Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Severe Weather Slams PNW

Its been a very busy week! Western Washington and Oregon have had the unfortunate luck to be on the receiving in of a big, three part storm.

Last Friday temperatures started dropping, Saturday it started snowing in earnest in many areas of Western Washington. By evening many urban neighborhoods in the Puget Sound area had several inches of snow. By Sunday morning the mountains had several feet of new snow. By Sunday late the wind started blowing. On the coast winds were clocked at 130mph, with many areas in the 80's. Several wind gauges actually blew away leaving officials to guess at windspeed. By Monday mornings commute the rain had been coming down for several hours.

In Seattle it was truly a moonsoon on the way into work --raining so hard that I couldn't see two blocks from the 7th floor of our office building. And it rained like that until after lunch, by the end 4 to 5" of rain fell over that 24hour period.

But it wasn't really the monsoon rain on Monday that did us in. Instead it was a little phenom we fondly call the "pineapple express" out here. Friday night it was 29 degrees. By Monday it was pushing 59 degrees and the snow level went from sea level well into the mountains. That sudden warming meant all that moisture fell as rain in the mountains, washing away 3-feet of snow in a few short hours. Avalanches closed two passes by Monday night. Urban flooding was widespread. By late in the day Monday all that water hit the rivers and came rushing downstream flooding whole communities and forcing the closure of the main west coast interstate. By early Tuesday morning, that interstate was under 10 feet of flood water and over 15 square miles in one valley alone was flooded. The picture above shows this area - hard to tell there is a major interstate highway out there.

The rain has stopped, the temperatures are dropping and the waters are falling. Many people, some rescued from their roofs yesterday as rivers dammed by huge debris flows jumped their banks and went in complete new directions, have not been able to get back to their houses to assess damage. Others have returned only to find their houses literally washed away. The human impact is only beginning to be shared.

Not too much we can do right now as citizens other than to support our neighbors and do what we can to help in the recovery. The public officials have actually been amazingly fast and proactive in their response to this crisis. I'll post more on that soon.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

National Financial Services Pandemic Exercise: Part 2

The national financial service exercise successfully ran for three weeks. I was surprised by the depth of the scenario and by the number of firms participating.

The exercise site recently became open to all. Regardless of if you work for a financial services firm, this exercise is worth the time to review. If you have responsibility for business continuity in your organization, this exercise is a goldmine and could be used to guide your own tabletop exercises --its rare to get an exercise of this depth developed for free. For individuals, the exercise materials provide great insight into with this critical sector is thinking on the pandemic front.

Exercise Overview

Pandemic Exercise FAQ:

Pre-Exercise Scenario Brief: T

The Exercise itself utilizes projections of sickness, spread, absenteeism, CFR, impact on hospitals, distribution, etc. I think it is may be a little rosy...but it's fairly detailed and it shows that the financial services sector has been thinking seriously about this.

Pandemic Timeline:

Weeks 1 and 2:

Weeks 3 through 6:

Weeks 7 - 10:

Monday, November 5, 2007

A long 60 days!

I've been away from my little blog experiment and feel a little rusty. But in the spirit of dusting off the key board I'll just jump right back in!

Since September 10th I've had a chance to make three long trips from Seattle --a week in San Antonio, 4 days in Florida, and another four days in NYC last week. Three conferences in six weeks, three different airlines (with multiple connections of course) and three utterly unique parts of the country.

I had plenty of time to watch the airlines struggle with operating disruptions, contemplate the spread of communicable diseases, and marvel at the balancing act required to logistically maintain a city like New York on a daily basis.

I also now finally understand what the issue is about Hurricanes in Florida. Having never been to the sunshine state, I debarked after a very long flight in an amazing, tropical, and utterly flat paradise. Being a true Westerner, flat landscapes are outside my frame of reference and always leave me a bit disoriented. It felt like I could stand on the parking garage roof in Tampa and see the Atlantic. But now that I've made that trip, I really don't get why Floridians don't prepare for disaster.

The most recent trip was to attend an event at the Conference Board -- focusing on Strategic Crisis Management and Corporate Security. The keynote speaker at the event was Dr. Stephen Flynn, author of the Edge of Disaster --an exceptional book. A true pragmatic straight shooter, his message of resiliency for this nation was reason enough to attend the event. You can find out more about him and the book here:

I came out of this marathon tired but thankfully free of the invisible creepy crawlies that circulated around me on every leg of the trip. Lots going on out there, so more to follow.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

National Pandemic Exercise

From September 24th through October 12th, the Financial Banking Information Infrastructure Committee (FBIIC) and the Financial Services Sector Coordinating Council (FSSCC) will be conducting an exercise sponsored by the US Department of the Treasury and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association. The exercise website is: Registration is open through tomorrow but limited to financial services firms, all major banks, investment houses and insurance companies operating in the US are participating.

This national exercise is unique in its tremendous scope and use of an innovative format. Over 2300 firms have registered to date and will participate with anonymous identifiers through a secure website. Each week for the duration of the exercise participants will receive new information on Monday morning and have until Wednesday to respond.

The exercise starts with a random assignment of sick employees based on letters of the alphabet. Participating firms then match those to actual employee names in order to more realistically analyze what impact can be expected. It will allow companies to analyze such things as accumulated sick leave, succession planning, contingency operations and more. A summary document will be available at the end of the event.

Although this exercise is limited to companies within the financial services sector, it is an extremely useful event for any company. Pandemic planning is lagging and the uniqueness of this hazard is not well addressed by "all hazard" plans. I will be posting the exercise announcements here so that others may play along.

Monday, August 27, 2007


One of the items on the to do list this week was to pick up a couple of extra items for the pantry. Since my ah-ha moment a couple of years ago, I generally keep the cupboard stocked with extra, easy to fix food. Its gotten to point that if I get down to my last jar of peanut butter it gets my attention. Stocking the pantry for disaster preparedness however is not what you would think. You see, I am a confessed foodie. The idea of eating truly crappy food in the middle of what might already be a bad situation, does nothing for my perceived ability to cope with a disaster. There is not a single meal-ready-to-eat or mystery protein bar in anomous disaster kit package in my house. Instead, there is pasta in a range of shapes and sizes, complete with sauce. The cans of tuna share shelf space with canned shrimp and clams and chicken. There is cornmeal, oats, flour, soup and rice. And perhaps more importantly, a good half dozen bottles of wine and other festive beverages and a fair stash of chocolate. I had all the fixins for smores, but I don't seem to be able to keep that stocked this summer. I was thrilled this weekend to find a market with individual packages of nutella --perfect for the car emergency kit. The point is, that pantry gives me lots of options for tasty and nutritious food that might actually make me happy just when we are having a really bad day.

There is something about disaster preparedness can seem so, well, not so fun. There is something depressing about it usually. Thinking about preparing means one has to think about having a bad day. So we don't like to think about it. And dreary disaster kits with unknown foodstuffs don't help. There is nothing uplifting about them. Disasters are hard enough. Plan for the basics, but I say we need to do it our way. I love knowing that I'll go into another Northwest storm season and even if we loose power again for a week, the house will be warm and I can have the neighbors over for some real food that serves the spirit.

What makes you happy? A favorite tea? A certain coffee? Mac & cheese? A good red wine? Buy doubles next time your shopping, its amazing how much more fun it is.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Entertaining Disaster

Do you have what it takes? What five items would you need in a disaster? The State of Colorado has launched a creative approach to getting your attention at a new website Citizens submit video auditions and nine lucky contestants will be chosen to participate in a disaster house competition for a grand prize of $2,500 in cash. The competition house starts on September 20th, video auditions are being posted now and are available for viewing and your votes.

The contest overview can be viewed here:

I've watched the current raft of audition clips and I can't wait to see more. They are simulatenously a humorous and sobering look into the way our fellow citizens think about emergency preparedness.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Two Cans of Tomato Paste and Some Cocktail Olives

Personal disaster preparedness is an odd thing. It wasn’t until one crisp fall morning in October 2005 that I frankly paid any real attention to my personal emergency preparedness. I always figured that I would be at work, so why worry? But there I was mid-way through my Cheerios when the news story on the radio managed to penetrated the early morning mental fog. Some very stuffy PhD type from the CDC was using words like “catastrophic” and “inevitable” and the feature story was pandemic influenza.

At the time I was working as a continuity of operations specialist and I had been aware of the rumblings around H5N1. In my role as an action officer in our organizations emergency operations center with specific training in both emergency management and outbreaks of communicable disease, it was my job to be prepared to respond to a wide range of hazards. I was actually monitoring the developing situation with H5N1, but until that morning I had never previously heard a public health official openly use such blunt language. Whether it was the tone or the content, it made me stop and consider for the first time how prepared I really was for a pandemic. By the end of the feature I was standing in my kitchen looking at two cans of tomato paste and some cocktail olives. These three tasty items combined with some unidentifiable hunks of frozen mysteries in the icebox was the sum total of my personal preparedness. The emergency radio didn’t have batteries. The first aid kit which had once been a great EMT bag, had been ransacked and was in a sorry state. Here I was a professional in the field and somehow I had managed not to internalize the importance of my own personal preparedness.

If you are a single urban professional, its likely your pantry looks something like mine. The question is why? Why don’t we prepare? The National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University has conducted an annual “Survey of the American Public” each year for the last five years. In the fall of 2006 they published the latest titled “Where the American Public Stands on Terrorism, Security and Disaster Preparedness: Five-Years after September 11, One-Year after Hurricane Katrina”. It is worth reading the full report (found here: ). What they found goes to the heart of the question of why. Over five years after the tragedy of 9-11, less than a third of Americans have a family emergency preparedness plan that everyone in the family is aware of. The staggering images from Katrina strangely did not change this number. Less than a third of American’s have a family emergency plan despite the fact that only 44% of Americans believe the government can protect them from terrorism, only 33% are confident that the government is ready for pandemic, and only about half believe their local communities can manage an adequate response in the event of a natural disaster or severe weather event.

And yet we don’t prepare. In this particular survey 26% of respondents said they were too busy, 21% said they were unsure what they should do, and 21% said they didn’t prepare because an emergency was unlikely. As humans I think we have a wonderful capacity to simultaneously hold conflicting conclusions in our minds. If you ask people what potential hazards might impact them, they can give you a list, but it doesn’t translate to personal action. Even those most educated about the real risks around us too often end up like I did, looking at the cocktail olives and scratching their heads. Public agencies at all levels have focused a great deal of effort since 9-11, and particularly since Katrina, emphasizing individual emergency preparedness. Public service announcements run constantly on everything from Hurricane preparedness to pandemic influenza. But we are not prepared.

In May of this year the good folks in Florida conducted a survey in the Gulf States and found that even after Katrina and Rita, 53% said they didn’t feel vulnerable to hurricanes or tornados. Over 52% had no family plan, over 61% had no hurricane appropriate disaster kit, and 88% had taken no steps to make their homes stronger. In addition to the immediate life-safety issues, over 21% still did not know what their insurance policy covered and four in ten hadn’t reviewed their policy in last year. A full 25% of American’s surveyed still didn’t know they need separate insurance for water and flood damage.

So even in regions plagued often by catastrophe, preparedness doesn’t stick. Why not? We could discuss at length the uniqueness of human psychology, of the limits of our biology to conceive of the real threat of a disaster before it happens. We could, as we have been, keep publishing unique and even creative public service announcements (for great examples see the 5th guy or and urging the American citizenry to prepare. But it’s not working. The people open to the message, the people who already “get it”, see these announcements and take the warnings and urgings of governments seriously, but we don’t seem to be making much progress with everyone else. In fact some surveys show individual levels of preparedness eroding.

The reality of the world we live in is the simple fact that disastrous events are increasing in frequency and severity. Most of us live in areas with known and significant hazards. The ethic of individual preparedness needs something new, perhaps the able hand of a truly world-class marketing firm. It needs to get modern, it needs multiple channels, it needs to stop sounding like something our Mom told us to do when we were kids and more like something everybody’s doing, it needs to get sticky, it needs to be more approachable, and it needs to appeal to various audiences. And somehow we have to take the fear out of it –because I suspect underneath all that denial is a measure of fear, a “weirdness factor”, that is grounded in the thought that if you think too much about emergency preparedness then you have to think about some pretty unpleasant stuff.

Individual disaster preparedness is the cornerstone to any successful community emergency plan. It seems the right time for business to lend a hand…providing uber-sharp private sector marketing skills pro-bono to this problem would be the ultimate in community service. Do it because you are a great corporate citizen, do it for purely selfish corporate reasons (the better prepared individuals are, the more resilient the community and the smaller the impact to your business), but I am looking for that wonder firm or group of firms that can make all the difference.

Know a business up to the challenge?