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Forming Disaster Recovery and Emergency Response Teams: Communicating With Recovery Teams

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In the first two articles of this series, Leo Wrobel showed us how to set up disaster recovery teams and discussed how they interface in the recovery process. In this final installment, he adds the essential ingredient that pulls it all together: communications, or what the military calls "4Ci."
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This month we’ll cover the final essential ingredient in any successful recovery plan: the ability to mobilize and communicate with these teams through effective "First Alert" procedures. To state it another way, you can have the most elegant plan in the world, but that matters little if you can’t contact or coordinate the people who will be involved in it.

What Was That?

After a bang, crash, tremor, or loud thud, the phrase, "What was that?" naturally follows. My wife and I have raised seven children, so we use that phrase a lot in our household. Comic relief aside, this is literally the first thing anyone asks after an event: "What happened?" And immediately afterward, people want to know what that crash affected, if they’re in danger, and whether they’ll be called to fix whatever went bang or boom. What people really are seeking at that moment is an instant situational analysis of what happened, what it affected, and how it might affect them. What’s more, the first thing they reach for 99 times out of 100 is the telephone:

"Houston, we’ve had a problem."—April 13, 1970, Astronaut Jim Lovell, Apollo 13

The famous phrase above is a dramatic example of the importance of communications. In a disaster, there’s no substitute for instant, reliable communications with those who can help. Many of us "boomers" can recall that spring day in 1970 made famous by the Apollo 13 astronauts. (The rest of you probably have seen Tom Hanks re-create some of those historic events in the movie Apollo 13.) I submit to you that NASA’s ultimate success in bringing home the Apollo 13 astronauts was attributable to getting the right folks involved and being able to communicate with them quickly. Without this communication, the three astronauts would have died of carbon dioxide poisoning (ground personnel talked them through how to build a scrubber) or overshot the earth on reentry (ground personnel told them how to aim and burn their engines). Literally hundreds of other things could have gone wrong; after all, the Apollo missions consisted of a set of very complex systems. The Apollo 13 situation was managed effectively because the "right" people were able to get involved through communications with one another, using tried-and-true procedures.

Everyone reading this article probably manages a complex system of some kind that’s prone to any number of disasters. To effect a recovery of that system when things turn pear-shaped, nothing is more important than getting the right people involved, whether those people are employees, vendors, cleanup companies, hot sites, emergency services, or anyone else. There’s no more lonely feeling than being cut off and on your own at the time when you need help most.

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