Disaster Preparedness

CSO (US) magazine editor Kathleen S Carr spoke to Peter Metzger about the effects of Katrina on disaster preparedness and the CSO role. Metzger, a vice chair of executive search firm Christian & Timbers, was formerly a military aide in the Reagan White House. He has recruited the global security teams for some of the world's largest companies and serves as CSO's career counsellor.

On how Katrina will elevate the role of CSO . . .

Hopefully, Katrina is cumulative evidence that these events are real. This isn't a terrorist attack, but the results are the same. People need to think constantly about what we can do in the event of a total failure. This means planning how to identify employees and duplicate record keeping. Redundant systems must be kept in another location besides headquarters.

On rebuilding New Orleans . . .

I believe it's nearly an impossibility to rebuild the economic structure of New Orleans. CSOs need to think about ways to react to these events. This applies to small businesses as well as Fortune 100 companies. In this day and age you need to think about these events all the time. This is part of a CSO's responsibility.

On what the current relief effort says about US disaster preparedness . . .

If you look at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), I think it has done an adequate job given the circumstances and severity of the incident-it's clear that a lot of things conspired to make this the perfect storm. We now recognize that this event is analogous to a biohazard attack or a dirty bomb attack, and we are systemically unprepared to deal with it, socially, economically or personally. If we can't improve on our national, state and local programs, we set ourselves up for continued problems like this.

On the importance of redundant systems . . .

This screams to the need to have not only central business operations but also some kind of redundant facility that can have some semblance of recorded information, such as employee identification, document and data retrieval. If there's nothing left, where do you start rebuilding? Remotely locating redundancy is step number one.

On why physical security is increasingly tied to business risk and business operations . . .

Sadly, all you have to do is look at what happens to the human condition within 48 hours. We experience fear, then loss, then anger, hostility and on to attacking the very people trying to help us. Some of that is lawlessness, but it speaks to the need to be well planned and rehearsed. Until we see these things, we don't know how quickly civil disobedience can break out. It's going to take 30,000 National Guardsmen to keep the peace. People revert to basic survival and will do anything to get water or food to their family in order to survive. We can't plan for that, but we can have enough things in place to recognize that this is going to happen. What's happening is real, this is not make-believe. Threat analysis and prevention become really important. Disaster recovery is the last part of the plan but we're seeing how important it is now.

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