Tag Archives: firestorm

How to Spot and Avoid Your Next Crisis

Q: Can I identify my organization’s next crisis? If so, how?

A: Jim Satterfield– Undoubtedly, yes. Knowing what the next crisis might be is a way to think about planning and information. There are warning signs and indicators when we discuss human behavior. Understanding behaviors of concern and identifying them earlier in the process is imperative. It provides an idea of the frequency and severity of a situation.

If we can see those indicators, if we can identify those behaviors, then we can intervene before they become a problem. Sometimes, they are business or financial indicators; sometimes, it’s just human behavior.

On 9/11, I was EVP and chief operating officer of a public technology firm with employees in the States and around the world. When the first plane hit the first tower, we thought it could have been an accident. When the second plane hit the second tower, clearly not an accident. We called a meeting in our boardroom and, while sitting around the table, decided it was a day unlike any that we’ve ever seen.

Our management team decided it would be better to let everybody go home. I turned to our HR director and said, “Could you send a global email out to everybody in the company telling them they could just go home”? She went back to her desk, and she typed this message: “If you want to live, leave.”

The intended message was to be: “If you want to leave, leave.” Those are two entirely different messages. “If you want to live, leave.” “If you want to leave, leave.”

Thinking about your messages when you’re not under stress is very, very critical, and planning makes a difference.

Q: I already have a detailed and updated copy of our organization’s crisis plan. Do I need to have a digital copy, as well?

A: Jim Satterfield– Unless you’re planning to add a psychic on your crisis management team, it’s not going to do you any good to have an outdated or out-of-reach plan. Keeping your plans current and available is crucial. If you can’t get access to the right information at the right time, it’s not going to do you any good. “Oh, the plan’s back in the office, and I’m at home.”

Speed is quality. Getting the right answers to the right people at the right time becomes a critical element in every crisis.

Q: What should my organization’s key messages be to each stakeholder group for vulnerabilities and threats?

A: Jim Satterfield– What we’re going to say internally will be different than what we’ll say externally. Think about who your stakeholders are. If you’re in a business that’s heavily regulated, you have regulators as a stakeholder group. You have employees and investors, as well. If a school, you have parents, students and possibly church affiliation. You have various elements to be dealt with, and that makes a difference in approach.

Q: What resource can help with quick decision-making?

A: Jim Satterfield– What you do is list in one column things that could happen, things that could damage:

  • The facility
  • The employees
  • The data
  • The brand
  • The reputation

Across two more columns, we indicate what would qualify as a minor event and what is considered a crisis. You then include descriptive terms and circulate it to the entire company.

Immediately, when something comes up, refer to the matrix. If an employee is injured, but did not receive emergency treatment, it remains a minor event. If the employee had to have some medical attention, it rises to the next level. If an employee dies, that’s crisis. It’s at the highest level that management would want to be involved, so creating an event activation matrix is the fastest way to get that quick response with everyone on the same page at the same time.

Q: What are common mistakes people have made during a crisis?

A: Jim Satterfield– These are the five failures that we see over and over and over again in a disaster or crisis:

  • Failure to control critical supply chains
  • Failure to train employees for both work and home
  • Failure to identify and monitor all threats and risks
  • Failure to conduct exercises and update plan
  • Failure to develop crisis communications plans
  • About 70% of employees don’t know what they’re supposed to do in a disaster or a crisis. In addition, 95% don’t have a disaster plan at home. If something happens in your area, and you think your family is at risk, family wins. That’s why people don’t show up in a crisis, because they’re concerned about their family.

    We work on these failures through our Predict/Plan/Perform process. First, identify groups. Then conduct exercises and establish how you’re going to monitor and communicate. When you think about your individual plans, think about them in light of these groups. You need to build preparation in from all of these groups that could ultimately be a problem within the organization.

    Q: Are school students classified under workplace violence?

    A: Jim Satterfield– Yes, because it’s a workplace. The school is a workplace, yes.

    Q: Prevention is rare in organizations that have small staffs. Have you found organizations are willing to assign staff to conduct social media monitoring on their time?

    A: Jim Satterfield– They can, or you can use an outside service that will do it for you. This route is much more cost-effective. Why? Because that’s the specialist’s full-time job.

    Whatever your full-time job is, you’re good at that job. If you only do something every now and then, you’re not going to be as good, and you may miss an important signal or piece of information.

    We are finding organizations — both large and small — are conducting monitoring as a preventative measure, and we conduct such intelligence gathering for a number of clients.

    Surviving the Loss of Your Home

    I lost my home in the 1991 firestorm in Oakland, CA. With wildfires now destroying others’ homes in California, my heart goes out to the homeowners whose homes are damaged or destroyed by fire or other disasters, to the firefighters and to others who have risked and are risking their lives. I also feel for the communities that will experience the devastating aftermath.

    While I am an attorney who specializes in handling insurance claims for policyholders, the loss of my home showed me the stresses and challenges of handling my claim with my insurer, as well as those facing many other Oakland firestorm survivors whom I assisted with their claims.

    Those whose homes are damaged or destroyed will face many challenges in the coming days and months — temporary shelter, replacement of necessary items, disruption of their lives caused by having to relocate, and the repair and rebuilding of their lives and homes.  I would like to offer some professional as well as personal advice in the hope I can be of some assistance.

    Likely, none of you have read your homeowners insurance policies previously.  I am embarrassed to say that I had not read mine prior to the Oakland firestorm, and I am, as they say, in the business.  Do not be surprised when you attempt to read your policies if you have difficulty understanding them, despite their claims of being written in “plain English” or “easy to read” format.  Even professionals do not agree on every policy interpretation, and no one is born with an innate understanding of insurance or how to pursue their personal insurance claim.

    Your homeowners policies provide a few basic coverages for your home, other structures, additional living expenses, and personal property.  Initially, you will want to focus on obtaining an advance from your insurer to cover immediate necessities, including food and lodging.  Most insurers involved in a catastrophic loss will readily issue advances from your contents and additional living expense coverages, usually in the $5,000-$15,000 range.  In fact, many insurers will set up local catastrophic loss command centers to handle requests in your community.  The easiest way to communicate or locate your insurer is to contact your insurance agent or broker.

    Additional living expense coverage covers your expenses when you are dislocated from your residence as a result of its being destroyed or rendered uninhabitable.  This coverage is usually limited by a dollar limit or a maximum time. Such coverage typically covers either your actual out-of-pocket expenses, such as increased meal costs, increased cost of commuting from a different location, cost of temporary residence, etc., or the reasonable rental value of your former residence.  Most insureds opt for the latter method of determining their additional expense coverage as it is simpler, less time consuming to document and usually yields a greater dollar recovery.

    You will need to immediately replace certain essential items, such as toiletries and clothes.  Most insurers will give you an advance on your contents claim with no specific proof of loss other than proof that your home was damaged or destroyed.  As time progresses, you will be required to document your loss on an itemized basis.  Most of you will have replacement cost coverage, which means you will, upon proof of replacement, be entitled to the cost of replacing lost items up to the limits shown in your policy.  For items that you do not immediately replace, the insurer usually will pay you “actual cash” value for those items.

    This means that the insurer will determine the replacement cost of the item and then depreciate it for use, age or obsolescence.  If you subsequently replace the item, you can then send the insurer a copy of the receipt and receive the difference between what you were paid by the insurer shortly after the loss and what you spent to replace it.

    A frequently asked question is:  What is the replacement cost of an item that is no longer made?  You are entitled to replace such items, subject to your contents limits, with items of like kind and quality.

    Eventually, you will be dealing with the cost of repairing or replacing your home.  The first item you will likely have to deal with is removal of debris.  Almost all policies provide coverage for debris removal as either a percentage of the limits for the house or in addition to the limits for replacement of your house.

    Next, the insurer and you will be working on determining the cost of rebuilding your former home.  Many of you will have a form of replacement cost coverage that will give you the replacement cost of your home up to some percentage in excess of your stated policy limits.  Such an increase in coverage is typically 125% of stated limits.  Additionally, most of you will have coverage for other structures, such as detached garages, decks and fences, with an additional coverage limit, usually referred to as “other structures” coverage.  Many of you will also have coverage for code upgrades, although such coverages will also have limits.  You will likely have coverage for landscaping.  Even if you had native or natural landscaping, you are entitled to have it replaced subject to the terms of your policy.

    An issue that many of us dealt with in the Oakland firestorm is that policies that provide replacement cost coverage usually require you to replace the structure before you are fully compensated, although you are provided some monies on an actual cash value basis in the interim. This posed a significant challenge for those who were less affluent, because they were financially incapable of fronting the monies necessary to complete their homes.  After some negotiations and with considerable help from the then Insurance Commissioner, now U.S. Congressman, John Garamendi, the insurers agreed to either finance reconstruction costs as building progressed or advanced funds.  Most insurers will reach similar agreements in response to the current situation.

    Some of you may not wish to rebuild, but may wish to relocate.  There are many considerations that go into such a decision, and it can only be made by you in the best interests of you and your family.  At the time of the Oakland firestorm, most insurance policies required that you rebuild your homes at their current sites.  However, most insurers waived this requirement, and now most policies no longer have these requirements.  If you wish to relocate, let your insurer know as soon as possible.  Even if the policy requires building on your lot, most insurers will waive that requirement as you will be in temporary quarters for a shorter time, which decreases the amount they have to pay in additional living expenses.  Most insurers are ecstatic if the insured wishes to relocate, as it decreases the amount they ultimately have to pay.  If you choose such an option, the insurer still pays you the cost of rebuilding/replacing your former home.  You will also retain title to your lot and can sell it later.

    I was asked by many homeowners in the Oakland firestorm and in subsequent disasters whether they need to hire an attorney.  This is my response:  1) most homeowners insurance claims are resolved over a period of time through negotiation and with assistance from claims adjusters and contractors; and 2) most insurers are helpful and sympathetic to their insureds and will make every effort to guide insureds through the process.  However, for most homeowners, their home and its contents are their largest and most important investments.  Consequently, it is advisable to consult with an attorney who specializes in handling insurance matters to make sure that you avail yourself of all benefits you are entitled to under your policy.  Additionally, if you feel at any time you are not being fairly treated by your insurer you should either consult with an insurance coverage attorney or seek assistance from your state's Department of Insurance.

    When the Oakland firestorm destroyed my home, I had two daughters: Katy, then 6, and Noelle, who was just shy of her 3rd birthday.  My now-former husband and I were lawyers, and, heck, we were insurance coverage lawyers.  We knew we could handle our claim and the situation.  We relocated our family within a week into temporary housing and shortly thereafter went into contract to purchase a new home.  We had no idea what lay ahead.

    Replacing even the bare necessities was a huge project.  We were shopping both days of every weekend and almost every evening.  I wanted to keep my oldest in her school and my youngest in her preschool, so I drove a long commute from our temporary housing every morning and evening.  When I wasn’t driving, I was working on the claim or shopping to replace basic necessities.  My youngest cried every night and begged to go home.  Even though we knew how to handle an insurance claim, it was physically and emotionally exhausting.

    About a month after the fire, my older daughter came home with a flyer inviting all firestorm survivors to a special day at Marine World hosted by the Oakland, Berkeley and Piedmont fire departments.  I indicated that we probably wouldn’t be able to go because we needed to go shopping for “stuff” for our soon-to-be new home.  Within an hour, Katy had organized Noelle into a joint protest.  They let their father and me have it.  They told us we had become the “no fun” family.  They were tired of not doing anything.  They missed their friends, who now lived away from them, and they missed us.

    They were right!  From that day forward, we made sure that we had family day every weekend.  We went to the event at Marine World and reconnected with other relocated friends.  Katy and Noelle got to play with their friends.  We learned to be nicer to each other.  We also learned that not everything had to get done on a certain schedule, and sometimes it was better if it didn’t get done at all.  We learned that we had gotten the most important things out of the fire: ourselves.  We also learned that only those things that had memories attached were truly important, for anything else could be replaced.  None of us has ever placed the same importance on possessions.  For a long time, I resisted replacing many items, as I simply did not want as many things, and frankly still don’t.  Most importantly, we learned the importance of family and community and that we could survive a major loss in our lives and be the better for it.

    Hurricane Sandy – Do Not Underestimate Impact

    Over the next few days, you’re going to read a number of comparisons between the current Hurricane Sandy and August 2011’s Hurricane Irene. Firestorm urges you to read and take these comparisons seriously, as Irene killed 56 people with US costs upwards of $15.6 billion in damages. The total damages are still being felt.

    Sandy, sadly, has the potential to be “the Perfect Storm.” Some meteorologists say a rare combination of events — Hurricane Sandy combined with an outbreak of unseasonably cold air, and a strong land-based storm system — could deliver flooding rains, damaging winds of near-hurricane force, large waves, and even heavy snow inland.

    This Public Discussion details meteorological observations as of 5PM Thursday evening, 10/25:

    “…Later in the period … some re-intensification is shown as Sandy deepens again off the U.S. East Coast while it interacts with another shortwave trough. Regardless … Sandy is expected to be a large cyclone at or near hurricane intensity through most of the forecast period.

    “… Sandy will be pulled northwestward and slow down on Friday while it interacts with the upper-level low. Then a north-northeastward acceleration is expected by Saturday as a long-wave trough move into the eastern United States. Most of the track models now show a turn back toward the northwest by the end of the period due to Sandy interacting with an amplifying shortwave trough over the Carolinas and mid Atlantic states. However … there remain some significant differences in the timing of this interaction … as the ECMWF has Sandy farther west and interacting with the shortwave sooner relative to most of the rest of the guidance … which shows a wider turn and a track farther north. The new NHC forecast is close to the previous one … and lies roughly between the ECMWF and the GFS ensemble mean. Regardless of the exact track of Sandy … it is likely that significant impacts will be felt over portions of the U.S. East Coast through the weekend and into early next week.”

    Firestorm’s Jim Satterfield states:

    “While Sandy’s pattern is similar to last year’s hurricane, the water temperature is lower and wind impact may be less. Even given lower winds, flooding is extremely likely and combined with down trees and the possibility of ice, loss of power is expected as the hurricane moves inland. For businesses, now is the time to reconfirm call in numbers and messaging. The European model shows that Sandy has the potential to become a massive storm. If this model is correct, outages could be in days and even weeks.”

    Rainfall Potential

    Hurricane Sandy Potential Rainfall

    Hurricane Sandy Potential Rainfall

    As reported by the Associated Press, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said he expected to receive by Friday from the state's major utility companies, emergency plans for how they will deal with the storm.

    The utilities came under intense criticism last year following widespread and long-lasting power outages caused by the remnants of Hurricane Irene in August and a surprise October snowstorm.

    Asked during his monthly “Ask the Governor” show on WTKK-FM if he expected utilities to be more prepared for this storm, Patrick responded: “They'd better be.”

    Patrick signed a law earlier this year that requires utilities to dramatically improve communications with their customers during emergencies. Many residents and municipal officials in areas hard-hit by last year's storm complained that they were unable to get accurate information from companies about when power might be restored.

    The law requires the utilities to establish call centers that would be staffed around the clock after major storms to handle inquiries from customers about power restoration. Failure of any investor-owned utility to carry out an order by the chairman (authorized under section 4B of the General Laws of the Commonwealth CHAPTER 25 DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC UTILITIES) shall be subject to investigation and a penalty of up to $1,000,000 per violation.

    In a statement from Governor Andrew M. Cuomo on the NY-Alert website, the Governor directed the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services to closely monitor the progress of Hurricane Sandy and prepare for potential storm impacts. Although the storm track is still uncertain, Hurricane Sandy has the potential to affect many parts of New York State with a variety of threats, including heavy rain, high winds, flooding, tornadoes, coastal surges, and widespread power outages.

    “I have directed state agencies and New York's emergency operations personnel to begin preparations now for the potential impact of Hurricane Sandy,” Governor Cuomo said. “I urge all New Yorkers to closely track the storm's path, using local radio and television or online reports. We will actively monitor the storm's progress and take any steps necessary to protect our state's residents.”

    Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P) is hiring 2,000 contractors from the Midwest and United Illuminating is hiring hundreds of workers to help respond to Sandy if the storm hits the state. CL&P provides power to more than a million residences and businesses, and is warning its residential customers to prepare a home emergency kit and has begun reaching out to local officials to update them on how the company will respond if there are widespread power outages.

    In Maryland, Baltimore County government is holding an emergency preparedness press conference at 1:30 p.m. Friday, in which county emergency personnel will update residents on response plans and Baltimore Gas and Electric Vice President for Corporate Communications Rob Gould will detail the utility company's preparedness plans.

    Businesses Should Prepare Now
    Firestorm Solutions, a nationally recognized leader in Continuity Planning, Critical Decision Support, Crisis Response, Crisis Management, Crisis Communications, Crisis Public Relations, and Consequence Management, urges businesses to review business continuity plans, and to communicate with employees and vendors to prepare for labor shortages, supply chain interruptions, power and technology systems back-ups, and other critical system and process interruptions:

    • Recovery prioritization structure for critical business functions
    • Response and recovery actions by functional department
    • Identification of critical suppliers
    • Identification of key employees and contacts

    The crisis management team should include the CEO, senior officers, and key personnel representing operations, security, marketing, human resources and public information. The senior business continuity officer and his staff facilitate the crisis management discussion and decision making.

    Depending on the severity of the crisis, a command center is set up including PC's, white boards, and phone lines. As status information flows into the command center, it is useful to record it on the white board for the crisis team to see at a glance.

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    Roles and Responsibilities in a Crisis

    • Human Resources is charged with updating employee information phone recordings and web site with status and instructions.
    • The security officer should communicate with fire and law enforcement, if necessary.
    • Marketing should develop customer communications, and public information should craft carefully worded statements for the media/social media outlets.
    • It is imperative that media inquiries be referred to an experienced, designated spokesperson.
    • The secretary to the board or CEO should inform directors, when appropriate.
    • The command center is staffed around the clock, and team members are rotated until the crisis passes and full recovery is completed.

    Time is of the essence in crisis management, and it deserves its own plan specifying participant responsibilities. A measure of success is that the dimensions of the crisis are known and recovery activities are begun within the first few hours. In the absence of a tested crisis management plan, the crisis management process can be a turbulent and reactive instead of a calm and productive experience.

    Incident/Emergency Response Plan
    Implementing an emergency response plan enables a timely response to a disruptive event, with the objective of protecting people and property, while enabling an efficient recovery effort that satisfies stakeholder expectations. Firestorm's Emergency Response Team, which can be reached at 800.321.2219, is available to assist with:

    • Establishing emergency response objectives and assumptions.
    • Developing emergency response team roles and responsibilities.
    • Identifying primary / alternate assignments.
    • Collecting emergency response team contact information and documenting call tree procedures.
    • Designing a triggering process, escalation criteria and declaration criteria; establishing and documenting authority levels.
    • Documenting actions by phases, disruption or crisis for incident response at the impacted site.
    • Documenting or attaching evacuation and shelter-in-place procedures.
    • Developing and documenting response procedures that align to the emergency response objectives and assumptions; developing processes to enable recovery procedures.
    • Establishing and documenting communications strategies to internal and external resources/ stakeholders; summarizing media handling procedures; documenting crisis communications holding statements.
    • Creating a damage assessment process and assigning personnel.

    For Business Preparedness
    The Firestorm Hurricane Sandy Business Crisis Management Response Team is available now at 800.321.2219.

    For Individual Preparedness
    Firestorm offers its eBook at no charge: Disaster Ready People for a Disaster Ready America.