The All Hazards Consortium (AHC), headquartered in Frederick, Maryland, is a nonprofit organization focused on issues related primarily to homeland security, emergency management, and business continuity. Established in 2005, AHC started as a state-guided, vendor-supported organization. Over the past several years, the organization expanded its efforts to engage the private-sector owners and operators of the nation’s critical infrastructure more effectively in order both to integrate planning efforts with the states and to enhance business continuity following a major natural or human-caused disaster.
The Regional Integrated Systems and Planning Initiative was launched by AHC in January 2011 and focused on integrating – into federal, state, and local government planning processes – the private sector from a broad spectrum of important “lifeline” communities: energy, transportation, telecommunications, food, water, finance, medical, chemical, and information technology.
To begin the building of a better integrated planning process, six AHC workshops were held in 2011 and 2012 attended by numerous representatives from those lifeline communities. More than 150 companies, most of which are owners and operators of critical infrastructure, were represented at the workshops, helping to further expand the association’s new business-continuity efforts. Later, at the AHC’s Annual Board Retreat in July 2012, a joint planning meeting with owner operators and state representatives continued to polish and upgrade the short- and long-range plans for building and carrying out an even more long-term integrated planning framework and joint exercise program needed to build sustainability.
Super Storm Sandy: A Massive Disaster & Unprecedented Response A major and unscheduled real-life test of what has been accomplished to date started with only a few days’ warning in October 2012 when so-called Super Storm Sandy barreled up the East Coast of the United States, making landfall in several Northeastern states and leaving one of the largest geographic footprints in the nation’s history. Most of the state and local governments in the “target area” were quickly overwhelmed with requests for support. Private-sector organizations and businesses also needed government assistance during their own response efforts.
In New Jersey, the State Emergency Operation Center quickly activated its Private Sector Help Desk, an action that proved to be particularly helpful in coordinating efforts between the companies and agencies that were responding and those that were in need. Fortunately, the AHC had already worked with the Private Sector Help Desk and was engaged in several integrated planning programs and projects, so it was able to work more effectively with its own members and partners to quickly provide the broad spectrum of donated services needed to support both the private and public sectors in their own response efforts. Following are a few examples of the specific actions taken:
- Daily private-sector resource reports were issued that included “open/closed” status reports on the location and availability of thousands of food, fuel, pharmacy, and hotel accommodations;
- Regional rail alerts were provided – by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) – to keep states, local communities, and owner/operators informed of rail-related incidents and operational status;
- Citizen protection measures were initiated to provide a pro-bono social media service that alerted New Jersey’s emergency operations center/fusion center, and more than 50 companies, to a broad spectrum of helpful information that could be used to save lives, rescue stranded citizens, and protect property;
- Power/utility fleet movement was significantly expedited through toll stations by using a jointly developed process created by state agencies and private-sector companies; and
- The “housing crisis” created by the super storm was addressed in emergency meetings thatentified thousands of potential housing units that might be available to support local citizens and emergency workers.
A Widespread Disaster & the Public/Private Response All of this information, and more, was provided by private-sector partners to the AHC, which then resolved many if not quite all of the business/legal/competitive issues involved. It then was able to distribute the upgraded information to the correct people and organizations in government and/or the private sector. To cite but one example: In the daily private-sector resource reports, Hughes Network Systems – a major provider of satellite broadband – provided data on the “power up/power down” status of their customers in the pharmaceuticals, fuel, fast food, and lodging businesses. The Hughes data was first compiled and inserted into a basic spreadsheet. Thousands of data points were then created, each of which indicated the “potential” availability of services at specific locations.
The new upgraded information then was distributed to officials throughout the affected region – by the second day of the response efforts to the super storm. Significantly, the same data also was used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in its daily White House briefings and for the pre-positioning of federal assets.
By using established programs and the skills and resources of existing relationships and partners that had been developed over more than seven years, the AHC was able to coordinate assistance and services for many agencies, organizations, and individuals – without interfering with the operational efforts of various states. This private-sector effort helped significantly to reduce the heavy workload suddenly imposed on government response agencies – and, not incidentally, to provide a liaison service that could assist government agencies and private-sector companies in a number of other ways, including:
- Delivery companies used the power outage reports to determine which stores could receive shipments and redirect the truck drivers accordingly;
- Major employers used private-sector resource reports to assist essential personnel in getting to work;
- Power crews used the same reports to determine where they could purchase fuel and/or find hotel rooms;
- To ease traffic congestion on toll roads, power company vehicles traveling from outside the region were directed by government officials to use the right-lane tollbooths and simply leave a business card for billing at a later time; and
- Working with housing database firms, thousands of potential housing units wereentified for citizens who had been displaced by the storm throughout the two states hardest hit: New Jersey and New York.
Future Outlook: Additional Programs & Services; Better Communications Secretary Janet Napolitano of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security telephoned the AHC, the month after Sandy made landfall, to thank the members for their outstanding support and continuing assistance during the storm.
But that is not, of course, where the story ends. Looking forward, the AHC is now making plans to: schedule annual exercises with its private-sector partners; leverage its relationship with FEMA more effectively; promote the further integration of public and private partners; launch a new membership program for individual citizens and small businesses; offer a broader spectrum of owner/operator services; and further develop the multi-state “enabling framework” the association has been working on since 2005.
Collectively, all of the 2013 goals of creating a low-end membership program, providing sustainable services, and building better communications between and among stakeholders address a desirable goal that has resonated not only in the states directly affected by Sandy but also across the entire nation over the past few years: economic resilience.
Thomas (Tom) Moran
Thomas (Tom) Moran serves as the Executive Director for the All Hazards Consortium, a regional 501c3 organization focused on multi-state homeland security and emergency management issues in the mid-Atlantic and North East regions. He spent more than 20 years in the communications and technology industry working in the areas of marketing/sales, customer service, and organizing national user groups. Before retiring, he spent nine years serving as the corporate executive liaison to state government leadership on all matters including strategy, contracts, legal, and operations. Educated in mechanical engineering at the University of Maryland, he has been a Maryland resident all his life and has owned several businesses.