The Importance of Command and Control (4Ci) to the First Alert Process
Command and control are of the utmost importance throughout the first alert process, since rapid decisions must be made in a pressure situation based on what must be accurate information. The military uses the expression 4Ci for the elements of this process:
After all, most of the mission of the military involves responding to catastrophic, unexpected, and potentially deadly situations. In order to respond appropriately, however, the person or people in charge must have accurate knowledge of the situation.  Solid communications are crucial to conveying that information to decision makers, in order to have any semblance of command and control. 
Any means of maintaining 4Ci in a disaster is a survival advantage. Options as mundane as laptops, BlackBerry devices, wireless phones, instant messaging, voicemail, broadcast fax, email blasts, low-power radio stations, two-way radios, and push-to-talk phones add immeasurably to the capability of 4Ci.
Many technologists in the U.S. and China are military veterans, with experience that's now useful in the private and nonmilitary sectors. Others have served as firefighters, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), police officers, or in other capacities in professions that deal with rapid responses of one type or another in disaster situations. It's possible to draw on this kind of experience when addressing an organization's business resumption plans, disaster recovery plans, and first alert procedures.
The first step in that process is to think through what would have to happen in response to a given situation. Who would need to come to work immediately? Who would be required to stay home, to avoid being in the way? What if key people couldn't or didn't show up—who would replace them? Worse yet, what if key people were injured or killed? Who is responsible for calling employees to work? How would this responsible person contact those employees? What backup means are available for contacting staff if telephone, cell phone, etc. are not available?
So where do you begin? What are the enabling technologies that allow for powerful, well-defined, yet flexible first alert procedures?
First, get your thoughts and facts rolling by thinking about questions like the following (presented in no particular order):
- Where is your meeting place if the affected building is inaccessible?
- Who will comprise your initial response teams?
- How will you contact your initial response teams?
- What happens if these people are not available?
- How do you document call-out numbers?
- How do you keep call-out numbers up to date?
- Where are all your emergency numbers?
- Who do you call in case of injury or death?
- Who will speak to the media?
- How will your customers/clients/patients, etc. react?
Once you have the fundamentals down, consider which technologies you can use to augment your first alert procedures. Selecting the right technologies makes your first alert procedures more powerful and yet more flexible in their ability to respond to changes in situations. Consider the following possibilities:
- Wireless phones
- Voice conference bridges
- Two-way radios
- BlackBerry devices
- Laptop computers
- Push-to-talk phones
- Broadcast fax machines
- Fax servers
- Offsite hosted email accounts
- Offsite hosted voicemail accounts
- Satellite phones
- "Black box" wireless-to-landline adapters
- VoIP phones
Once you've organized the fundamentals, many enabling technologies are available to help you develop a level of precision and sophistication in your first alert procedures that rivals a NASA space shot.
These are the most important things to remember:
- Know your business by conducting an effective business impact analysis with the help of a reputable outside source.
- Set your first alert objectives based on the particular makeup of your organization.
- Enable and empower your first alert procedures with available supporting technology.
I hope that these tips helped you. I wish you the best of luck in your contingency planning pursuits.
Leo A. Wrobel is honored to be a speaker at the first International Workshop on Emergency Management, Technology, Application and Practice (EMTAP 2008) in Beijing, China November 14–15, 2008. The conference is sponsored by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) Institute of Policy and Management (IPM) and the Pacific Disaster Center.