Expert's Corner: Why Preparedness Is Crucial in Disaster Response and Recovery

In his latest Expert's Corner, Michael Keating discusses the importance of preparedness and training for manufacturers so they can be ready when a disaster strikes. This is Keating's sixth article of a series on disaster planning and recovery. His series covers a wide range of contingencies in disaster preparation and reaction for manufacturing organizations.

Does your organization conduct disaster planning and training and have contingencies in place for response and recovery?

A good disaster preparedness plan for a manufacturer has several key parts, according to Shawn Kitchell, vice president of manufacturing at Woburn, Mass.-based Madico Inc., a maker of window film that sells into 75 countries worldwide. At the most basic level, Kitchell said, each manufacturing facility should have an emergency response plan that details all potential emergency events and what responses to them must be.

The emergency response plan should cover fires and explosions; chemical releases; severe weather events, earthquakes and sinkholes; structural failures; acts of violence and terrorism; and other calamities. The plan needs to make clearly who is in charge during an emergency event, and all employees must be trained in following it.

Visual aids help simplify and speed disaster reaction times and efficiency. "Having simple visual identifiers for emergency response equipment and procedures, combined with an organized workspace, saves time during an emergency event and makes it easier for people to understand and follow expected procedures. The training associated with this plan becomes less cumbersome as employees can rely more on the visual system and less on lengthy written procedures."

For management, keeping the business afloat should be part of the disaster planning discussion, and training staff to continue operations is crucial. "Manufacturers need to consider disaster recovery in the context of business continuity," said Kitchell. "How will customers be serviced? How will employees be notified? How do we coordinate recovery efforts? How do we maintain a business presence? All these things and many more must be considered."

Disaster preparedness also involves suppliers. Manufacturers need to extend their disaster training efforts to this all-important external group, noted Chris Cooley, senior director of product management in recovery services at Wayne, Pa.-based SunGard Availability Services. The firm offers disaster recovery management solutions, including data backup and recovery in the cloud.

Suppliers, Cooley said, have to be aligned with a company's recovery practices to ensure operational continuity. "If a manufacturer's supplier does not know what to do in the event of an emergency, the manufacturer puts itself at risk," he said.

Emergency response training must cover the all-important survival basics. Employees need to understand where to go and what to do. A major consideration for Madico is employee egress, said Kitchell. "This is a consideration of all layout choices," he noted. "We must not design a layout that 'traps' an employee during an emergency event. This includes everything from severe weather to active shooter scenarios."

After an emergency is downgraded from a dangerous situation, employees should know the next recovery steps. "In the case of what to do, teams need to understand the procedure for recovering critical applications to resume business as usual," Cooley said.

And training should not be limited to the classroom or tabletop exercises. As far as frequency goes, Cooley said firms should hold disaster recovery tests or drills regularly - annually, at a minimum - "so teams can practice what they learned in the planning phases."

He said training should cover more than just what IT needs to do in a disaster recovery. "End-users also need to be a part of the disaster recovery program. The end-users need to understand what changes, if any, should be expected from their applications if they are running in disaster mode. Additionally, all members of the firm need to understand the procedures and alternate work locations should their work space be impacted."

A wise manufacturer, Kitchell said, can take actions in advance of a weather disaster that will mitigate damage. Madico's St. Petersburg, Fla., production facility, where millions of dollars have been invested in capital equipment and other improvement projects, is "Exhibit A" for careful disaster planning, he said. "Any structural upgrades at the facility were made to the latest hurricane standards (wind loading, etc). The facility itself is located (in relatively higher elevation) such that flooding is less likely, but we considered the probability of flooding when designing any layout. We strive to keep materials and electronics elevated."

The Denver-based Center for Preparedness and Training Inc. offers training in a number of disaster-related topics for all levels of government agencies and midsize to large corporations. Its preparedness classes are one to five days long. Its Executive Operations Group (EOG) course is designed to equip senior executives with critical actions to respond, recover, and resume business functions.

The center can customize a course to fit a particular entity, such as an emergency response plan (ERP) training session for a water production system, which the center will be doing in January. The ERP course provides training on how to create an ERP form from several sources of information, including a hazards assessment, business impact analysis, and vulnerability assessment, in order to develop the responses necessary to resume operations.

It's important to look at positive and negative examples of disaster recovery, said Michael A. Roberto, who is trustee professor of management at Smithfield, R.I.-based Bryant University, and author of Why Great Leaders Don't Take Yes for an Answer.

"You learn best by comparing and contrasting good and bad examples of disaster recovery," Roberto said. "Examining how BP coped very poorly with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a good case study to examine. Alternatively, you can look at a positive example, such as juice company Odwalla's response to an E. coli outbreak in 2006, or JetBlue's recovery from a major operational breakdown in 2007."

Roberto said manufacturers can take away important  lessons by studying 9/11 and how some firms, such as bond-trading giant Cantor Fitzgerald, whose offices were in the World Trade Center, got up and running very quickly.

Photo credit: franky242 at

Read part one of this series, What Manufacturers Need to Do About Data Recovery After a Disaster.

Read part two of this series, How Manufacturers Can Preserve the Supply Chain After a Disaster.

Read part three of this series, Social Media Tools for Manufacturers in Times of Disaster.

Read part four of this series, Manufacturers Join Consortiums to Help Each Other After a Disaster.

Read part five of this series, How to Preserve and Recover Documents After a Disaster.

Michael Keating is senior editor for Government Product News and a contributing editor for American City and County, both published by Penton Media. Read his mid-year 2013 government budget and spending forecast at the Government Product News site. Go here for his IMT 2012 report on how to land government business. His most recent item for IMT was about Mid-year 2013 Update on the Government Market for Manufacturers. Keating has written articles on the government market for more than 100 publications, including USA Today, Sanitary Maintenance, IndustryWeek, and the Costco Connection. Michael can be reached through his website,


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