Disaster preparedness is too critical an issue to overlook

Keeping tabs on the goings-on in the outside world while at the BICSI Fall Conference the week of August 22, I visited a news Web site and saw among the headlines something like “Katrina crosses Florida to the Gulf.

Keeping tabs on the goings-on in the outside world while at the BICSI Fall Conference the week of August 22, I visited a news Web site and saw among the headlines something like “Katrina crosses Florida to the Gulf.” The headline may not have resembled those words strongly; I’m not sure because, like most other people, I had no idea what was coming. The most thought I gave to it was that Katrina, starting with a “K,” was the eleventh named storm of the season. Boy, it has been a busy one. Then I went on with my work and my life.

About a week later, the fact that I first heard of Katrina while at a BICSI Fall Conference became significant to me, because in 2002, I attended the fall conference at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. It was my first, and now I wonder if it will be my only, trip to that city.

When the news footage began showing the destruction the hurricane caused to affected areas, and to New Orleans in particular, I was devastated-shocked, but not surprised. I had been aware for some time of the Crescent City’s below-sea-level altitude and the precarious position it would be in when, not if, a large-scale storm landed there. But that knowledge did not soften the jolt of seeing the physical dismantling of so many structures. And that was before I knew about the human carnage.

This is not the forum for me to air my personal feelings about the tragedy, so I will not do that here. Rather, I will focus on the business implications and how a tragedy in a city so far from most of us might provide lessons for many of us.

By complete coincidence, and planned several months ago, we at CI&M decided to devote one article in this October issue to the topic of disaster preparedness and recovery. (The article begins on page 38.) In conducting some initial research on the topic, we heard mention of a standard from the National Fire Protection Agency-NFPA 1600 Standard for Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs. Ultimately we chose that standard as the article’s primary focus.

One reason, selfishly, I settled on NFPA 1600 as a point of focus was because I wanted to learn more about it. I have to confess that before my initial research into the general topic of disaster recovery, I had not heard of the standard. I also must confess that I do not have much of a feel for whether the professionals in the cabling industry are very or at all familiar with it.

From a practical standpoint, the standard does not specifically mention an organization’s communications infrastructure, so unlike some other NFPA documents, this one does not dictate how cabling contractors must do their work.

The standard mentions communications in that it requires organizations to put into place communications systems (which it does not define or specify) that can be used to notify and alert employees/members in the event of a disaster. It also prescribes other communications and warning protocols. That’s a far cry from specific references to communications cabling that are found in such documents as the National Electrical Code (NFPA 70), NFPA 90, and others. So, perhaps NFPA 1600 is not top-of-mind for cabling professionals.

Then I discovered that the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, otherwise known at the 9/11 Commission, recommended that the country’s private sector adopt NFPA 1600 as a disaster-preparedness plan. And I concluded that the cabling industry should know about the standard, if it does not already. Every industry should know about the standard.

September 11, 2001 woke us up to the fact that we are all prone to disaster any day, any time, in some way, shape, or form. The immediate lesson I have taken away from Hurricane Katrina is that even when disaster gives a few days’ notice, short-term preparation is insufficient.

The article on NFPA 1600 in this issue characterizes the standard as important and, for all intents and purposes, promotes its use. As chief editor of this magazine, I make no apologies for that type of promotion.

PATRICK McLAUGHLIN
Chief Editor
patrick@pennwell.com

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