High Alert Institute



From Enron to BP: How Disaster Preparedness Enforcement Can Affect Businesses

by | May 20, 2011

The recent announcement by the justice department that the Obama administration is stepping up enforcement of disaster preparedness, business continuity, and environmental protection laws and moving that enforcement from corporate compliance divisions to criminal investigation and organized crime divisions is vital to companies of all sizes. We’ve all witnessed what can happen when disaster strikes a corporation. Whether it’s oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico or radiation leaking into the air and ground, the effects of a disaster are lingering and far-reaching.

Here’s what the justice department’s new focus on enforcement means: If a large company, such as BP, does not have a viable disaster plan in place, they are going to be criminally charged. But this is more than just criminal liability at a corporate level; the justice department is now going after individuals in the corporate C-suite, as well as all the way down to individual front line employees. It’s similar to how the justice department deals with organized crime by going after the capos as well as the foot soldiers and even the corrupt sanitation worker who took the garbage and the pay off money. The justice department is now looking at corporations and asking them a simple question: Was there a benefit to the individual who ignored basic business continuity, safety, and disaster preparedness issues, regardless of whether there was a written plan? 

The message to all businesses and corporations is clear: Just having a binder called “Disaster Plan” sitting on the shelf and collecting dust is no longer enough. A real plan is more than words on paper. It has to be both active and followed, which means having frequent updates, drills, and a “culture of safety” and “culture of preparedness” in the organization. In other words, does Joe the janitor have any idea what the disaster plan is AND does he know what his role is during a disaster? Just as a child knows to stop, drop, and roll in the event of a fire and to crawl under the smoke, every worker at every level needs to know his or her role during a disaster. If an inspector were to walk up to Joe and ask him what his role would be during a blowout oil spill, Joe needs to be able to articulate his duties, even if his role is nothing more than putting on his life vest and directing people to the nearest life boat. If that’s Joe’s role, he must know it. 

Does having this level of preparedness involve more money, time, and prep work? Of course it does. This is a huge burden initially. But looking long term, it provides a level of economic protection. It’s much like the old MasterCard commercials: Preparedness manual online – $60; Disaster drill – $5,000; Avoiding the multi-million dollar lawsuit, regulatory fines, and jail time – priceless. 


New Life for an Old Law

This law is not new; its enforcement is. Similar laws already exist and are enforced in the European Union. In the United States, this PS Prep law (Private Sector Preparedness law) was actually passed in 2009 as one of President Bush’s last measures, but it was largely ignored as the recession and H1N1 pandemic took center stage. 

Currently, the PS Prep law requires business continuity and continuity of operations planning for all businesses with more than 100 employees, and it will soon apply to companies of all sizes. So even if you’re a small business will only 20 employees, if you receive any federal funding, federal contracting, or have an SBA loan, you will need to meet PS Prep certification. Currently, all publically traded companies are already being held to PS Prep certification guidelines by the companies that rate stocks, even though certification doesn’t yet exist from the government. 

If this news comes as a surprise to you, you’re not alone. Most businesses don’t know about this law, as it was “sneak through legislation.” In other words, it was “packaged” with other legislation that was bound to pass. The only difference is that no one in Washington enforced PS Prep, until now.  


The Good and the Bad of It

With certification requirements such as this comes a few challenges. Unfortunately, having a certification process allows for large companies to gain a permanent market niche, as those who get in first will always have an advantage over those who come in later. Here’s why: If you’re already in the marketplace, you’re considered a market expert. Any new regulation requires that market experts be part of the panel that determines the requirements. Once the first set of rules are established, everyone gets certified under those rules. Then, the people who made those initial rules modify them. Since they are already certified and don’t have to be re-certified, they make the rules tighter and more difficult so newcomers can’t effectively compete. 

We saw this happen in medicine when the initial push for board certification came about. In reality, there is no difference skill wise between a board certified surgeon and a residency trained surgeon. Over the years, the original market experts—the physicians who were at the forefront of board certification—have changed the certification rules so that a non-board certified doctor can’t even practice anymore, even though they are just as qualified as a board-certified physician. Therefore, with any type of required certification, such as PS Prep, you’re creating not only a market niche for yourself, but a permanent market niche where everyone thereafter has a harder time staying in the market because the initial market experts added more difficult requirements.  

Additionally, while disaster preparedness is always a good thing, certification has some dangerous implications. For one, certification implies an endpoint as opposed to a process. It’s much like eating healthy versus dieting. If you change your eating habits and adopt a healthy lifestyle, you may or may not lose weight, but you will live longer than if you diet repeatedly. That’s because changing your eating habits prepares you for a healthier lifestyle, whereas dieting is an endpoint. It’s a short-term fix that addresses a short-term goal. 

Likewise, disaster preparedness certification is an endpoint. The temptation is for a company to get their certification, stick it on the wall, and then go back to the old ways. Nothing changes. In contrast, disaster preparedness as a process and safety as a culture are ongoing daily events. And that is where the Obama administration appears to be going with this most recent announcement. The justice department will take lack of disaster preparedness to the criminal division and will do criminal investigations on those individuals who ignored it and on those who created a culture of un-safety and un-preparedness for some form of personal benefit.

While this level of enforcement is customary in Japan and Britain, this is a titanic shift in enforcement in the United States. 

The newly enforced regulations definitely impact the economics of a disaster. Therefore, no matter what size business you are, take heed: Get your PS Prep certification now. Get it early and keep it up to date. If you lose it, you’re going to have higher costs and more frustrations in the future to meet the tighter regulations down the road. Yes, disasters happen. But when you’re prepared with a “culture of preparedness” and a “culture of safety,” the damage can be minimal and your company can prevail.  

Griffin Works offers Pawsitive Interactions with Service Dogs During Response Operations©, an audience-customized training that breaks down barriers by offering hands-on handling training and demonstrations with working service dogs for fire departments, EMS agencies, and public safety organizations.

Part of the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium and home to the National Emergency Response and Recovery Training Center, TEEX has been leading homeland security training since 1998. The major TEEX programs include fire and rescue, infrastructure and safety, law enforcement, economic and workforce development, and homeland security. As a member of The Texas A&M University System, TEEX is unique in its ability to access a broad range of emerging research and technical expertise. Beginning with course design and development all the way through hands-on instruction and national certification testing, TEEX delivers comprehensive training through both classroom and hands-on instruction and as online courses.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) was created by Congress in 2000 as part of the Children’s Health Act to raise the standard of care and increase access to services for children and families who experience or witness traumatic events. This unique network of child-serving professionals, caregivers and young adults, researchers, and national partners is committed to changing the course of children’s lives by improving their care and moving scientific gains quickly into practice across the U.S. The NCTSN is administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and coordinated by the UCLA-Duke University National Center for Child Traumatic Stress (NCCTS). 

The Emergency Management Institute (EMI) is part of the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The EMI provides national leadership in developing and delivering training to ensure that individuals and groups having key emergency management responsibilities possess the requisite skills to effectively perform their jobs.

The High Alert Institute maintains a list of reviewed courses provided by governments, universities and professional organizations. This list is geared towards the non-emergency management person who participates in disaster planning, preparedness, response, recovery or mitigation as part of their job responsibilities.

The High Alert Institute has partnered with Shutterstock to distribute stock images from the nature images donated by our supporters. For eligible stock images, Shutterstock will donate a portion of the royalty to the High Alert Institute. There is no cost to charitable organizations or to Shutterstock customers.

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Koi need forever homes, too! For pond enthusiasts, freshwater exotic and ornamental fish may not be available through pet stores or rescues in their area. The High Alert Institute Aquatic Pet Shelter Rehoming Program will be happy to assist you in stocking your new pond or adding a new finned friend to your school. Coming soon – when you adopt a Koi from the High Alert Institute Aquatic Pet Shelter Rehoming Program, we can arrange for delivery to your door anywhere in the continental United States.

Have you always wanted a Koi pond but don’t have the space one? Sponsor a Koi in our community shelter pond and we send you photos of your sponsored animal. Coming soon are live Koi Cameras above and below the water to enjoy your sponsored Koi anytime.

Dumping of freshwater non-native species and exotic aquatic pets into wild habitats is a man-made disaster that is truly preventable. The Institute’s Aquatic Pet Welfare Partnership works to raise awareness and reduce the impact on healthy ecosystems through education, as well as rescue and rehoming. Joined by champions of animal welfare and environmental stewardship, this  association of aquatic pet rescue operations and aquatic pet shelters across the United States aims to save our finned friends and preserve our waterways together.

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From the staffing pool to the shelter ponds, from the boardroom to the classroom, and from reading the science to writing the analyses, High Alert Institute programs and services benefit from the experience, expertise, and generosity of our volunteers. Put your talents to use for good and to good use – VOLUNTEER TODAY.

Make your donation twice as nice by rehoming aquatic pets and providing a rehabilitation companion pet to a deserving person, family, or facility. Sponsor part or all of a Joy of Koi Program pond installation – complete with rehomed koi – and give the gifts of love and recovery.

Professional photographers, amateurs, and legal copywrite holders are all welcome to participate in the High Alert Institute Nature Photo Donation Program. Sales of the images benefit the Institute and donors are eligible for tax deductions equivalent to the fair market value of their photos. Landscapes, seascapes, animals, flowers – all may be accepted – whether new or vintage  images. People may be included in the photo but only if unidentifiable (i.e., blurred figures at a distance).

Did you know that unused patents and copyrights can be donated to charity? Intellectual Property (IP) just sitting on a shelf will lose value as it becomes obsolete. The High Alert Institute IP Donation Program seeks to rescue stranded, technology-related IP with the potential for development into marketable products. Once accepted by the program, the owner/inventor is eligible for a tax deduction equivalent to the fair market value of the IP. The Institute receives the patent licensing fees or revenue from the sale of the IP to businesses, helping us to fund our mission. In turn, businesses are able to advance their markets and create jobs for less money than starting a project from scratch.

Disasters are defined as situations in which needs exceed or overwhelm available resources. Some disasters affect an entire community, while other disasters impact individuals and families. Crises of physical or psychological health can be very personal disasters.
The therapeutic value of pets during illness, trauma, and recovery is well established. And Koi fish may be well suited for people who are not able to provide verbal pet commands or physically care for pets like dogs and cats. Koi ponds are also a source of beauty and peace, providing an ideal setting for quiet reflection or meditation.
We are working to partner with pond installers and aquatic pet rescues/shelters to offer free or reduced-cost ponds with rehomed Koi fish to people seeking this type of pet therapy.

Disasters disrupt life and impact our sense of personal, family, and community safety. Survivors and responders alike often are not aware of the emotional, psychological or spiritual challenges that they may face from disaster onset through recovery. With two decades of experience training responders and communities to prepare for the behavioral health aspects of disasters, we will continue to provide education and a curated list of resources to groups or individuals.

Non-medical factors that impact overall health are termed Social Determinants of Health or SDoH. Noise pollution, poor air quality, and poor water quality are three environmental factors known to have a strong link to overall health. And the same environmental factors that impact humans impact their pets and other animals in their care. We continue to assist in advocacy, education, and technology development to mitigate the impact of SDoH on humans and animals alike.

Our efforts in shelter and rescue are the main focus of our environmental stewardship, reducing the environmental impact of non-native aquatic animals being dumped into public waterways. The High Alert Institute also assists innovators with the design, development, and evaluation of green and renewable energy technologies. Reducing the carbon footprint associated with disaster preparedness, response, and recovery furthers our continued mission to mitigate risk and improve resilience.

We partner with public and private organizations, sharing resources and fostering partnerships to improve disaster preparedness, response, and recovery, and mitigation.

The High Alert Institute team has over a century of combined research experience in medical, nursing, behavioral health, and disaster sciences. Our team provides support to researchers and technology developers through comprehensive literature searches and reviews, as well as failure mode database searches and adjudicated reviews.

When disaster strikes, most aquatic pet owners have limited options to secure the safety of their pets. Sheltering in place may not be possible if there is no power to provide aeration and “pet-friendly” shelters do not include ponds or aquariums. Our goal is to provide an option for aquatic pet owners in need of rescue and shelter for their finned friends.

Our goal is to share our two decades of disaster readiness experience with animal welfare organizations, shelters, caretakers, and pet owners, as they implement contingency  plans for natural and manmade disasters.

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