For more than a decade, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has proclaimed September as National Preparedness Month as part of an effort in preparedness for emergencies. It encourages every household to take steps now to better prepare your family, community, and our local economy to recover quickly in the event of a disaster. Each week I personally encourage you to dig into the resources we’ve provided here. They can help you, your family, and the organizations you support and work for. Understand the Risks, prepare a plan, practice and test your plan, and how to get involved.
Every day that has gone by this week, we’re continuing to learn more about the devastation caused as Hurricane Harvey hit so many communities and businesses in Texas. People everywhere are interested in helping. Communities that I personally am a part of, and IT communities AllConnected is actively engaged with are helping donate food, money, and other resources. Yet the number of shelters and evacuation resources can’t keep up with those who desperately need help. Just a couple weeks ago, few *really* expected this kind of devastation to happen, to this specific area.
It reminds me of the disasters we face here in Southern California. This past January marked the 23rd anniversary since the ’94 Northridge Earthquake. Although over 23 years has past, if it shocked you out of a deep REM sleep stage, you probably remember some specific details with clarity today. I clearly remember the loud rumble as my parent’s house shook with the sound of breaking glass and books falling, With no shoes and no lights, fumbling in the dark to get to the nearest doorway as quick as I could. Neighbors were out in the streets in shorts, pajamas or just in their underwear. Stores couldn’t open without power and people were waiting on needed supplies. Gas stations couldn’t pump gas without power, you were left with whatever you had in your tank, to get you by. It all happened so fast.
So, know your risks. Here are 2 pretty cool links that show the real risks, both physical and cyber that face us here in California.
Physical Disaster Risk by State: FEMA Disaster Visualization
Worldwide Cyber Attack Map: FireEye Worldwide Real Time Cyber Threat Map
Regardless of where we live, what’s happening right now in the greater Houston area is a reminder to all of us that it’s important to be prepared. Disasters Don’t Plan Ahead and they can come at any time. Our risks in the Greater LA aren’t limited to earthquakes, there are fires, flooding, toxic spills, active shooters, terrorism, cyber terrorism, ransomware, identify theft, or it can be as simple as a power failure or a gas leak.
They affect your county, city, home, and family. An old proverb says ‘shrewd is the one who sees the danger and conceals himself from it. Indeed, being prepared can make all the difference when it comes to your next meal, your health, and even your life.
Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing some thoughts, experiences, and resources that have personally helped me, my family, our company, and our community to take steps to better prepare for the unexpected. If your organization is planning any activities during the month of September to raise awareness on how your people can personally prepare, please let me know. If you haven’t started yet, we’ve pulled together various resources from Ready.gov, FEMA, CERT, and other disaster preparedness information that could help you raise awareness with your employees and their families.
For the first week of September, the message for National Preparedness Month is: Know Your Risks. All of us do well to spend time researching and thinking about the most common risks to our families, our employees, and our businesses.
On this day 16 years ago, you likely remember exactly where you were when a new magnitude of terrorism, and significant loss of life and property caused absolute chaos in the USA. Myself and another AllConnected engineer were at an all night network upgrade at a client in Los Angeles, grabbing a donut in the breakroom at around 5am PST when we saw the first of many videos and images of the destruction in Manhattan.
During the second week of National Preparedness Month, each of us are encouraged to Develop a Plan. Last week, the focus was on Week 1 of 4 – Knowing the Risks. Once we become aware of risks, we can start to develop plans to mitigate those risks. Since 9.11, we became aware of serious risks and many plans were developed. Today, we don’t have an airline, large vessel, shipping port, critical infrastructure or large public venue that doesn’t staff an increase in personnel, mandate security screening, and include significant preventative measures to mitigate the risk of violence or terrorism.
Does Your Family Have a Plan?
If you’ve been to an airport the past few years, you’ve heard the announcement ‘if you see any unattended bags, please notify airport personnel
immediately’. We are called on to be part of the solution. It is true that much is going on within your local Police Department, Fire Department,
Water District, Utility companies, Corporate Businesses, Hospitals, Schools, and other organizations to take active measures to plan for Disasters. But it’s clear that in the event of a significant attack or disaster, no agency can protect us from the risk of natural or cyber disasters 100%.
Earlier this year, my oldest son and I completed an 7 week CERT (Community Emergency Response Training) class with the City of Simi Valley. I had heard many times that if we want to ensure our families are prepared for the Big One, we’d better be able to survive on our own for at least 3 days, if not a week. Why? We learned how First responders must prioritize their efforts. Hospitals, Schools, and Critical Infrastructure must come first. To the extent possible, we need to be self sufficient for these first few days.
How to Start Your Plan:
There are awesome resources included in the links on this page for Ready.Gov, FEMA, and CERT can really help you plan for the unexpected. FEMA has designed a great resource at ready.gov. Among the planning resources:
- Wallet sized Emergency Communication Plan
- Plan for Kids and Parents
- Financial First Aid Kits
- Four important questions to discuss with your family
CERT is another great resource, and it helps you to think about how to be ready to take care of yourself and your family while First Responders are caring for the most immediate and urgent needs. It helps you to think about these types of questions:
- Do you have a gallon of water per day, per person for 3 days?
- Do you have a 3 day supply of nonperishable food for each person in your family?
- Is your first aid kit complete, and is one in your home and each car?
- What is your emergency communication plan if no phones work in the area?
- How do you turn the gas off to your house? Did you know that a good number of gas valves have actually rusted completely shut and can’t be shut off?
If you’re in the Oxnard area, check out the Disaster Preparedness event they are having on Saturday the 16th.
Planning Now Helps you to Help Others
So, if you haven’t made the time to put together a plan for your family, Week 2 of National Preparedness Month is a great time to do so. Oh, and another important tip that worked for me: if you’re married, definitely get your spouse involved. Once we started talking about how to care for our family, she became pretty eager to jump in and help pull together everything that we needed for our food and safety kits.
Neighborhoods appreciate the effort you make too. At our last block party, some of my neighbors asked me to share what I’d learned about planning from the recent CERT class I was engaged in. We brought a dolly out and shared what we have in our kits, and why. People asked a lot of questions and I feel it raised awareness on how our local neighborhood could be better prepared. So, if you’re making plans in your own home and family, share what you’re doing with others. Here are some of the questions that came up in our neighborhood:
- For those of us who have 2 story homes, How do your kids get out of the house in a 3am fire?
- How will you eat tomorrow if the stores are empty?
- What’s the level in your gas tank?
- How much unperfumed bleach is needed to sanitize a gallon of unsuitable drinking water? (8 drops)
If you haven’t thought through some of these scenarios, September is a great month start planning! Here’s a link to a simple family plan to get you started.
Another week has gone by and we’ve been inundated with news about more disasters. As CNN reported, Dominca has been ‘knocked to its knees by Hurricane Maria’s might’. Communication towers have been snapped in two, preventing information from coming in and out of the country. Blue and Green have changed to Muddy Brown. People with relatives there are desperate for information about relatives and family. The only power is coming from generators and car batteries. A key headline stood out to me: ‘First Responders Cannot Get Out There’. The same is happening in Puerto Rico, an island almost ‘completely without power’.
And, in Mexico, over 200 are already reported dead as a frantic search continues for survivors from the second major earthquake this month. Overwhelmed first responders are trying their best to help as many as they can. While advance planning and preparation can’t address every situation, it can help families, neighborhoods, and businesses to survive until help can arrive.
You won’t have time to ‘Dust off the Plan’
I wrote a little about the risks we face in Week 1 of 4, and provided some FEMA links that can help you identify the risks particular to your state. The major earthquakes that affected Mexico this month fall along the same plate boundaries for the entire west coast of the Americas. We’re all at risk, and my personal feeling is that earthquakes are the worst. They can hit so hard, and so fast. There is no warning that they are coming, and if they exceed a 6.0, destruction can be near-immediate.
On a recent flight, I sat next to an Air Force pilot. The next day, I was scheduled to speak about the importance of testing Disaster Recovery Plans for an IT event. I asked him what kind of near-disasters he had been through and we talked for about 2 hours about close calls he had been through. I then asked how much practice, and how much of his training was focused on what to do when something goes wrong. His answer was ‘very likely over 75% – training is very, very extensive’.
When something goes wrong at over 1000mph, you don’t have time to ‘dust off your plans’ and figure out what to do. You need to know what to do. And that only comes from practice and training.
It’s highly unlikely most of us have even 10% of our time to spend practicing and preparing for a potential disaster, but September’s National Preparedness Month and the awful disasters occurring at the same time are a sober reminder. You may have heard ‘if you fail to prepare, you’re prepared to fail’. We need to know our risks, develop a plan, and practice the plans we have previously prepared.
Practice Makes Perfect
Practice helps to reinforces what we’ve learned. It can reveal weaknesses in our plan or gaps in our understanding of the plan.
In the event of a serious disaster, families, businesses, and emergency services face immediate disruption. Likely, you (a) won’t be able to find your plan, (b) won’t have time to read your plan, (c) won’t have first responder help available, (d) might not be able to communicate with phones or computers.
Practicing your plan now has the potential to save a life, prevent a serious injury, or save a business. You can have fun doing it. And, you and I share how we’re doing with others, it can encourage them to do the same.
How? For our company, this coming Friday, we planned a company BBQ and Happy Hour. We’re going to be displaying emergency kits that different employees have prepared. We’ll be sampling dehydrated foods (not as bad as it sounds! I recommend Mountain House which lasts for 20 years) and sharing pictures of families with their kits prepared. We dug up some old fire extinguishers and we’ll be showing employees how to use them just in case they have to. We’re also handing out lists of critical necessities that each family should have, such as this one:
Do You Have What You Need?
Disaster management organizations urge families to store and annually update emergency supplies. Of course, needs will vary according to your location and circumstances, so check with local emergency management services for recommendations that could be applied in your area.
In general it is recommended that you keep at least three gallons (11 L) of water per person and three days of nonperishable, ready-to-eat foods.
Also, some families have prepared “go bags” with such items as the following: *
- Blankets, complete change of warm clothes, and sturdy shoes
- Flashlight, radio (battery or windup), and spare batteries
- First-aid kit and a whistle to signal for help
- Eating utensils, can opener, pocket tool set, and waterproof matches
- Dust masks, waterproof tape, and plastic sheeting for shelter
- Toothbrushes, soap, towels, and toilet paper
- Child-care supplies and special-needs items for seniors or the disabled
- A waterproof container with needed medication, copies of prescriptions, and other important documents
- List of emergency contacts and meeting places and a local map
- Credit cards and cash
- Extra set of house keys and car keys
- Paper, pencils, books, and games for children
AllConnected’s Focus: Test Your DR Plan
We work closely with every client to understand, design, and plan IT availability. This requires contingency plans for people, process, and technology. As often as I can, I personally meet with current or prospective customers, encouraging them to ‘Test Their Plan’ or reviewing how their last test went.
“Quite simply, a plan which has not been tested cannot be assumed to work” – FIPS Pub 87
Our industry has many cloud service providers who provide Backup as a Service (BaaS) and Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) as cloud offerings. Yet I am often surprised that while such services may be utilized, very few customers using these services actually test them. The reason? It’s not always easy, and the time to test dozens or hundreds of Virtual Machines that service hundreds or thousands of users must be pulled from other competing activities.
Our advice is that whether your data or applications sit in your own server room, in a public cloud, in a private cloud, or a combination of all three, always have a Plan B. And test it.
The month of September is nearly finished, and will go on record as the most active month for Atlantic hurricanes, according to the ACE (Accumulated Cyclone Energy) Index.
As we’ve seen with Hurricane’s Harvey and Irma, as well as the three major 8.1, 7.1, and 6.1 earthquakes in Mexico this month, such disasters often overwhelm first responders, such as the fire and police departments.
Get Involved – Why?
As Ready.gov indicates, community leaders agree that trained volunteers and informed individuals taking action help to increase the support of emergency response agencies during these difficult times.
There are many ways to do so. Last December, my son and I enrolled in the local CERT (Community Emergency Response Team). While we learned many things during this course, a big takeaway is the need for us to take more individual responsibility to help ourselves, our families, our community, and our business.
For more ways to get involved in your community, see https://www.ready.gov/get-involved
Business Leaders – Get Your Employees Involved
As CEO of a local IT business focused on Disaster Recovery and Preparedness, I can also attest to the value of raising awareness with your local employees. Not only are many of our employees like a second family, but their well being and safety is crucial to the operation of our businesses after a serious disaster.
As I posted in the last section on ‘Practice Your Plan’, on Friday the 22nd, we had a local BBQ and Happy Hour and emphasized the importance of preparedness. We showed our staff how to operate fire extinguishers, had raffle prizes for DR preparedness quizzes, showed off emergency kits, and emphasized how important it is for families to be ready.
Raising awareness really helps. Throughout the month of September, we’ve encouraged employees to get disaster kits together. Comments back from our staff include ‘thank you for raising awareness on preparing – it helped us to refresh our really stale emergency kits’, and ‘with so much tragedy this month in different parts of the world, the practical reminders we received every week at AllConnected really made a difference for our family’.
A Month of NPM in Review
Ready.gov has encouraged us to take 4 important steps this month, in regard to ensuring we are prepared:
- Know Your Risks
- Develop a Plan
- Practice / Test Your Plan
- Get Involved
Repeat this checklist at least annually to ensure that you are better prepared for the unexpected.
Disaster Preparedness for Information Technology
If you don’t have a lot of confidence in your organization’s disaster recovery plan, or it’s been a while since you have tested your plan, call us! At AllConnected, we understand what it takes to recover. We can give you the peace of mind of knowing that your business IT is going to recovery in the midst of any production issues. Do you know that your IT will recover today? If not, we’d love a chance to talk about providing you that confidence.
Stay Prepared and Tell Your Friends,
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