Wednesday, November 25, 2009

ERM-BC-COOP: Match resources with needs - and population


A few years ago an IT manager-moving-into-EM and BC asked me for thoughts on his situation. He then was in Pakistan.

He was of course concerned about his data center, a target for terrorists, and we discussed ways to protect that.

But his greater concern was threat of natural disasters that would challenge his then-new role in Emergency Management.

Pakistan has some fairly mountainous country (see and my correspondent was concerned with earthquakes.

I suggested that there were a number of things that could be considered, both before and after an event.

Turns out at least one of my suggestions was tried and proven.

One of the main post-event problems is moving things in and bringing people out.

During the 1906 earthquake, the US Army used mules to carry things into and people out of San Francisco CA (see

Some things never change.

What I recommended were, among other things,

  • acquisition of easy-to-use, limited-frequency shortwave transceivers

  • caching medical and long-life food supplies in strategic locations

  • inventorying high-altitude helicopters, mobile medical facilities, portable housing (tents) and pack animals able to traverse terrain unsuitable to mechanized land vehicles.

I also recommended that my acquaintance develop a plan to control volunteers, both from within Pakistan and from without, including "official" (government and recognized NGOs) and unofficial (individuals and groups who may, or may not, have needed skills).

Most of my recommendations were relatively low-tech and all were "off-the-shelf."

The most "difficult" would be training people in remote villages and camps to use the radios.

On the other hand, if the HF (shortwave) radios were limited to one or two frequencies, antenna tuning problems will be eliminated. If radios were distributed across the HF spectrum, again with only one or two frequencies per unit, the transmission could be identified by the frequency - although some additional burden would be placed on the sponsor who would have to monitor many more frequencies.

The radios would have to either be equipped with hand cranks to generate their own power or the villagers would need to be supplied with, and trained to use, hand-crank generators. This is "ancient" technology. True, solar powered battery chargers or generators are a possibility, but where people are mobile (e.g., moving herds to different pasturing areas), everything has to be "robust." I think hand-crank generators meet this requirement better than mirrors, and they work in the dark.

Always consider the use and the user when selecting tools.

Since I proposed stockpiling some basic medical supplies, someone in each village or group would need advanced first aid training. Indeed, probably several "someones" to preserve modesty (otherwise some injured may reject treatment from a person of the opposite sex; again, always consider the population's mentality).

As with everything else "risk management," all functions should have primary and perhaps several alternates available to accomplish the task(s).

What I failed to suggest was that he should research the life styles of the people he might be called upon to assist.

An acquaintance in Israel tells a story of the government's instruction being bested by family tradition.

Seems the government told its citizens that in the event of an attack, they were to go to the nearest shelter and stay there until the all clear.

The mentality of the people, particularly those from North Africa, is to cluster in family groups, never mind the distance. If the family patriarch or matriarch goes to Shelter Alef, you can bet the rest of the family - including nephews and neices - will go to Shelter Alef as well, bringing with them all the necessities to wait until the Army resolves the problem. (This may be less true today with the "only seconds" notice of incoming missiles from Gaza.)

There are several "bottom lines" to this exercise.

  • Low-tech often is as good as, and sometimes better than, high tech.

  • Understand the targeted population's mentality - "knowing the audience" - is as important as the tools provided.


John Glenn, MBCI
Enterprise Risk Management (Business Continuity) practitioner
Hollywood/Fort Lauderdale Florida

The author of this blog currently is seeking staff or staff consulting opportunities preferably working in, or from, southeast Florida (however all opportunities will be considered).


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