How to Destroy Your Emergency Management Program

Today, I attended a meeting that made my head spin – sadly something more common than it should be.  In this case, the topic was emergency management, something I am normally passionate about.  On this occasion, though, the focus drifted far off track at times, even into the absurd.

The meeting was a community emergency planning group, facilitated by city employees.  In the past, I’ve found the meetings to be either boring or just overwrought with fear mongering.  Boring, for example, when local officials present excessive detail about fire department response.  A leaking truck turns into an accounting of only one agency’s role and with all the attention on the fire department work, there was no accounting for the impact on the community or even other responders such as law enforcement tasked with redirecting traffic around a closed and busy interstate.

Then there is the fear factor.  Speakers have focused on various what-if scenarios and the ensuing death and destruction without any assessment on how likely the scenario could occur in real life.  It reminds me of those who take the fear-uncertainty-doubt (FUD) approach to law enforcement or security.  That is to say, creating fear of the unknown and using that fear in order to promote their agendas or get projects approved.

Then the meeting today lapsed into the unrealistic.  The speaker, a government employee, presented the risks of earthquakes in the area.  He was a very good speaker and I really enjoyed the part where he discussed man-made risks, such as fracking.  However, at one point, he mentioned that some buildings, such as schools and hospitals, should be designed to be earthquake resilient and that it was not expensive at all.  He added that it would add about 5% to the cost of the building.  Every design, remodel or construction project that I’ve been involved with has been ‘value engineered’ to cut the budget, with management looking to eliminate every non-essential (and sometimes the essential) for savings.

From a business perspective, if I tried to make the argument to add 5% more into a new building cost just to make it earthquake resilient, I would be tossed out of the conference room.  Especially since the recommendation was based on an earthquake that happened 150 years ago about 50 miles away.  That includes buildings that are part of the critical infrastructure of the community.  I could see the argument for nuclear power plants as absolutely no risk should be tolerated due to the consequences.

The meeting then moved into the mode of semantics over substance.  There was an announcement that a citizen response group would now use the word “community” instead of “citizen” as emergency response planning was not just for citizens, and non-citizens lived in the community.  If I were visiting in Europe, I would not expect them to change wording for a group like that to accommodate visitors or ex-pats living there.  Certainly, this was an attempt to take a politically correct approach with illegal immigration.  I had to wonder how many illegal immigrants opted not to join solely based on the word citizen versus community (and I am betting none).  Furthermore, there was mention that emergency operation centers had to be ADA compliant.  Again, the focus shifted from the real challenges of handling life and death disasters to meeting various regulations and requirements, well intentioned, but out of place, at least as a priority.

On to the surreal, as the discussion turned to details about how the committee helped businesses recover following a disaster.  The example given was a restaurant whose liquor license expires during a community-wide emergency.  To help the business survive, the city could graciously give an extension to keep the restaurant open.

Imagine a city devastated by a hurricane or earthquake.  As the community struggles to rebuild and recover, rest assured a restaurant with an expired license could continue, at least with a temporary extension.

Emergency management is a very serious part of the modern world.  To be successful, emergency planners should follow basic business principles focusing on realistic scenarios and practical responses to general hazards.  Changing terms or phrases strictly for political reasons undermines disaster response and can actually make community members suspicious about the true effectiveness of the program.

As for me, I probably will not attend another meeting of this group.  And I know that I am not alone.  The room used to be packed, but was less than 1/3 full today.


Eric Smith, CPP is the leading authority on organizational self-defense and, on occasion, likes to add his two cents. 

He has extensive experience in law enforcement as well as security management.  Eric is available for staff education and security awareness training as well as business coaching to help organizations provide safe workplaces.  To learn more visit 

If you would like to reprint this post, please contact Eric at 

Global Water Cooler – War, Crime and Scandals From Around the World

            Everyday around the world there are so many different things going on, it is hard to stay caught up.  Some are interesting; some tragic; some exciting; and others may have a direct impact on our lives and even on how or where we operate our businesses.  At the very least, a summary of some of the topics will give you something to talk about around the office ‘water cooler’ or something to think about when planning your global operations. 

North Korea

Last week, North Korea tested a rocket claiming it was going to be used to launch satellites.  The concern was that the rocket could have been used to fire nuclear bombs into Japan or even the United States.  Fortunately, the rocket blew up shortly after lift-off.  This was considered a violation of recent international agreements reached in February, in which food shipments were promised in return for non-proliferation of arms and nuclear testing.  The US has announced that it will stop food shipments to North Korea and reinstate sanctions.

Impact – Any hoped for change in North Korea under the new regime seems unlikely at this point.  Don’t count on new markets opening here.


British Prime Minister David Cameron visited Myanmar, formerly Burma, to assess recent changes in leadership.  The government is still dominated by the military, but key elections in Myanmar’s parliament have ignited confidence that the country could be changing.  EU sanctions are likely to be lifted (expect for an arms embargo) and both European and US companies are looking for potential business opportunities, especially in construction and healthcare.

Impact – This could be a great business opportunity as the market starts opening up to international companies.  Myanmar is the home of the longest producing oil field.  Beware, though, only about 25% of the country is on the nation’s electrical grid meaning very limited infrastructure.


A serial killer has been roaming Paris and has killed two women and two men with the same gun according to ballistic tests.  The killer struck three of the victims from a scooter wearing a helmet as a disguise.  French police arrested two suspects, one of whom was later released as a victim of identity theft while the other remains in custody and is expected to face charges.  However, he has not confessed as of yet.

Impact – More of an interesting story than having a real impact, but the fear and concern was increased due to the similar style attacks in southern France that left several dead, including victims at a Jewish school and three paratroopers from North Africa.  The suspect in that case died after a shootout with police as he jumped out of his apartment window.  That suspect had ties to Al-Qaeda and traveled to Afghanistan for training.


South Sudan broke off from Sudan in 2011, after a six-year ‘waiting period’ following a bloody civil war ending in 2005.  In recent days, the fighting has escalated with reports of air attacks and bombing along the border.  Heglig, a city in Sudan, was seized by South Sudanese and bombed by Sudan during the fighting.  There are reports of fighting all along the border region.

Impact - Fighting in the area is nothing new, but the increased violence does pose concerns for the region.  Sudan borders Egypt and Libya, as well as Chad and all are suffering instability in light of recent changes in government and leadership.  Al-Qaeda has been active in the region so this certainly poses a concern of attacks on European and American interests as well as potential new footholds for the terrorist group.  The situation is ripe for exploitation by terrorists groups as Sudan is primarily a Muslim country and South Sudan is predominantly Christian.


A very fragile cease-fire has been put into place, but the fighting continues with government forces reportedly bombing areas near the Turkish border.  Turkey has been dealing with refuges crossing the border to escape the violence.

Impact – Only time will tell.  The current government has brought a certain amount of stability to the area, but at a cost to the county’s own people.  Since opposing forces have begun speaking up, more than 11,000 people are thought to have been killed.


In a growing scandal, British businessman Neil Heywood was murdered by Gu Kailai, the wife of one of the top communist party leaders, Bo Xilai.  Heywood’s death was originally thought to be alcohol-related, but it now appears that he was poisoned.  According to the Times of India, he threatened to report Kailai after she wanted him to move a large sum of money and he demanded a larger percentage, which was refused. 

Bo Xilai has been removed from office and the corruption has prompted calls for action to rid the government of corruption.

Impact – This may prompt some changes throughout the government and clean up some forms of corruption.  However, it seems that corruption will find a way and that dirty politicians will manage to contrive ways to cheat the system.  In the long term, probably no real impact, but an interesting story nonetheless. 

Eric Smith, CPP is the leading authority on organizational self-defense.  He has extensive experience in law enforcement as well as security management.  Eric is available for staff education and security awareness training as well as business coaching to help organizations provide safe workplaces.  To learn more visit 

If you would like to reprint this post, please contact Eric at 

What Are You Afraid Of?

Recently, I came across a survey on the website of a security publication.  The survey asked the readers what their biggest concern was for the coming year.  The vast majority of security professionals had answered that terrorism was their biggest fear.  The poll got me thinking about the real everyday threats facing organizations.  What is the biggest threat ahead in the next year or next few years?

Certainly, terrorism is a very real risk.  There have been numerous attempts across the U.S., as well as attacks carried out overseas.  But is that the most serious or dangerous challenge facing businesses?  The better question might be should terrorism really be the focus of any risk mitigation or protection program?

It terms of probability, companies are much more likely to face crimes, such as robbery, theft or embezzlement.  Of those, embezzlement probably has the highest impact in terms of loss, with some insiders finding ways to steal millions of dollars from employers.  There is also the risk of workplace violence.  Some studies have shown a decrease in workplace violence, events such as active shooters still happen far too often.  Recently, we saw the news of a shooting at a small college campus that left seven dead and several wounded.  Active shooter cases seem to be much more frequent.

Terrorism response by most businesses is fairly limited as well.  Understanding your specific potential of being the target is important, as is training on identifying suspicious activity, such as surveillance.  The best approach for most enterprises is to develop solid business continuity plans and emergency response to survive a wide range of disasters.

Assuming you have disaster planning as part of your protection plan, the focus then shifts to the everyday and most common threats facing the organization. 

Globalization is one risk.  With growing instability in many parts of the world, there are increasing risks.  Supply chains are one critical element.  Social unrest or labor protests can interrupt or stop shipment of key supplies.  Austerity measures in countries like Greece, have led to protests in which transportation workers and drivers have walked off the job or gone on strike.  Truckers and subway workers in France have done the same thing in the past.  As long as there is growing concern over cutbacks and the disparity of wealth, protests such as this will continue. 

Closer to home is the concern over technology.  As a society, we are more and more dependent on technology from emails, texts and document sharing.  Smart phones to desktops, we are surrounded by high tech.  What are the risks from any interruption in service?  Loss of data, malware, denial of service attacks are some examples.  There are risks that are more ordinary as well.  What about the loss of productivity with changes in software or equipment?  Changing procedures, training staff on new ways of doing their jobs, and, the often overlooked, making sure the new processes work as intended, all can create downtime and lost productivity.  The time lost in re-learning basic tasks to use new technology can be a very real factor.

The greatest risks, though, may be in the fundamentals.  Poor leadership, bad customer service and lack of capital are the primary reasons that businesses fail.  Leaders that fail to set good direction or who make poor decisions steer organizations or their departments straight into failure.  This includes bad judgment, such as missing warning signs, changes in the market or perhaps not realizing that the team is not delivering what they need to.

 Every organization has customers and every employee needs to remember that.  The customer may be internal, such as the cleaning crew keeping the office sparkling and sanitary or it may be the cashier interacting face to face with external customers.  All customers, internal or not, have expectations that need to be met.  Failing to do so or doing it with a poor attitude, poor service or in a way that is uncaring will not work for long and will not be tolerated.  Once you’ve lost your customers, you cannot survive.

Lack of customer support and failure to lead effectively will certainly create a lack of capital.  Without resources, there is no ability to remain or regain competitiveness, develop programs to improve operations or even, in some cases, be able to pay employees.

And coming full circle back to terrorism, for those whose role is to provide security or protect the workplace, missing the fundamentals will mean not being able to do your job.  If your biggest fear is terrorism, then keep your focus on the basic day-to-day operations in order to be successful at the ultimate goal.


Eric Smith, CPP is the leading authority on organizational self-defense.  He has extensive experience in law enforcement as well as security management.  Eric is available for staff education and security awareness training as well as business coaching to help organizations provide safe workplaces.  To learn more visit 

If you would like to reprint this post, please contact Eric at