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Tri-Cities' techno leaders find region ill prepared for disaster; seek to increase preparedness with new Disaster Task Force

June 9, 2009

The new Disaster Task Force is a proactive, even a bit over-the-top, effort to ramp up regional preparedness—involving creative scenarios, forums, mock disasters, and even the social networking tool "Twitter".

"From the examples we've seen, we're literally one bad day away from catastrophe for most of the businesses in the region," explains Tom Deaderick, director of OnePartner.

Faced with this sobering reality, the Disaster Task Force is doing everything creatively possible to increase regional dialogue in an effort that will result in improved regional preparedness.

Under the leadership of regional technology partners, including BCTI, Gray, Tenn.; TCIM, Piney Flats, Tenn.; Deliberare, Mendota, Va.; and OnePartner, Duffield, Va., the ultimate goal of the Disaster Task Force (DTF) is that regional organizations will be better equipped to survive disasters, including both weather-related disasters such as ice storms, tornadoes and electrical storms, as well as fires and even pandemics.

"As we've met with businesses in the region, we've had a great opportunity to collect information from large and small organizations," explains Deaderick. "As far as I know, there's never been a similar survey of the region, so I expect that some will be very surprised to learn just how under-prepared organizations in the region are."

Deaderick illustrates his concerns with national data.

Data collected by A.M. Best Underwriters indicates that 94% of businesses that suffer a catastrophic data loss go out of business. The National Archives and Records Administration publish similar estimates. Their study shows that 93% of companies that lost data for 10 days or more due to a disaster, filed for bankruptcy within one year of the disaster and 50% filed for bankruptcy immediately.

"Having worked with companies in virtually every industry across our region, I have found that one thought continually surfaces - It probably won't ever happen here," explains Chad Sorrell, President of TCIM. "Sadly, statistical research tells a different story. It can - and one day will -happen here. And, the level of preparedness of our health care providers, utilities, local governments, law enforcement and even grocery stores, will have a direct impact on the ability of our entire region to collectively respond to and recover from a devastating event."

"There are many factors contributing to limited contingency planning," says Deaderick. "In addition to the expenses involved, we've found that it takes a special kind of person to pull-out of daily task-oriented firefighting and actually make themselves imagine what would happen if the systems they work so hard to maintain are just suddenly, instantly destroyed."

"I think the most crucial element of disaster planning is creativity. This is not the kind of task you want to put on the shoulders of someone with limited creativity. Anyone who can imagine and orchestrate responses to events that, in most cases, have never before impacted their business is a very exceptional employee," concluded Deaderick.

The Disaster Task Force is designed to support those individuals and raise awareness of the critical importance of disaster planning.

"We've developed some really innovative new approaches and information to help regional organizations develop contingency plans suitable for their own specific needs," says Deaderick.

Scenarios & Forums

The DTF compiles data from real-life events such as the 2009 Kentucky Ice Storm.

"Most people have heard of these disasters but don't have the time to really dig into what happened. We compile the information for them and create graphics to help succinctly describe the situation. The disaster scenarios are designed to provide planners a real-world example of an event that could realistically occur in our region," says Deaderick. "Essentially, we want to document a disaster that planners can overlay right onto our region and ask, How would our ability to perform our daily tasks be impacted by a similar disaster?"

The DTF is pulling out all of the stops in creativity to promote dialogue and action. From tornadoes, fires and ice storms to - zombies.

"Creativity and imagination are important characteristics in this process, so we added a Zombie Apocalypse Scenario to help draw everyone into the discussion," explains Deaderick. "The goal is to get people thinking about contingency planning; the entire organization needs to know how they will respond in a disaster, which of their systems will be available during the disaster, etc."

According to Deaderick, as they began crafting the Zombie Apocalypse Scenario it was initially an attempt to simply keep the planning interesting.

"We didn't expect to generate insights from Z-Day (Zombie Apocalypse Day) that cross over into real world planning, but we discovered several that should get people thinking and talking, and that is key to making sure our region comes through a disaster. So we'll have some fun with that and I'm certain that the preparations for Z-Day will enrich the preparations for more likely disasters."

Mock Disasters

The Task Force will use new communications technologies such as Twitter to stage region-wide mock disasters.

"We encourage folks from all areas of the organization, not just the team specifically charged with contingency planning, to sign up for our Twitter notifications," says Deaderick.

Later this summer, the DTF will stage its first simulated regional disaster.

"We'll take one of the documented scenarios for the simulation. Over a three-day period, we will send out Tweets (Twitter notifications) to subscribers. The notifications will mimic the kind of emergency notifications we'd expect to see during such a disaster."

According to Deaderick, the disaster planners in each organization can use the opportunity to walk through their disaster plans with their entire organization keyed into the process. In most cases, this will be the first time those not directly involved in the development of the plan have the opportunity to drill on it and understand how their role will be impacted. This type of walkthrough is recommended by the National Institute of Standard and Technology (NIST), but is rarely performed in real life.

"The mock disasters will help disaster planning stewards, often information technology teams, involve the rest of the organization in the process, and help focus resources on disaster recovery and preparedness," says Deaderick.