One of the most critical components of business continuity planning is emergency response preparation and operations. Any number of emergencies can strike a business; this was demonstrated in dramatic fashion a few months ago when thousands of businesses were shut down because of massive power blackouts in the northeastern United States and again more recently in a high-rise fire in Chicago.

In the case of the blackouts, those that had effective business continuity plans were better able to handle this unexpected situation, which continued for several days in some areas. In Chicago and numerous other big cities, building owners and managers are reevaluating their emergency response.

Part of planning not only accounts for dealing with an immediate crisis, but also ensuring that it doesn’t mushroom into even bigger problems.

For example, some businesses discovered the hard way that not properly shutting down systems after power goes out resulted in damage to computer systems when power finally went back on. Other organizations better prepared took necessary steps to prevent damage.

Business continuity planning and processes provide structure to emergency response and help ensure that organizations and their security operations are effectively prepared. It begins with these essential steps:

• Ensure the existence of procedures to respond to expected disaster events.

• Review the contents of existing procedures.

• Identify the command and control requirements of managing an emergency.

• Verify training of personnel to implement the procedures.

• Identify modifications required to transition to the business continuity plan.

This last point highlights the need to connect emergency response plans to the overall business continuity plan of the organization. Such transition is essential. The emergency response process is only a segment of a larger strategy that every organization needs to ensure continuing operations.

Recognizing the difference between a business interruption and a disaster is also important. Over-reacting to a situation can be as damaging as under-reacting. Effective command and control processes must be developed and decision authority roles established. Communication processes and tools should be discussed and made available in the event of an emergency.

Security executives should also realize they don’t have to go it alone in this process. Sources of emergency response assistance include government emergency groups, safety and health organizations, the fire marshal, Red Cross, local emergency management coordinator and others.

SIDEBAR: Components of Emergency Response

Reporting Procedures

This includes establishing procedures for immediate

notification to the proper people of the emergency and

any damage assessments.

Pre-Incident Preparation

Scenario planning for all types of emergencies is part

of this process.

Emergency Actions

This includes planning for evacuation, medical care,

damage assessment, hazardous material response,

fire fighting and family assistance.

Facility Stabilization

Procedures and processes for regaining control

of facility operations.

Damage Mitigation

Preventing further damage to facilities or

operational capabilities.

Testing Procedures and Responsibilities

This includes testing and rehearsal of emergency

planning scenarios, perhaps the most important

step in the process.