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Earthquake-proof security systems


NORTHFORD, Conn.—Fire-Lite Alarms by Honeywell has achieved International Building Code seismic certification for its most popular addressable and conventional fire alarm systems, the company, based here, announced this month.

Mega-disasters: "Are we as prepared as we can or should be, the answer to that is, no." What's FEMA's response?

Friday, March 18, 2011

As the crisis in Japan continues to worsen, there has been speculation about how prepared the United States is to deal with such a large-scale disaster. Yesterday, retired Department of Homeland Security inspector general Richard Skinner told a Senate hearing that the U.S. is not adequately prepared for such a "mega-disaster," according to this report.

"If you ask me if we as a nation are better prepared than we were 40 years ago, five years ago, the answer is yes," he said, "But if you ask me are we as prepared as we can or should be, the answer to that is, no, we're not."

Skinner went on to say that the events in Japan should serve as a reminder to the U.S. about the importance of catastrophic preparedness and it's not a matter of if, but more a matter of when. Skinner, in his testimony, was very critical of the general state of preparedness in this country, saying the U.S. should be "much better prepared than we are today" after events like Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Hurricane Katrina and the Sept. 11 attacks.

I then read this transcript of testimony from Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In it, he discussed how FEMA was continuing to prepare for catastrophic disasters. The key issues, he said, were overall planning, coordination and support, emergency communications, logistics, evacuations, housing, disaster workforce, mission assignments, acquisition management and mitigation.

Among many things, Fugate discussed a new office, called the Office of Response and Recovery, which has a planning division dedicated to national, regional and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive catastrophic planning efforts. He also mentioned how FEMA established a National Credentialing Program in 2010 to coordinate activities, incorporate policies, and recommend guidance and standards for credentialing all FEMA personnel who require access to disaster areas or FEMA facilities during an emergency. That's also important to make sure everyone is properly trained and on the same page during an emergency.

In lieu of the Japanese situation and the fact that there are major fault lines throughout the U.S., Fugate also discussed the nation's earthquake preparedness:

As another example of our federal response efforts, national catastrophic planning also includes developing a Federal Interagency Operations Plan for Earthquakes. This plan is oriented toward response and short-term recovery, and will address federal capabilities supporting response efforts to a catastrophic earthquake occurring anywhere in the United States and its territories. FEMA's regions are also partnering directly with their states on joint planning efforts with a focus on specific fault zones or other hazards present within those regions.

Of course, all these elements are important, but the one that seems so critical (and solvable) is the issue of communication. The biggest lesson from all those catastrophes has been the breakdown in communication. Police, fire, federal and local entities, and first responders all know that the first thing to break down during this kind of catastrophe is the communication channels. But, ensuring that all entities have a means of communication has been a huge challenge and I still hear from many agencies that they're not satisfied with the solutions in place.

Also in his testimony, Fugate mentioned the importance of private sector collaboration:

The private sector is a key partner in our catastrophic planning efforts. Various companies and organizations have worked with FEMA at the state and regional levels to collaborate and help develop catastrophic plans. Key corporate and academic experts have provided essential resources and input, and we have established relationships to facilitate response and recovery in coordination with these entities.

How should FEMA be reaching out to those of you in the private sector to prepare for all levels of emergencies?

Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear threats spur business contingency plans into action


YARMOUTH, Maine—Events in Japan continue to unfold after a catastrophic earthquake, which was recently upgraded to a magnitude 9.0, followed by a devastating tsunami on March 11.

Earthquakes, tsunamis and the security implications of natural disasters

Friday, March 11, 2011

I've been glued to the news coverage of the 8.9-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami that hit Japan earlier today. The images are just unreal. For once the 24-hour nonstop news coverage is welcome in my living room and I am anxious for more information about what's happening in Japan and here in the United States. According to the the Toronto Sun: The magnitude-8.9 offshore quake unleashed a seven-metre tsunami and was followed for hours by more than 50 aftershocks, many of them of more than magnitude 6.0.

Death toll is still unknown, but expected to exceed 1,000. Tragic.

And of course, from a security perspective, this kind of natural disaster has serious implications as well. The biggest concern right now seems to be Japan's nuclear power plants, which may have a small radiation leak. Japan has declared its first-ever state of emergency at a nuclear plant (here's to hoping the facility has run many emergency drills). Here's what Reuters is reporting:
Japanese authorities are now warning that the pressure is still rising at the Fukushima No 1 nuclear power plant after its cooling system failed. 3,000 residents are being moved out of the area after the government issued a state of emergency.

According to the Toronto Sun: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. air force had delivered coolant to avert a rise in the temperature of the facility's nuclear rods. Pressure building in the plant was set to be released soon, a move that could result in a radiation leak, officials said.

In terms of dangers to the U.S. shores, it appears the waves that reached Hawaii around 8 a.m. this morning were relatively modest, and officials have said the tsunami would only have minimal impact on the West Coast. Of course, this is good news, but many ports and critical infrastructure operations have ceased operations as a precaution. Reuters is reporting that shipping operations at the ports of Los Angeles and San Francisco were suspended as a precaution relating to the tsunami. Also, the port of Los Angeles suspended its cargo operations and the port of San Francisco suspended oil and hazardous materials transfer.

Of course, we're not out of the clear yet, but let's hope this event makes its way back to those in office currently considering budget restrictions for emergency planning and preparation funding. It's eerily coincidental that one of the first documents I read today after finding out about the earthquake and tsunami was testimony from Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, regarding legislative proposals to reform the National Flood Insurance Program.

Here's a few snippets from the transcript:
The National Flood Insurance Program serves as the foundation for national efforts to reduce the loss of life and property from flood disasters, and is estimated to save the nation $1.6 billion annually in avoided flood losses. By encouraging and supporting mitigation efforts, the NFIP leads our nation in reducing the impact of disasters. In short, the NFIP saves money and, more importantly, lives. While the NFIP has experienced significant successes since it was created more than 40 years ago, there are a number of challenges currently facing the program. The most significant challenge is balancing the program's fiscal soundness.

While this deals mostly with financial protection for individual citizens, still, it seemed ironic that this document was released at nearly the same time the West Coast was preparing for the possibility of major coastal flooding.