You will not be surprised to learn that they don’t always agree on where the lines are, what information to share or how to respond in an emergency!)

OK, so we know where the pipelines are and what they are carrying.

Now, how to prevent an explosion or fire?

Gas is leaking from all these systems all the time! Most of the time the gas that escapes isn’t even noticed (except by the atmosphere, of course, since methane – the main component of natural gas – is 30 times more potent as a heat trapping gas than CO2.)

But any time there’s a leak, there’s a potential for explosion or fire.

In our next Advisory we’ll share what we have learned about recognizing a leak when you see, hear or smell one, and what to do when you find one.

Stay tuned for Part Two.

Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

 

Confident About the Security of Your Passwords?

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

Combination LockThere is no such thing as complete security. All precautions and security devices are nothing more than time delays. You are not immune from hackers or malicious software bugs, identity thieves or unscrupulous “ransom ware” extortionists.

You can, however make yourself and your business a harder target and significantly reduce the likelihood that you will be a victim.

The first line of defense is usually the password.

At last count, I have close to 100 passwords I have to retain and use periodically, some more frequently than others and some more complex than others. Virginia has an equal portfolio with only a dozen or so overlapping with mine. That’s too many unique and nonsensical combinations of numbers and characters to rely on memory alone.

We understand all too well how unlikely that you will approach your computer and on-line security with enthusiasm.

It’s just human nature to look for shortcuts.

I accept this and, in fact, I have some institutional experience that I’ll share with you that may help motivate you to reexamine how you approach this important subject. It’s not a long story, but it’s one I think you’ll find both entertaining and enlightening.

A true and embarrassing story of security shortcuts.

Some years ago, I was serving our country with the US Army as a Special Agent for Counterintelligence. I assure you that, while there were exciting times and even dangerous assignments, there were many more tasks that some (me included) would consider mundane and tedious. Among the latter was the responsibility of conducting periodic inspections of Army units in their handling, storing and protecting of classified information.

(And, yes, this required that we put on our expressionless “face” and make sure we came across as serious “spooks.”)

One thing we did that relieved the tediousness of these inspections was to ask early in the process to see how documents were stored and who was in charge of their security to “make sure” they had the proper level of clearance.

Storage was typically in a bank of four-door file cabinets with a rod inserted through the handles, secured with an impressive Sargent-Greenleaf combination padlock at the top.

Then, with the handful of personnel (including the Unit Commander, officers and non-coms in the “audience”) we would proceed to begin attempting to open the padlocks by turning the dials without anyone providing us with the actual combination/s.

Imagine, if you can, the looks of surprise and embarrassment on the faces of the soldiers as, one-by-one, we deftly opened most – and sometimes all – of the locks on the file cabinets.

“How in the hell did you do that?!?” was the typical reaction.

Actually, it was quite simple. Before the actual inspection, we examined the personnel records of the people in charge. We jotted down birthdays, wedding dates, serial numbers, etc. With few exceptions, we would find that at least half of the locks could be opened by treating these dates as combinations because they were an easy way for the people to remember the sequence of numbers.

In some of the more dramatic encounters where we opened ALL of the locks, it was usually where the same sequence of numbers was used on all the locks.

The point of this story is to illustrate that the convenient ways you create passwords is typical. Most “crackers,” if not “hackers,” will have search scripts that can readily break these normal code patterns.

Avoid normal code patterns!

There are a number of ways to pick passwords that will foil eager agents, friendly or not so friendly.  Here are three:

  1. Use a password generator. Typically, these programs will create totally random combinations of capital and lower case letters, numerals and symbols, often as long as 16 digits.
  2. Save these passwords so you can retrieve them, since you won’t be able to remember them. Password manager programs include Keeper, RoboForm and LastPass.
  3. Not happy with having all your passwords stored on your desktop? You can write them down on paper and store or seal it well away from prying eyes.

If these ideas seem too few, or too paltry, we recommend you click on Consumer Reports: 66 Ways to Protect your Privacy Right Now. In 14 pages it discusses passwords but also covers email, devices, privacy, software updates, two-factor authentication, PINs, travel, encryption, settings, wifi, pfishing, and ransomware!

Joe Krueger
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. Let us know which of these 66 suggestions you already follow, and which ones you decide to implement.

 

What’s YOUR Cyber Security Threat Level?

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

Cyber SecurityAccording to Pablo Passeri at Hackmageddon.com, a site that compiles monthly stats on cyber activity, the chances of your website or network being attacked are growing exponentially. And the goal of over 80% of those attacks? Criminal activity.

Most of the attacks – somewhere around 25-30% — are against industry. Anywhere from 7-22% of the attacks are against government. Attacks against individuals represent about 12% of the total. (These Hackmageddon figures are from the second half of 2016.)

Is it possible to protect 100% against hacking?

No. Even the experts say that their programs or systems are never 100% secure.

After all, with 30,817 attacks happening every minute (according to Wordfence.com), how could anyone possibly keep up!? Did you just skim over that last figure? It is so amazing, let me repeat it: 30,817 attacks per minute! Makes you want to DO something, right?!

There are simple steps you can take, but . . .

As a home business owner, and builder of several WordPress sites, here’s some of what I have learned about so-called simple steps to protect your financial and intellectual property.

1-Cyber protection isn’t free.

The first layers of security don’t cost much except time. They involve simple things like using good passwords and adjusting the built-in security levels on your software.

Amazing but true, some 40% of consumers use the same password for multiple devices, and nearly half the home users use the default passwords that come with their routers!

2-Cyber security is added in layers to your networkand each layer has its own cost.

After the initial adjustments, you can add a layer of “free” antivirus or malware protection for your system, like Avast or AVG. These programs are easy enough to install on your desktop; the free programs to protect your WordPress websites take a bit more time to customize.

Soon you’ll recognize the limitations of free, though, and will want to purchase and install security programs appropriate for the value of the work you do online.

A home computer network, for example, can be strengthened by software like Kaspersky and McAfee. Your websites can use the protection offered by an upgrade to the professional versions of iThemes and Wordfence.

Nearly all these security programs come as “security suites,” with ever more levels of protection. Naturally, the more layers or levels, the greater the cost, if only in time to manage them.

3-Cyber protection goes out of date the minute you install it.

As mentioned above, new hacking attacks occur daily, with new “weapons” being developed regularly. For example, Symantec reports that a new zeroday exploit emerges on a weekly basis. (A zero-day attack takes advantage of a security vulnerability on the same day it becomes known – often, on the day the program is introduced – and before the developer has time to create a patch for it.)

Security software does its best to track and protect against the deluge of worms, viruses and vulnerabilities. I have found that the free versions do work, but are often not automatically kept up to date.

In any case, updating operating systems, programs and security software takes time and diligence.

Lower your threat level with cyber security resources

All the products mentioned above in this Advisory are ones that I am familiar with, and I recommend you consider them as you examine your security situation. (I have no affiliation with any of them.)

If you’re starting at the home network “set-up” level . . .

then you may want more details. Here’s a resource that comes from Amazon (where we DO have an affiliate relationship) that offers step by step guidance. Click on the image or the link to go directly to Amazon for full details.

Cybersecurity for Everyone: Securing your home or small business network

What’s attractive about this book is that it is SIMPLE. Only 125 or so pages, no dissertation about global trends, just down to earth recommendations for how to harden your set-up – layer by layer.  You can get a kindle version, or the hard copy. (I always prefer hard-copy because I like to add flags and underlining.)

 

 

If you own or work in a small business . . .

your IT expertise may be limited or sporadic. Even if you think your network is working well, take a look at this new quiz, published by Emergency Plan Guide.

Cyber QuizIt’s only 10 questions, but they will quickly give you a sense of how well your business is set up to protect against cyber threats, and make it easy to plug gaps you may find.

Remember, internal threats (i.e., employee action or inaction) account for 80% of security problems in business!

Click here to request your FREE copy of the Cyber Security Quiz.

 

Disclaimer: At Emergency Plan Guide, we are not security experts, and the material here and in our Cyber Quiz is meant for information only. It may not be complete, and does not constitute professional security advice.

But if you’re tempted to ignore it, you are raising your own threat level!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. What security stories do you have to share? Let us know in the comments. EVERYbody will benefit.

 

 

Better Home and Office Security

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

“Who’s that at the door?”

Who is at the front doorIf you hear someone knocking, can you tell who it is without opening the door?

As the days get shorter, more and more of us — business people, parents of busy children, everybody, in fact — find ourselves out and about in the dark. And while crimes can happen at any time, being in the dark certainly gives us less chance to see trouble coming.

I am all for simple and effective security solutions. Here are a couple of improvements we can all consider.

Better Perimeter Security at the Office

If you are alone in the lighted front office, and it’s dark outside, you may wish you had an extra layer of security around yourself.

(Now we’ve written before to business owners about the importance of securing entrances to the business. Upgrading your entire perimeter with mechanical or electronic security devices – fencing, gates, lighting, etc. – would be costly and time-consuming. Of course, it may be worth it to strengthen your insurance coverage and to avoid legal threats. If you’re interested, here’s a link to that earlier Advisory : http://emergencyplanguide.org/security-at-the-front-door/.)

But getting back to the convenience and safety of the person alone in the office . . . here is one easy upgrade worth considering.

Add a perimeter alert system.

What is it? It’s a wireless motion detector that sends an alert when, for example,

  • a delivery truck arrives at the freight entrance
  • a car comes through the front gate
  • a person appears at the back door.

The model below looks perfectly adequate and is not too expensive. A brief description is below the image — click on it, or on the link, to get all the details at Amazon. CAUTION: As always, compare prices carefully at Amazon! Prices vary considerably, since vendors set the price they think they can get. And sometimes, they’re looking for a quick sale, and you can benefit!

Wireless Driveway or Entry Announcer

This model has two parts. The motion detector — about the size of a baseball — attaches to a building or wall, where its sensitivity and visual field can be adjusted in a variety of ways to suit the location and your needs. It can send a signal for up to 2,000 ft. to the receiver, generating different tones to distinguish between the different alerts.

The receiver plugs into the wall; the detector operates off a 9 volt battery.

Naturally, you’d have to buy one sensor for each entrance you want to protect.

Would something like this make sense to the person alone at the front desk or in a back office at your workplace?

Better Perimeter Security at Home

Lately we’ve seen more and more internet-driven devices that offer home comfort, and now more home security.

Various companies offer “home security programs” that consist of multiple door and window locks, cameras and a console that connects to a remote monitoring office. You can set the alarm system to work while you’re away, or set it at a lesser level so it’s on at night when you’re asleep. In an alarm is tripped, the monitoring company or the police are called. Typically, these systems require professional installation and have a monthly charge (and a contract).

Again, for this Advisory I was looking for something simpler and less expensive.

Something focused on the front door at your house. 

  • If someone knocks at your front door, do your children automatically run to open it?
  • Do you have to peer through the curtain or a window to see if you can recognize who is there before you open the door?
  • What happens if someone knocks in the middle of the night?

Do these questions make you wince?

If so, you may want to consider installing a video door bell.

You’ve seen the ads. The scary-looking guy comes to the door with a questionable story. Without having to open the door, the mother see who he is, tells him she’s not interested and sends him away.

I took the time to look into these devices. Here’s some of what I learned.

First, there are at least a half dozen on the market. All have the same basic characteristics:

  1. A video camera films your entrance.
  2. The camera is triggered by a motion sensor or a person pressing the doorbell.
  3. The camera connects to your home wi-fi system.
  4. A downloadable app allows you to view the video and also to speak with the visitor via your smartphone or tablet.
  5. You can save and store the video for later viewing.

As you can imagine, different products have variations on these features. So, when you’re shopping, compare with the help of these questions.

  1. Consider the video quality you want or need. And how big is the image? What’s the resolution? The best video camera tends to be the most expensive, of course.
  2. What triggers the camera? Someone actually pressing the doorbell? Or simply approaching the door? From how far away?
  3. How much flexibility do you have in setting up the motion sensor? Range, multiple ranges, sensitivity, etc.
  4. What about its source of power? Is it hardwired through your regular doorbell, or battery operated? Do you have a choice?
  5. How well does the system operate at night or in other low light conditions?
  6. How is the video footage stored? How long? What do you have to pay for storage?

And a couple other things to consider to protect your system from being hacked.

  1. Can you set your own password?
  2. How will the security updates be provided by the manufacturer?
  3. Can you disable remote viewing (and just use your system while at home)?

With all this information in mind, and after reviewing the top doorbell video products, here’s the one that seems to be the best seller. I’d start by looking at it.

Ring Video Doorbell Pro

This model is at the upper end of the price range. It has to be hardwired. Since it looks like a regular doorbell, it doesn’t announce itself as would a mounted security camera. Oh, and it comes in four different colors.

Once again, look carefully at all the models, and at all the prices before you buy. Maybe it could be an early Christmas present?!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. I’ve written before about outdoor lighting as a security device. When the light outside my bedroom window foes on at 4 am, I am pleased to know it’s working, and to know I can look out and see just what triggered it. That peace of mind is worth a lot — and that’s what I’m trying to achieve with the security recommendations in this Advisory!

 

 

Gift That Will Save a Life

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

Vial or File of Life – a Great Gift Idea for Family or Employees

We are constantly looking for ways to engage our communities in “preparedness thinking.” It’s not always easy. For some reason, many people prefer to fall back on “It won’t happen to US!” as the reason they don’t do any planning.

However, everyone has seen an ambulance pull up to a home or business, lights blazing. Everyone stops for at least a moment to wonder what is happening inside.

We can use this fact to raise awareness in our neighborhoods or workplaces. Here’s a GIFT that you can arrange for that people will value – and that could make a difference between life and death.

The Gift: The Vial of Life

At a recent meeting with the Fire Department we were reminded that when First Responders are called to an emergency in a home, they automatically look for the victim’s VIAL OF LIFE.

Vial of LifeWhat is the Vial of Life?

The Vial is really simply a container that holds essential medical information for the people in the house – information that First Responders will want to know if they have to give emergency treatment.

Originally, the info was put into an actual vial (like a medicine prescription bottle) but these days, the preferred container is a simple zip lock Baggie. You can see the plastic baggie in the image (blue stripe).

What goes into the Vial of Life Baggie?

The Baggie holds a filled-out Medical Information Form. It’s the form in the picture, with places for info such as:

  • Name of person in trouble
  • Name of Doctor
  • Medical conditions
  • Current medicines/prescriptions
  • Allergies
  • Contact information for family

Where do I put the Vial of Life Baggie?

Identify the Baggie by placing a decal with a red cross on the outside. Fold the Medical Information Form and place it inside.

Then fasten the baggie to the refrigerator door with tape or a magnet.

(Naturally, you’ll want to keep the Medical Information Form updated – that’s why it’s best to use a zip lock style baggie so you can take papers out and replace them.)

How does the Fire Department know I have this information on my refrigerator?

Depending on the layout of your home, place the second decal with a red cross on the front window or door to your house. This will let the Fire Department know you have a Vial of Life Baggie on the refrigerator.

Even without the second sticker, they will likely automatically look there for medical information.

Anything else I need to know?

Depending on your circumstances, you may want to put other information into the Baggie. For example . . .

  • If you have appointed someone else to make medical decisions for you in an emergency (common for senior citizens), you may want to include that info along with directions to where the full document can be found.
  • Your Advance Health Care Directive, which tells what emergency life-sustaining treatment you want, can also be included. (That form is available online and must be witnessed by your doctor.)
  • Finally, if you have specific end of life wishes, such as the desire to donate your body, you may want to include that info, too.

These documents are important.

Without the Vial of Life information, emergency personnel will follow their STANDARD PROCEDURE – which may NOT be what you want or can even survive.

How to Use the Gift with Your Group

If you want people to participate, you have to make it easy for them.

The “easiest” is to create Vial of Life kits, already assembled, and pass them out to all the members of your group. Each member of the family needs one!

You can go to http://www.vialoflife.com to get the masters for everything you need.

Assemble into individual kits:

  • Instruction sheet
  • Baggie
  • 2 Decals (print your own using color printer onto white labels), one for the Baggie and one for the door
  • Medical Information Form

If you prefer, turn this into a group activity. Provide sheets of decals, piles of forms and instructions and the baggies and have group members set up an assembly line to separate and assemble the kits.  Next step is to distribute kits to neighbors, family members, etc. (You could add a pen as an extra incentive to get the form filled out!)

We distributed Vial of Life kits to our community about three years ago. Many of our neighbors, who don’t participate in any of our neighborhood emergency response team activities, still have their Baggies and point proudly to them.

The Vial of Life has been a successful and inexpensive awareness builder for our team. Add it to your own group’s agenda!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

If you are looking for other emergency response team ideas for group activities, please don’t overlook the book of CERT Meeting Ideas I put together earlier this year. You can get details here.

 

 

What Will You Take When You Evacuate?

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

We watched the movie “Sully” last week. Talk about emergency response!

Sully tells the story of the emergency landing of a commercial airliner on the Hudson River in New York in 2009. Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger brought the plane down on the water after engines were lost when the plane hit a flock of geese.

Two great moments from the film.

The day after the movie we used it at our neighborhood meeting to highlight crisp and clear emergency radio communications.

Remember when Sully was asked if he wanted to attempt a landing at Teterboro (NJ), and we all knew that it was just too far given how low they were, how they were losing altitude, how the motors wouldn’t re-start, etc.?

Sully responded to the complicated situation and to the question with just one word: “Unable.”

The movie had another wonderful moment that inspired me to write today. At the last minute, after Sully had checked the entire sinking plane twice to be sure no passengers were left, he made his way back up to the cockpit. He grabbed a clipboard, then turned and jumped out of the plane.

I don’t know what that clipboard had on it.

But it was obviously important. And since everything he and co-pilot Stiles had done so far was “by the book,” grabbing that clipboard was obviously on his list.

And thus today’s Advisory.

If YOU have to evacuate your office or workplace, what would YOU take with you?

Do you have a list? Below is one you can start with. I say “start with,” because obviously every business setting is slightly different.

But every business, no matter how big or small, has certain legal obligations to its employees.

And when the business needs to restart after the evacuation, in the same location or in a different one, it will need certain vital information. Your list needs to have your company’s vital info on it.

What to take in an emergency evacuation

If you would like a full-size copy of the list, click here.

Action Item: Build a customized list.

Again, I recommend that you use this list only as a start. Take the time at your business to build a customized list. Some thoughts:

  • Keep it to one page! Use big print, simple language and the words you use in YOUR business.
  • You may want one list for employees and a different list for management.
  • Be sure employees keep their list handy/visible at all times.
  • You may want to assign certain employees as monitors to be sure certain areas of the office or workplace get evacuated.
  • You may also want to add to certain lists instructions about systems or machinery that need to be SHUT DOWN in the case of an evacuation.

We all use lists for everyday activities. But they work particularly well in the case of an emergency, when people can be rattled and in a hurry. Put some time into building your “What to take” list for your business, and you’ll feel and be safer.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. The list, and this Advisory, assume you have a more comprehensive Business Continuity of Business Continuation Plan. If you haven’t really started to build one yet, sign up for our Advisories, because we’ll soon be announcing the 2917 version of our Guide to a Simple Business Continuation Plan.

 

Are Your Employee Communications a Disaster Waiting to Happen?

Thursday, August 4th, 2016

Many companies are being forced to set up or beef up their emergency employee communications plans. Those that don’t may be courting liability.

Being sued for no disaster plan

Being sued . . .

Read on.

In today’s news, we learn from a simple press release that “The Boston Globe is making customized comprehensive safety guidelines available to all employees via a mobile app.” (That’s my emphasis.)

What does this have to do with YOUR company?

Start with these questions:

  • What has your company done about emergency response and emergency communications? Does it have a plan?
  • Is your company keeping up with what others are doing?
  • Is it meeting its legal responsibilities?

 

Managing emergency communications is an ongoing challenge.

 

1 – You face threats today that may never have been threats in the past.

Again, recent news stories tell of oil train explosions, once-in-a-lifetime flooding, live shooter events and cyberattacks that can cripple entire enterprises.

Is your workplace communications system set up to respond to “new” disasters as well as the usual ones? When did you last do a “risk analysis?”

2 – New technology means the world may hear about your emergency before your front office does.

What’s your procedure for making sure employees get instructions and the public – including suppliers and customers – gets factual information that will staunch rumors?

As Paul Barton, a business communications specialist says, “Rumours are created for a specific reason: they fill in the information void. If an organization does not tell staff what is going on, they will make up their own story.”

And today, that “story” will be out via YouTube and Twitter before the smoke has a chance to clear!

In the past, companies usually assigned one person to be the spokesperson in an emergency. Today, every employee can instantly reach a huge audience. You can’t stop that, but you can train employees in how to communicate.

3 – Employee turnover means your “communications plan” must be continually updated and employees must be regularly trained or they won’t be able to use it.

Not only does your workforce change, but the company premises themselves change. You may change your phone system, switch to a different internet provider or IT set-up, add a new website or a new office, invest in mobile devices for the whole staff, etc.

All these give the business and employees new communications options that must be considered in the emergency communications plan.

4 – Don’t overlook the families.

You may expect your employees to be ready to step up to protect the business and pitch in to get it back on its feet in an emergency.

Guess what. You may be wrong.

Over and over again in disasters, employees – even First Responders! – have abandoned their posts because they were desperate to find out if their families were safe.

If you can reassure employees about their families, your business continuity plan has a much better chance of working.

What this means is your emergency communications plan has to put family communications right up at the top. It must ask and help answer questions like:

  • How will the company communicate with employee family members regarding the status of the business and the employee?
  • What plan does the family have to get in touch with each other in an emergency?
  • Does the family have an out-of-state family contact person?
  • Has the family designated a place to go if they get separated and/or they can’t get back to their home?

 

5 – What responsibility does the company really have?

The “Prudent Man Rule” (now probably referred to as the “Prudent Person’s Rule”) has been around in the financial world for nearly 200 years. It says that someone responsible for another’s interests should exercise the same care, skill and judgment that other “prudent men” in that position would exercise.

When articles like the one about The Boston Globe appear in the daily news, you must ask yourself,

“If others are setting up new ways of communicating with employees during emergencies, could we be found deficient or even negligent if we haven’t updated our own plans?”

Here at Emergency Plan Guide we’re not offering legal advice. But we do know that businesses and particularly owners get sued. We believe they can improve their chances of coming through the legal system safely by demonstrating that their decisions with regards to emergency response planning are consistent with good practice.

Two more resources.

Action Item:  If your company’s emergency response plan needs updating, take a look at these for inspiration.

This article reviews the different groups that may sue you after a disaster, and suggests three steps you can take immediately to protect yourself from legal fallout.

If you haven’t thought about physical security, this article will list some “prudent steps” that other companies are taking in this regard.

Once again, this isn’t legal advice, but I hope it falls into the category of “good business” advice.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

Don’t miss any of our free Advisories. They’re a quick read and come right into your email box. Sign up below.

 

 

Survival Vocab Quiz

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

Survival VocabularyOK, so you’re in good shape when it comes to preparedness.

But can you talk to people about preparedness using THEIR words?

Here are three quick quizzes for three different groups. See how you do!

Group One: Your Prepper Relatives

While you may not be a red-hot survivalist, you probably have a few in the family. Maintain your dignity by knowing these prepper acronyms:

  1. EDC – Every day carry – collection of essential, small items that the survivalist has at all times in a pocket or purse.
  2. ATV – All-terrain-vehicle – A three or four-wheeled “buggy” that can carry preppers to safety through the woods or over the hills, when roads are impassible or too dangerous.
  3. BOB – Bug-Out-Bag – What you need to have ready to grab and go and that will keep you alive for at least 72 hours. At a minimum it contains shelter, water, and food.
  4. OTG – Off the grid – Surviving without access to electricity, municipal water, grocery stores, etc. Usually, it means setting up alternative living arrangements in an isolated area where you won’t be bothered by people who haven’t prepared in advance.
  5. SHTF – Shit Hits The Fan – All your preparations are made so that you will survive when the SHTF.

Group Two: Your Emergency Response Team Volunteers

These folks are committed and concerned. You owe it to them to provide good leadership by knowing what you’re taking about.

  1. CERT – Community Emergency Response Team member – Someone who has taken the (free) 24 hour course designed by FEMA (see DHS, below), offered by a city or other local organization. CERT members are volunteers who have received training in basic disaster response skills and who agree to provide emergency care until professionals arrive, and then support those professionals as needed.
  2. DHS – Department of Homeland Security – DHS was established in 2002, combining 22 different federal departments and agencies into one cabinet-level agency that now has 240,000 employees. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is part of DHS.
  3. EMT – Emergency Medical Technicians — EMTs are trained to provide emergency medical care before a person arrives at a hospital. EMTs may be associated with an ambulance company or a fire department; they may have different levels of training depending on their state or employer.
  4. SOP – Standard Operating Procedure – “The way we do things.” If you don’t have an SOP for your team, then you can’t expect any given outcome.
  5. Triage — Triage is the first step in an emergency. It is the process for sorting injured people into groups based on their need for medical treatment. Triage, by definition means that as a volunteer you don’t stop to help the first injured person you see.

Group Three: Co-workers

People at work deserve a plan for emergencies. If you’re involved, here are formal and informal terms you should be using:

  1. OSHA – Occupational Safety and Health Administration – OSHA is part of the Department of Labor. For our purposes, it is important to realize that OSHA’s purpose is to “provide a workplace free from serious recognized hazards.” Generally, this does NOT require any sort of emergency preparedness plan.
  2. BC/DR Plan – Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery Plan — These terms are often used interchangeably but they both contain an approach to (1) preparing for emergencies, (2) taking action to limit damage before anything happens, (3) understanding how to get through the disaster when it does it, and then, (4) how to get back to BAU (see below).
  3. BIA – Business Impact Analysis – This is the first step to a Disaster Recovery plan. It’s a process that will identify and evaluate the potential effects of a disaster, accident or emergency on your critical business operations. The BIA will help set priorities for your planning.
  4. BAU – Business As Usual — After an emergency, BAU is what you want to get to. However, it’s possible that today in your workplace, if changes aren’t made right away, your current BAU will lead to a worse disaster than was necessary!
  5. SOW – Statement of Work — If your organization decides to hire a consultant to help in developing your BC or DR Plan, you’ll likely ask for, or actually provide yourself as part of the consulting contract, a statement of work that outlines exactly what is to be done.

Ok, had enough?! Here are a couple of suggestions to make this exercise valuable for a bigger audience.

  • Action Item #1: Consider printing out these definitions for your emergency response team members. Go over them out loud at a training meeting so everyone knows how they sound and can say them easily. Some of this will be new to some of your members, I can guarantee it!
  • Action Item #2: At work, share this list with co-workers or with your boss. If emergency preparedness and emergency planning are relatively new subjects, people will get a sense of confidence having been exposed to this vocab.

Let us know how you used the list!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. And one last acronym I just can’t resist putting in here: TEOTWAWKI:

If you’ve spent time on survival websites, you’ll know that this stands for The End Of The World As We Know It. TEOTWAWKI usually assumes a BIG disaster – total economic collapse, cosmic event, pandemic, etc. I don’t know how the acronym is pronounced, if it even can be pronounced!

P.P.S. More preparedness vocabulary for people who like this sort of thing:

 

 

 

 

 

Assessing Threats to Your Business

Thursday, June 16th, 2016

“What could possibly go wrong?”

Storm with lighteningWhen asked that question about their business . . .

Most people think first about natural disasters.

Here in California, everyone is concerned about earthquakes or (some years) El Niño. Along the coasts, popular threats are hurricanes and, occasionally, tsunamis. That leaves tornados and storms for the rest of the country.

Would you believe that initially, most people overlook the most common natural disaster?!

According to the experts, the most common natural disaster – accounting for about 30% of all disasters in the U.S. — is flood!

But let’s take a broader look at threats.

What about threats that are man-made?

This list will be a lot longer. Here are some more threats to business (or to any community), in no particular order:

  • Unplanned IT and communications outages
  • Cyber attack
  • Data breach or loss (accidental or deliberate from disgruntled employee; loss of mobile device)
  • Power outage
  • Water main break
  • Fire
  • Security breach (including theft)
  • Health emergency (chemical leak or spill)
  • Safety problem (accident, train wreck, explosion)
  • Terrorist act
  • Regulatory change
  • Lawsuit: personal injury, employment practice
  • Loss of key personnel
  • Civil unrest (might depend on your neighbors and/or neighborhood)
  • Supply chain interruption
  • and the list goes on!


STEP ONE. What threats does YOUR business face?

One of the first steps in preparing for emergencies in your business or community is to take a look at the threats you are facing. The easiest way is to gather together key people and simply brainstorm, writing down everything you can think of.

For example, your list could start by looking like this:

List of threats

STEP TWO. What’s the likelihood of the threat actually happening?

The next step in your analysis is to rank all the threats you’ve come up with as to their probability of taking place. An easy way to do that is simply give each threat a score from 1-5.

  1. = rare
  2. = unlikely
  3. = possible
  4. = probable
  5. = almost certain

Now, reorder your list, with the most probable threats at the top. For example . . .

Probablethreats

STEP THREE. What would be the impact of the threat?

There’s a second side to every threat, too. That’s the impact that it would have on your business. For example, some common threats (for example, a break in a water line) might be serious but would probably not threaten the health of the whole organization.

Other threats, like a direct hit from a tornado, might completely destroy the business.

So your threat analysis needs to consider impact.  Again, one way to help direct your preparedness efforts is to add a second score to your list of threats.

The impact score could also be 1 – 5, from lowest to highest impact. For example . . .

Threat probability

STEP FOUR. So which threats do we need to look at first?

By completing the list, you can get an idea of the priorities for your preparedness efforts. Here’s our sample, completed:

Create the total score by adding probability and impact.

Business threat

The higher the total score, the more attention you probably want to place on preparing for that event.

Caution: Danger of Threat Analysis Paralysis

Analyzing your threats can become complicated. In fact, in the wrong hands it can get WAY too complicated!

You don’t have to do it the way this report suggests.

But it IS important to get past that first quick assumption about natural disasters, and take a look at the other threats facing your business. The risks associated with the threats might be reduced by better procedures, better insurance coverage, or simply more awareness.

Completing even a simplified risk analysis will give you a more realistic picture of what could happen and how to protect and prepare for it.

Joe and Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. If you are serious about analyzing the risks to your business, consider purchasing this book. It has a significant security focus, but defines all types of threats and lays out a process to help you make decisions regarding mitigation.  Threat Assessment and Risk Analysis: An Applied Approach. The book is available in hardcover or soft at Amazon, where we’re affiliates, as you know.

 

 

 

 

 

Stay Safe in Hotels

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

Summer may find you traveling to new places, and staying in new hotels.

Hotels have their own risks

. . . worth noting and being aware of.

Smoke in hotelFire:

High-rise hotels (or any high-rise building, for that matter) are vulnerable to fire. The causes? malfunctions in electrical equipment, carelessness, smoking (in bedrooms), temporary decorations for festivities, use of combustible cleaning materials, and, of course, arson and sabotage.

In a hotel, fire danger is increased because guests, people attending conferences, patrons at restaurants and bars, etc. probably don’t know the layout of the property and have no idea about security or emergency policies.

Terrorism:

Particularly in developing countries, hotels have become the popular target for terrorists. There are a number of reasons why.

  • Over the past couple of decades, embassies and military buildings have been “hardened” against attack.
  • Hotels remain areas where many people come and go, where entrance to the building is seldom restricted, and where politicians and other high-profile individuals are likely to be found.
  • Even when security is improved, by definition a hotel is a “soft target.”

If you are traveling and can make a choice about which hotel to stay in and where in the hotel to sleep or conduct your business, you may wish to consider these recommendations, culled from a variety of sources including the Stratfor Weekly, National Fire Protection Association, and Siemens Switzerland Ltd.

What to do to reduce the risks

Before you arrive

  1. Find out about hotel security. Is parking secured? Is the desk manned 24 hrs. a day?
  2. Ask about smoke/fire alarms and sprinkler systems. There is no guarantee that they will work, but if they are absent altogether, you may wish to look for another hotel.
  3. Choose a room between the 3rd and 5th floor, where terrorists can’t easily reach you from the street and fire department ladders can reach if you need to evacuate.
  4. Choose a room away from the street to avoid an explosion or violence at the entrance, which is where most terrorist activity occurs.
  5. On your floor, confirm the location of fire extinguishers. Have they been certified?
  6. Check on emergency stairs, exits and signage. Confirm that there are no items stored in stairwells.
  7. Keep emergency items next to your bed: shoes, a flashlight, and a smoke hood if you carry one. See below for more details.

If there is a fire in the hotel

  1. Grab your smoke hood and be ready to put it on if you smell smoke.
  2. Escape from your room if you can safely.
  3. Stay low and use walls as a guide.
  4. Use stairs; do NOT use elevators.
  5. Do not enter a staircase or hallway if it is filled with smoke. Try to find another path.
  6. If you must, stay in your room. Protect against smoke by sealing the door with duct tape and/or wet towels; stay low to the floor.

If you suspect terrorist activity

  1. Escape from the hotel if you can.
  2. If you are trapped in your room, protect yourself. Lock the door. Use a door wedge. If you can do it quietly, move furniture in front of the door for further protection. Turn off the lights. Turn off the TV and silence your cell phone. Close the drapes to protect from explosions that might create broken glass, and stay away from the windows. YOUR GOAL IS TO MAKE THE ROOM APPEAR EMPTY so terrorists will go on to an easier target.
  3. If terrorists are evident, and you cannot escape and cannot hide, you must fight. Improvise weapons with whatever is at hand – a lamp, a piece of furniture, a hot iron, a full water bottle, a battery charger at the end of a cord or in a sock, etc. In this case, your SURVIVAL MINDSET IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WEAPONS. Fight, and don’t stop.

Emergency items for travelers

In this article we’ve mentioned just a few items that are recommended for travel safety. We haven’t used all of them ourselves, but it they make sense to you, check them out.

Door wedge

You may have a couple of these in the house already! Simple, small, easy to pack. Very effective at keeping any door closed — and you can get a couple of them for less than $10. Here’s an example from Amazon:

Shepherd Hardware 9132 Rubber Door Wedges, Brown, 2-Pack

If you’re traveling by car, you can also consider carrying a sliding glass door security bar. We always have one for peace of mind when we stay in hotels with balconies. Cost is right around $20. Here’s a link to a good one (no photo – I figured you know what a bar looks like!):

Master Lock 265DCCSEN Dual-Function Security Bar

 

Smoke hood

Rather like a gas mask, a smoke hood goes over your head and seals tightly to protect you from inhaling smoke. A filter allows you to breathe. Smoke hoods cost anywhere from $25 to $150 or even twice that, so you’ll want to shop carefully.

The filters in smoke hoods screen out particulate matter, fumes and gases. Unfortunately, the most deadly gas, carbon monoxide, can’t be filtered out. But carbon monoxide can be converted to carbon dioxide. Look for this feature in the smoke hoods you’re considering.

Other features to consider: How big is the hood — will it go over eyeglasses? Will it fit a small child? How good is visibility? Can others see you in the smoke? How long will protection last?

Here are three different models from Amazon, for comparison. Look at the photos (provided by the sellers) to answer some of the questions above. Click on the links to go directly to the detailed product page.

1 – FIREMASK

FIREMASK Emergency Escape Hood Oxygen Mask Smoke Mask Gas Mask Respirator for Industrial and Urban Survival – Protects for 60 Min Against Fire, Gas, & Smoke Inhalation . Great for Home, Office, Truck, High Rise Buildings. Get Peace of Mind 

Firemask

Firemask claims 60 minutes effectiveness. Of course, it is one-time use, replaced if you need to use it. Its Polycarbonate visor looks to provide good visibility.

Easy to put on, fits children as young as 3. Amazon low cost (as of today), $28.95.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 – SAFESCAPE

Safescape ASE60A Fire Escape Smoke Hood Respirator Hard Case with Glow in the Dark Side Straps and Labels

safescape

From the photos and reviews, it looks as though the hood on the Safescape is bigger and perhaps more heat resistant than other hoods. The hard case can be mounted in a strategic place, and the glow in the dark strips would make it easy to find.  Any hard case might make packing a smoke hood more difficult.

60 Minutes of breathable filtered air. Easy to put on without special instruction.

Five year shelf life – Free Replacement if used in documented emergency.

Amazon price today: $69.95. Note that there is also a less expensive Safescape 30-minute hood.

 

3 – iEVAC

iEvac® the only American Certified Smoke/Fire Hood

ievac

This is most expensive and heaviest of the three hoods here. Notice the reflective tape top and sides, which will stand out in smoke and darkness.

This hood is the only “certified” hood. It gets top reviews and carries some strong endorsements:

  • Designated as an Anti-terrorism technology by the US Department of Homeland Security Safety Act
  • Tested by the US Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, Edgewood Chemical Biological Center
  • Currently being used by numerous Federal, State and local Government Agencies including every branch of the Military

The iEvac costs $149.95 at Amazon (and more in other places).

 

 

Of course, you can’t avoid every potential danger when you’re traveling. But some simple, common sense preparations may make your trip a lot more comfortable and safer.

Virginia 
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

If you actually live full-time in a highrise building, you may want to take a much closer look at what would happen if a fire broke out. Here’s an Emergency Plan Guide Advisory with more ideas.

 

Lies Your Employer Is Telling You

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

Just a month ago we exposed some “lies” about FEMA coming to the rescue in an emergency.

Today it’s the turn of employers, and the lies they tell you and themselves.

The biggest lie?

“In an emergency, we’ll just work from home.”

Work From Home(Ha, ha! When you hear that, do you laugh along with me?)

It’s not that working from home is impossible. Many of us do it, some on a regular basis.

The ridiculous part is thinking that in a disaster you can save the business by working at home without having designed an emergency plan to do it.

Granted, every company is unique. But when it comes to operating by working at home, your company needs to have thought through and come up with answers to some essential questions.

Here are 7 of the issues you’ll want to consider beforehand.

1 – Who makes the decision? Who will decide that there is a disaster and that employees should stay home?

Not every disaster is as dramatic as a hurricane or earthquake. Something as simple as a construction bridge collapse or partial power outage might not make the emergency airwaves, but still could mean your business is shut down. Who makes the call? (And how does the word get out to every employee?)

2 – Who assigns roles? How will employees be notified about the disaster, who should be working from home that day, and who should be planning to take the day off?

And will it be with or without pay?

Not every employee may need or be able to work from home. But to counter concerns about what’s fair, employees need to know in advance what emergency policies are, how they will be activated – and how that will impact their particular job.

3 – What functions need to continue? A company that’s prepared may be able to limp along for some time before it experiences serious damage. Which functions are vital for that interim period?

You’ll only know the answer to this question if you plan ahead. That planning will identify jobs that can be performed by employees working at home and will determine what resources they need to perform them.

Your planning will also identify which jobs need to be able to be performed by more than just one person – i.e., where cross-training is called for.

4 – What resources do we need? Doing research, drafting a report or even responding to business emails or calls may be easy for an employee on the road or working at home.

Other jobs, however – such as customer service, accounting, project management, etc.— may be difficult if not impossible for an employee who doesn’t have full access to company files, the right software and hardware, appropriate communications lines and phones, and a stable internet connection with plenty of bandwidth.

Which employees would need these resources to be able to keep YOUR company afloat? Who will pay to have these resources in place, or put in place?

5 – What security will be required?

It’s relatively easy to control security within your organization. This can include restricting entrance to certain areas of the plant, restricting access to different areas within the company network, restricting what people can download and/or take home with them.

In an emergency, information may need to be accessed or manipulated at many different locations, all of them away from the office. Electronic files may need to be shared; paper files may end up being transported in private vehicles; laptops and tablets may be put to use in coffee shops or who knows where.

What level of security do you need to consider to safeguard your operations (and, perhaps, to meet legal requirements)?

6 – Will employees be accountable? During the regular workday, it’s pretty clear who is working and who is goofing off.

Employees working at home may need to track their own hours and progress, actively check in, and make the decision when to call for assistance or approvals. Understanding employees’ level of self-reliance will determine, in part, whether or not they belong on the “work-at-home emergency response team.”

7 – What about Plan C? While working from home may seem to be a reasonable Plan B, back-up to an anticipated power outage or short-lived storm, by definition a disaster causes “great damage or loss of life.” The “work from home” Plan B may not be adequate!

What if a number of your key employees have had to evacuate their entire families and are not at home at all? What if employees are at home, but power is out there just as it is at the downtown office? What if employees are safe at home but your entire office, and all the files the employees need to connect to, are still standing in 12 inches of floodwater?

Plan C can take different forms.

  • Your Plan C might start, for example, with your committing some key operations and/or data to “the cloud,” which would make them accessible from anywhere by those displaced key employees. I found this overview of how small businesses might use the cloud for disaster recovery, from Network World.
  • It might include a contractual arrangement with a disaster continuity company to replace or restore your flood-damaged equipment within 24 hours. Agility Recovery Solutions, a company we’ve followed and written about for several years, specializes in recovering four areas for small business: office space, power, communications, and computers. (Check out their videos.)
  • Or Plan C might even require a service that is prepared to set up – or continually maintain – an off-site back-up office that mirrors your daily operation (a so-called “hot site”), where key employees could simply walk in and sit right down to work. You can get a good description of hot, warm and cold sites here.

As you may have gathered by now, Plan C could become costly! But . . .

If your Plan C keeps the business going, when otherwise it would collapse . . .

— well, then, you really must consider it.

 

This article is not meant to be a complete program for business continuity planning.

It’s goal is simple — to dispel the “myth” that working from home is an adequate back-up plan.

For most businesses, working from home will be a partial solution at best. Even then, it will require some serious pre-planning.

So don’t let your employer – and if that’s you, don’t let yourself! – be fooled by thinking, “We’ll just work from home.”

Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

As they say on TV, “Watch this space.”  We’ll be back with another “lie” very soon! (It you don’t want to miss it, sign up below to get all our Advisories!)

 

 

How Small Business Owners React to Questions about Emergency Preparedness

Thursday, March 24th, 2016

Who do you think you're kiddingLast week we attended a business expo: 1,000+ people talking, laughing, and sharing their business ideas. Energy and American ingenuity on display!

We figured these people wanted their business to succeed, so we offered a couple of quizzes to get a conversation started about Emergency Preparedness. As you can imagine, results were mixed.

  • Some people (10%) took one look at us, saw the word “Emergency,” and shouldered their way past. Not interested, or threatened.
  • A few (5%) grabbed the quiz and proceeded to show off how well they and their businesses were prepared. They were enthusiastic!
  • Most (85%) came out with a version of the same thing: “Oh, I know I should be doing something, but . . .” (They usually said this with a shrug and a weak smile.)

Do these reactions sound familiar?

They should. As we’ve reported before, more than 60% of small businesses have no plan for emergency preparedness or response. In this crowd of very small businesses – many being operated out of home offices – apparently things were even worse.

Familiar doesn’t mean good. The impact of an emergency on a business with no plan is just plain dreadful. Historically, in nearly half the cases,

  1. The business shuts down and never reopens.
  2. Employees lose their income.
  3. The owner loses his or her income and the entire investment.

Here’s our answer – and our commitment.

At Emergency Plan Guide we research and write about all aspects of preparedness, focusing on three main groups of people: families, neighborhoods and business.

Naturally, there is overlap. A family that is prepared can be an inspiration to neighbors. A neighborhood response group can attract resources to benefit many. A prepared business can stay afloat and support its families and the wider economy.

So, our Advisories and our articles and books strive to meet the needs of each of these groups. But . . .

We think the small business community is most often overlooked.

Resources for the small business seem to fall into two categories – free government websites and programs, and commercial business continuity services including insurance.

All of these have plenty of excellent information, in fact, page after page of it.

And there’s the problem. The typical small business owner is already overwhelmed!

So, here at Emergency Plan Guide . . .

We present basic business continuation information in small, easily digestible bites.

Emergency Preparedness PosterOne of our favorite business tools is a simple, one-page flyer that lists 7 things you can do at work to improve preparedness. The list could be used to develop a full-blown preparedness plan, or it could be used, just one question at a time, to start informal conversations around the lunch table or at a staff meeting.

However you want to use it at your business, feel free. You can get your copy of the flyer here and take a look at how you want to proceed.

Disclosure: Yes, we know this one-pager is awfully lean. We’ll take a look at each item in more detail in coming months. The main thing is for you and your business to get started!

Planning for emergencies will save lives and jobs. There’s no time for planning or training once a disaster strikes.

 

Virginia and Joe
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Small business owners sometimes confuse emergency preparedness with workplace safety as required by OSHA. Click to get our Advisory that gives more info on OSHA and its limitations.

 

East Coast Handles Blizzard.

Monday, January 25th, 2016

Were authorities crying “Wolf?”

Snow Plow, emergency preparednessTragically, there were deaths as a result of the weekend’s blizzard – mostly from car wrecks, some from heart attack. And the flooding in New Jersey apparently took some people by surprise.

The clean-up is just starting. According to the Wall Street Journal, it costs $1.8 million per inch for snow removal alone!

But by and large, it sounds as though millions of people (60 million under blizzard, winter storm or freezing rain warnings Saturday!) did a pretty good job of getting through. Here’s what it looked like from my desk, here in California.

What worked well?

  • The weather reports were accurate and timely. And they were updated. Maybe reporters learned something a year ago when they forecast the Mighty Blizzard of 2015. That one fizzled!We have all now learned that there are different weather models. The European model looks at the big, long-range picture. The National Weather Service uses its own, short-range models. Not one model is perfect, but taking input from each, and being willing to make a change as things develop, seems to have added credibility to this forecast.
  • Authorities took prompt action. In at least 11 states, Governors declared states of emergency. This helped position resources (over 2,200 members of the National Guard) before the snow actually hit. Schools closed in New York as of Thursday. City government offices closed as of Friday noon. Travel bans were declared – and enforced – up and down the whole Eastern Corridor.
  • Political leaders repeatedly got on T.V. to emphasize city actions and the need for citizen responsibility. Whatever the party, political leaders’ words and actions draw attention. NY Mayor De Blasio was warning people of the storm as early as Wednesday morning. By Saturday, Chris Christie had cut short his campaigning in New Hampshire to return to New Jersey because of the blizzard. People noticed.
  • Citizens got the message and were smart. On Thursday evening I got a call from my friend Teri in Maryland. She was laughing– weakly–as she reported how hard it had been to get home and that “There was absolutely no meat left in the grocery store!” People either had what they needed or got it by Thursday. Then they prepared to hunker down.

Did preparedness pay off?

Cities and politicians are pretty much required to promote preparedness. You and I promote preparedness because we believe in it as a lifestyle.

Nowhere, however, have we found a formula that shows just how much our investment is worth.

But the Boston Consulting Group’s 2015 study for Unicef and the World Food Programme (WFP) added more understanding to why to prepare.

Their study of 49 activities aimed at cutting costs and reducing response times during emergencies showed that an investment of $5.6 million is expected to deliver $12 million in savings.

To be clear, the study analyzed actions in the countries of Chad, Pakistan and Madagascar. I’m not sure what the ROI would be for actions taken in the U.S. – but it surely wouldn’t be worse!

If you want to read the whole report, here’s the link: https://www.bcgperspectives.com/content/articles/development-business-social-sector-big-payback-emergency-preparedness/

What next for Storm Jonas?

It will be interesting to watch for the follow-up reports on the East Coast Blizzard/Storm Jonas – on its costs and hopefully on the value of everything that went into getting ready for it.

I’ll let you know what I find out. In the meanwhile, if you are in the blizzard area, let us know what you experienced and how well you fared. For example, are you among the thousands without power right now? (Which means you are reading this on some portable battery-driven device!?)

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. As you know, we’re waiting here in California for the next storm to roll in from El Nino . We’ve had only one. Do you think OUR weather forecasters have cried wolf?

 

Power Outage At Work

Sunday, December 20th, 2015

Some updated statistics for small business.

No Business PlanYou’ve seen the stats here before. Check out updated numbers from a June 2015 Nationwide Insurance survey:

  • 75% of small business owners say they don’t have a disaster plan. (This is UP from the 72% we’ve quoted before!)
  • 38% don’t even think a disaster plan is important.
  • Unfortunately, a business without a plan has a poor chance of recovery after a disaster. FEMA reports that 43% of them will never reopen, and another 25% will close their doors after one year. That means that after a disaster, nearly three-quarters of businesses without a plan will be gone.

Operating without a plan leaves your customers in the cold, your employees without a job, and your investment down the tubes.

If you don’t already have a plan, what might spur you to action? Consider this . . .

Let’s take a look at just one risk that you are surely familiar with.

One company we follow is Agility Recovery. As its name suggests the company offers recovery solutions – four main ones (office space, power, communications, computer systems).

In its 25 years of business, Agility has responded to one type of emergency more than twice as often as any other —

Loss of power!

Further, according to Agility Recovery,

  • Nearly 70% of businesses will lose power sometime in the next 12 months.

So, where does your company stand on being ready to withstand a power outage?

“Well, I think we have a back-up generator on premises!”

That’s a start. Again, thanks to some resources offered by Agility Recovery, Popular Mechanics and The Home Depot, here are

Ten questions for your next conversation about power outages at work.

  1. Do employees have emergency kits with flashlights? Are the batteries fresh? Are the flashlights hand-crank?
  2. Do you have emergency radios so you can get the news and weather? Again, fresh batteries, hand-crank or solar?
  3. Are electronics protected by a power strip surge protector?
  4. Do employees know what should be turned off in a power outage, and what should be left on?
  5. Are desktop electronics connected to a functioning UPS device so they can be powered down in a controlled fashion?
  6. Do you have a back-up generator for essential equipment?
  7. Do you know what equipment is considered “essential” and are you confident the generator can both START and RUN that equipment? (It takes 3 to 5 times more power to start up a motor than to run it.)
  8. Have you trained on where to place the generator when it is needed?
  9. Do you have the appropriate electrical cords and plugs for your needs? How long do cables need to be?
  10. Do you have fuel for the generator? How long will it last, and what are the plans for getting more?

Get the rest of the questions and answers.

These ten questions are really just a start. Any business other than a home office needs more information in order to do a good job of managing a power outage.

If you want a copy of Agility Recovery’s two-page Power Outage Checklist – with many more questions regarding your electrical needs including those that only an electrician will be able to answer, plus how to keep your emergency equipment from being stolen – you can request one from

Chad O’Neil: chad.oneil@agilityrecovery.com

Chad has access to a lot of other great materials, too, including a number of case studies describing just how different companies in different industries dealt with their emergencies.

Power outages are on the horizon, it’s just a matter of when.

Good luck!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Special Terrorism Report, Part Two, now available.

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

Part Two of Joe’s Terrorism Series is now out. It focuses on workplace violence.

“How can we possibly anticipate an attack by a terrorist or by a co-worker who suddenly snaps?”

Workplace violence warning signsThe truth is, there are warning signs for nearly all these acts of violence. When we look back, we almost always find a trail of anti-social or illogical behavior.

In the past, only law enforcement and some human resources professionals received training in identifying  these warning signs.

Today, with incidents happening more frequently, it’s time for all of us to know more.

Here’s the link to the article:

  Part Two of the Special Report  

And here are links to earlier Advisories from Emergency Plan Guide, in case you missed them.

Plus an article on workplace security: Security at the Front Door

 

Be aware. Take action.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team
Joe and Virginia

 

Power Outage in the Workplace

Friday, September 4th, 2015

It’s Friday morning, you arrive at work and are greeted with . . .

“Guess what.! Power is out!”

Power Outage in the Workplace

Emergency, or Disaster?

If this happened at YOUR workplace, which of the following would apply?

  • Automatic gates frozen open = no security.
  • All interior lights out – halls, closets, bathrooms, stairwells – with the exception of emergency lighting.
  • Communications down entirely – no phones, no computers.
  • No operational bathrooms.
  • UPS systems pinging, pinging, pinging. (How long will they last?)
  • No power to the kitchen = no coffee, no microwave.
  • Time clocks and timers aren’t working.
  • A/C, air handlers off, same with pumps in the basement.

 

As staff members and employees pull in and start to crowd around the front office . . .

Questions ring out.

  • Who’s in charge?
  • Don’t we have a generator somewhere?
  • What about our neighbors, is their power out, too?
  • Has the outage been reported?
  • How long will it last?
  • Does management know?
  • Shouldn’t we turn stuff off so it doesn’t all go on when the power comes back? What was on?
  • What about the deliveries we’re expecting?
  • I have appointments today. Should I cancel them? Can we meet somewhere else?
  • Who’s in charge?

 

Enough! Enough!

As you can see immediately, a power outage at work can be very different from one at home. And the big difference is YOU NEED TO HAVE PREPARED IN ADVANCE to be able to respond!

Fortunately, there are some excellent resources to help out in this regard. One of the best: Agility Recovery Solutions. Started 25 years ago, now serving businesses of all sizes in 44 states, Agility’s  small business “ideal client” is a company with 15-20 employees. (Compare that to most Disaster Recovery companies that provide services only for very large firms — at hefty price tags.) The Agility website’s library is a treasure trove of videos and checklists for every business. The case histories of specific industries (banks, healthcare) are particularly valuable.

Agility has been on my radar for a couple of years now. I’ve attended their training webinars online and talked to several of the sales people, with very useful results.

Three Suggestions for Your Business

Today, I’d like to suggest three things with regards to power outages at work.

  1. If the questions at the beginning of the blog post hit any nerve at all, head over to Agility and grab their free Power and Generator Checklist. You’ll see a complete list of things to do BEFORE an outage, with specific questions to ask your electrician or electrical contractor. The checklist adds safety recommendations as well as steps to increase security during an outage.
  2. If you want to learn more about Agility’s service, contact Agility. In just a few minutes you can hear about their services and how they might work for your company. (Be ready with how many locations you have and what recovery arrangements you already have in place.)
  3. In any case, consider assigning someone from your company to attend the upcoming webinar series being offered by Agility. The webinars are in honor of National Preparedness Month (September, of course!) and will be held on Wednesdays starting next week. Topics: Communications, Power Outage, Prepare your Employees, If you do nothing else . . .Here’s the direct link for info, and to sign up: http://www.agilityrecovery.com/webinar-events/ .

In case you’re wondering if I have any particular affiliation with Agility Recovery, I don’t. As you know, I am constantly researching resources, and I simply feel very comfortable recommending them.

With 70% of businesses anticipated to lose power sometime in the next 12 months, this is an important topic for all of us at Emergency Plan Guide.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

 

 

Keeping Up With Breaking News

Thursday, August 13th, 2015

Does Your City or Local Police Department Have a Mass Alert System?

Last month we talked about the “Lone Wolf” terrorist and the random nature of such attacks. While there is little, if anything, that authorities can do to predict or prevent these attacks, some cities are instituting a Mass Alert Notification System . . . a message distribution system to get the word out immediately when something does happen.

Basic Level

Actually, most cities have a basic telephone notification system; the most popular one is called Reverse 911®. When an emergency happens or threatens, authorities can automatically send out a recorded phone message to all or some of the phone numbers found in the database within that geographic area. If the line is busy, the phone will redial several times in an attempt to leave its message. The important limitation to Reverse 911 is that it only goes to landlines.

If you do not have a landline, or are not home or at a work number when the call goes out,
you will miss the message.

Enhanced System

Opt-in for mass messaging service iAlert

How will they reach you?

Our city has enrolled in an enhanced mass messaging system, called “iAlert.” This is an opt-in program; you go online and sign up for the service and the message comes to you three ways, depending on which options you sign up for.

First, it comes by recorded telephone call to the primary or work telephone number you provide. (This can be a landline, a VOIP line, or a cell phone number.)

You will also receive an email to the email address you give, and finally, the message comes as an SMS text message to your smart  or mobile phone. The only cost is the SMS charge is for the standard data cost imposed by your cell phone carrier when you receive a text message.

IAlert messages can also be sent to hearing-impaired receiving devices.

 

Useful, Targeted Messages

On more than one occasion we have received notifications of missing persons, suspected active shooter situations and alerts to fires in progress. Our CERT team has also received activation alerts.

If your local authorities provide this service, you can likely sign up for it on the city’s website. If not, you may want to inquire at your local Police Department of their interest in providing the service in the future.

Joe Krueger
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Gated Community Keeps People Out

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015

Gated communityWhat about First Responders?

Gated communities are more popular than ever. People seem to agree that the gates are a symbol of security and exclusivity.

That’s all well and good until there’s an emergency and suddenly the gates become not a symbol but an actual barrier to entry for residents and First Responders.

Run a quick search online and you will find, like I did, some outrageous stories of people inside their gates, waiting and waiting for help while police or the fire department waits outside — powerless to get in.  In fact, you’ll find stories of people who died, waiting.

The problem of emergency access to your gated property may never have been discussed because no emergency has ever arisen. But if you live in a gated community,  have gated parking at your workplace, or know someone who does, part of your emergency preparation is to . . .

Get the answers to these 5 questions.

  1. Mechanism. How do First Responders open your gates? Is there some sort of lockbox requiring a physical key? An electronic card reader? A punch-in-the-code pad? A remote that requires batteries? A system that responds to light or sound (siren) frequencies?
  2. Updates. If you have a key-pad, who reports updates or changes in the code to the authorities? In two of the stories I read, the management company for the community had changed. The new company changed the code. Nobody reported the changes to the local dispatch.
  3. Keys. If you have a lock-box system with a unique key, who manages the keys to your community? Does each gated community in your area have a different key, requiring First Responders to have a huge key ring? What assurance do you have that the key has not been compromised or illegally duplicated?
  4. Knox Box. A common lock-box system is called the Knox Box. (Open the box to get to a switch that opens the gate or to a key to open a gate, a home, etc.) All boxes in a local area operate off the same key. If you have a Knox Box, how do First Responders keep track of their master key? Is it floating around somewhere in the cab of the fire engine?
  5. Power outage. And the most important question of all: What happens to your gates when the power goes out? Do your gates have a fail-safe override mechanism that allows a gate that isn’t working properly to be manually pushed open so that vehicles or people are neither locked in nor locked out?

Some years ago I lived in an apartment building in Northern California that had parking under the building. I drove in through a gate that raised up when I pressed my “clicker.” When the power went off, the gate remained down. It was way too heavy to lift by hand. If I had the key to the “pedestrian gate,” I could park outside the building and get in through a locked gate near the pool. Otherwise, I was stuck standing outside on the street.

Now I live in a gated community in Southern California. (Don’t worry, I’ve lived in other states too!) Several years ago we upgraded our unmanned gates to the Click2Enter system.  Residents get a battery-powered clicker; First Responders open the gates with a click of their mobile or portable radio transceiver (which has to be programmed with specific frequencies).  First Responders enter with no noise and no fuss. (That’s our gate in the photo. You can see the blue and white Click2Enter box attached at the left side of the center column.)

When the power goes out temporarily, our gates can continue to operate on back-up battery power. (We can count on several power outages a year.) In an extended outage, the gates will open and then remain open.  (This has caused our Emergency Response Group’s security committee to make special plans to keep strangers from entering. That’s another post for a later day.) .

Since we’ve had no problems, we had no idea of what to expect until we began to dig into the issue.  I suggest you dig into the details of your own gates before something happens in your community or at your workplace. The fact that there seem to be few if any building standards for gate operation means you may come up with a surprise!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

 

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Business Owner – Are You Personally Liable?

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

The Prudent Man Rule is well established in the investment world. It requires that an advisor make decisions that a “prudent” person would make, a prudent person being defined as someone in similar circumstances, with similar training and similar responsibilities.

Does the Prudent Man rule extend to business owners? 

ResponsibilityPicture this scenario. An owner never gets around to putting together a business continuation plan, all the while knowing that having a plan is common practice for other owners in the neighborhood or in the industry.

Disaster strikes.

Could that owner be personally liable if proper planning might have prevented or mitigated that disaster?

It’s possible!

Certainly, there have been cases after disasters when corporate heads were sued . . .

  • by employees or their survivors
  • by stockholders for not properly protecting their investment
  • by customers for data loss
  • by suppliers for supply chain disruption or breach of contract
  • by neighbors because a business didn’t protect them from “spillover.”

We’re not lawyers.

But by now, if you don’t have a Business Continuity Plan for your business, you must realize you may be running the additional risk associated with the Prudent Man rule.

Travelers Institute Findings

We recently attended a luncheon meeting sponsored by the Travelers Institute. Among the topics: business continuation planning. It was presented as a necessity and also as a competitive advantage.

Some of the highlights from the presentation:

  1. Business is getting riskier.

Over half the businesses in a 2014 Hart Research survey commissioned by Travelers felt that risks were increasing for business. Only 14% thought they were decreasing.

Are you with the majority on this?

  1. Businesses fail to deal with risk.

In the survey, something like 65% of small businesses claim they have an emergency exit plan, but just 30% have created a Business Continuity or Business Recovery Plan or even consulted with an insurance agency about insurance to protect against loss.

Again, are you with the majority – you AGREE times are riskier but aren’t doing anything to reduce risk?

An emergency exit plan may save lives, but, the lack of Business Continuity and/or Disaster Recovery Plan means that there may not be a company to come back to. In that case, everybody loses . . . employees and their families, owners, investors, creditors and customers.

  1. Yet no-cost or low-cost mitigation services are readily available.

Many cities, in conjunction with FEMA and other local organizations, offer the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training to residents, businesses and employees of businesses to help save lives and property in a disaster. Most classes are free and some actually issue equipment to aid in light search & rescue, triage, etc.

Other resources are also readily available nearly everywhere.

Taking advantage of these services should be the logical first step for the “prudent” business owner.

Procrastination can be costly.

While we have no accurate data on why small businesses are so lax about taking even these inexpensive actions to protect their businesses, we suspect it is because they are simply procrastinating. There have been too many disasters in the news for anyone to pretend they “didn’t know about the importance of emergency preparedness.”

If you own or work for a small business that does not have either a Business Continuity or a Disaster Recovery Plan, you would be well advised to take the initiative. Check the guide we’ve put together; it’s three steps to a simple plan. Take a look at the online resources listed above. Check with your city to see if CERT training is available.

These may not cover everything the business needs, but you will have made a solid start. Going back to the Prudent Man rule, it says that a person making decisions for others can’t simply rely on what he or she knows, but will be held accountable for what he SHOULD know.

Don’t get caught on this one.

Joe Krueger
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

Terror at the Mall

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015

How safe is your local mall?

Mall security

Where are the exits?

Today’s news is filled with threats of terrorist attacks on local, American, British and Canadian malls. These threats follow on the heels of the release of HBO’s amazing documentary, “Terror at the Mall,” showing one such attack.

If you are involved in security and counter-terrorism, you need to have seen this chilling story. If you are simply a parent, or even a shopper, you may want to take time to see it, too.

Security camera footage

Footage for the film was taken from the over 100 security cameras that continued to run while noontime shoppers visited the upscale WestGate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya on September 21, 2013. Again and again, the footage shows innocent and unsuspecting families and store personnel suddenly confronted by militants armed with automatic weapons.

These men entered the mall like any other shopper, moving steadily through the corridors and into stores and shooting down anyone who moved.

Over the course of four hours, over 60 people were killed, women, children and police. The floors ran with blood.

You may well ask, “Four hours?”

It was a classic example of a “soft target” attack combined with poor response by police and military. While the terrorists continued to move throughout the mall,, police and military forces, who took over 45 minutes to arrive,  milled around outside. One of their leaders is seen shouting, “Give us time to get organized!”

The gunmen were purportedly from Al-Qaida-linked al-Shabaab in Somalia. They were quoted as wanting “revenge” for the death of some of their brethren. Ultimately, after 4 days, a potion of the mall and the terrorists were destroyed by fire, purportedly the result of the army’s artillery “remote assault.”

Mandatory training

Viewing this chilling film should be mandatory training for anyone involved in security and counter-terrorism activities. It also reinforces the lessons taught in the “Run-Hide-Fight” active shooter video that was created by the City of Houston, Texas and the Department of Homeland Security. This film was reviewed by us last year. It has now had over three million views on YouTube.

As a matter of policy, at The Emergency Plan Guide we normally avoid publishing anything that smacks of “alarmist” publicity. Unfortunately, given the open threat from al-Shabaab, recent events in Paris and Copenhagen and warnings coming today out of Homeland Security, we can probably expect soft target attacks in the not-too-distant future. And, if ISIS gets its way, even the possibility of large-scale events cannot be overlooked.

“If you see something, say something.”

The Department of Homeland Security began a new campaign at the Superbowl, promoting awareness. It applies here, too.

If you feel that your lifestyle is such that you have higher than normal exposure, you would do well to view the Houston film (it’s only about 10 minutes) and even the HBO Documentary (60 minutes). It’s important to see how many people were able to get away and how others successfully hid from the attackers.

Finally, it makes good sense to always be aware of exit routes for any public structure. And, if you see something, say something!

Joseph Krueger
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. The Documentary is available to subscribers online at HBO. There are also a number of interviews, clips and trailers available on YouTube, but some have been apparently been “hijacked” by groups trying to take advantage of the title of the documentary. Caution is advised.

 

Whoops, sorry about that!

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

Post instead of Page

In the world of the internet and WordPress, a post is a post and a page is a page. You just got a post from me when I meant to put up a page!

So now the secret is out!

I’m assembling a book of CERT Meeting Ideas for people who train neighborhood CERT groups.

Group leaders, particularly new ones, are always looking for good meeting ideas. After playing a leading role in our neighborhood group for over 5 years, I have planned and put on dozens of meetings! And since I’m me, I have kept notes on each one.

My upcoming book . . .

has about 30 meeting ideas, based on actual experience. There’s a page for each idea, with:

  • a title
  • objective
  • procedure
  • materials needed
  • comments

As soon as the book is finished, I’ll be coming out with a grand announcement. In the meanwhile, if you would like to get on the list to get that announcement, you can do so by clicking here:

I want Ideas for CERT meetings!

Thanks for your understanding regarding the post/page foul-up!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

 

Small Business No Brainer?

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

“News Item–If you own or work for a small business the odds of it surviving a major earthquake or weather event are 50/50 at best.”

Ignoring Reality of Small Business Disaster

Ignoring reality?

Around our household we have an item that we brand as “the ecology.” It’s actually a “sanitized” word for the sometimes-yukky vegetable garbage destined for the compost pile.

In the world of business, similar sanitizing goes on around the mess that can occur after a major disaster.

The first sanitized term that comes to mind is “Business Continuity.” “Business Continuation” runs a close second. By and large, these expressions are unfamiliar to employees and may be only vaguely understood by owners. (“Something to do with insurance?”)

When a catastrophe can result from something as simple as a backhoe cutting communications lines, it makes no sense to ignore emergency preparedness!

“Sanitizing” the way we think or talk about survival is plain foolish.

A Major Flaw

Large corporations put a great deal of effort into plans to preserve data and – in theory – protect their employees and physical premises. Whether or not their cumbersome plans are even read by staff is questionable, and the subject of another article.

When it comes to small businesses, only about 35% have even a rudimentary plan for how to prepare for and recover from an emergency. (Employee surveys show that employees are aware of this lack.)

Even when a small business does have a Continuation or Continuity Plan, most totally overlook their major asset: their people.

The False Assumption

Business owners seem to be operating on the assumption that their employees and suppliers will continue to be available in an emergency.

“We’ll just pitch in, clean up and get back to business.”

The reality is that everyone impacted by a catastrophe will be preoccupied with their own priorities. The business will take second place and may not even come into focus for hours or days.

It’s no wonder that most small or local businesses simply never reopen their doors after an emergency, or shut them down permanently within a couple of years.

Plugging the Hole

While there is no silver bullet, there are ways to improve your chances of survival. One of the best ways is also often the least expensive. It’s called CERT.

Many cities in the U.S. have an emergency management department and many provide free Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training, in conjunction with FEMA. If your city doesn’t offer the training, it is on line at the FEMA site. (https://www.fema.gov/community-emergency-response-teams/about-community-emergency-response-team)

An astute business owner or senior manager recognizes the conflict of priorities between work and family. Supporting CERT training for employees has benefits for all:

  • CERT training starts with security for the family. The sooner employees are confident that their families are O.K., the faster they can turn their attention back to work.
  • The same survival skills learned in CERT work for neighborhood groups and work teams.
  • A CERT-trained employee is likely to have honed communication and teamwork skills that benefit many areas of the business’s day-to-day operations.

Everybody Wins With CERT Training

Why are city and county governments so willing to put on this training for businesses and communities at little or no cost?

Simple. Trained citizens and prepared businesses have a 500% better chance of survival in a catastrophe.

That means less pressure on the First Responders and Disaster Recovery Operations in the aftermath. It means fewer deaths from “spontaneous” untrained volunteer efforts. And the big benefit is the continued tax revenues that support the community.

No matter how you look at it, Business Continuation Planning and CERT training for citizens and employees is a win-win situation. It should be a no brainer for any business owner.

Ready to start the conversation about emergency training in your own business?

We’ve put together a one-page pdf to get you started. It’s free.

Joe Krueger
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team