Preparing for crazy!

By Patrick Foxworthy
Multi-discipline systems engineer
Kettering University, 2008

In light of recent events here in Virginia, namely the 5.9 earthquake felt early this afternoon, I began to think about how our wide range of IE skills can be applied to the practices of emergency preparedness, response and recovery. Fortunately, at the time of this writing, it appears there has been minimal overall impact to our critical infrastructure, although as usual our wireless communications networks were stressed to capacity for up to 20-30 minutes following the actual event. 

Preparing for events that are extremely difficult to predict and whose actions and impact are even more undefined seems almost an impossible task – perfect for IEs to tackle! Of course, IEs can actively forecast required resources and plan effective and efficient evacuation routes. But what about something more exotic, like developing the right level of signage/communication for stressful times during an emergency event? Or planning effective exercises to determine capability gaps in current preparations? These actions can be used to build resiliency into our systems, mitigating risks, and increasing our overall preparedness.

IEs are also suited to playing the role of immediate responders once an event does occur. Our ability to think on the fly, rapidly assess situations, and systematically approach problems from a generalists point of view, serve as a great basis for immediate response and coordination of efforts. IEs can identify the most critical and value added activities in a response effort by identifying those areas that are most affected and that will recoup the most capability in the timeliest manner. The ongoing need to be prepared ensures that there will always be new and unique challenges. The skills and knowledge IEs possess can help mitigate the risks of emergency situations. 

Moving into the recovery phase, IE are masters of communication, change execution, and project management. These skills provide the ability to lead the large-scale recovery and improvement efforts necessary in a long-term recovery effort. In partnership with our inherent desire to learn and grow, we can effectively partner to recover and build resilience into our infrastructure systems.

As young professionals, we need to explore these potentially new areas of interest for IEs. Are any of you out there working in these areas? Can you think of other ways for IEs to be involved in protecting infrastructure?

1 Comment so far

  1. vito was


    great ideas – here is my firsthand experience of this event. I am at Capital One doing project management of IT project in Richmond. So we were pretty close to the event. I happened to be outside taking a late lunch when this occured. never felt an earthquake before so that was interesting on its own. however – the Cap 1 campus of 7 buildings has an excellent evac plan for emergencies – and the first thought is not earthquakes! about 5 minutes later people started streaming out – and Cap 1 has great evac plans so everyone knew where to go.

    Lesson learned – planning! have the evac plans – this worked well

    I don’t think the procedures were clear what to do. IMHO I would say inspect the buildings for gas and water leaks and any structural damage. there were a few pickups that seemed to drive around – did not have the feeling that this was a thorough inspection. Mind you – my view is this was a minor quake – but reports I heard was if you were on 3rd or 4th floor you felt it pretty well and kind of rushed to get out.

    Lesson learned – cover every possible scenario in your disaster plans – even the ridiculous ones – and not just evac – but what to do before you let people back in.

    after about 1 hour – everyone went back in. then about 4pm – management decided to send people home so a more thorough inspection could be done of the premises, So everyone left. security did come thru and make sure people had left. you can see the risk that was presented (again – I do not believe there was much – but we are planning here – what if it was more significant? and all those folks went in.)

    Best Practice – Nordstroms

    An ex-wife of mine worked at Nordstroms in Michigan. She laughed at all the procedures they had to use in her employee manual. Look at this – earthquake procedures – sure Nordstoms is in Seattle – we would never use this! Maybe not – but for those strange events that rarely happen – its good to be prepared. IF you have from some other more prone area – use it enterprise wide!

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