All Hazards Vs Homeland Security Planning


When I was asked to write this article it was six weeks before Hurricane Katrina struck. As an emergency management professional with 23 years of experience I have been personally troubled by what I have observed over the past five years as the profession morphed into something quite different – what I would call a new reality. Hurricane Katrina has given us all pause and hopefully an opportunity to look at our countries risks and capabilities.  With a bit of luck and lots of hard work, we can make modifications to mitigate our risks and improve our community’s capacity to respond.  


FEMA in the 90’s

In 1993, President Clinton nominated James L. Witt as the new Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director. Witt became the first agency director with experience as a state emergency manager. He initiated sweeping reforms that streamlined disaster relief and recovery operations, insisted on a new emphasis regarding preparedness and mitigation, and focused agency employees on customer service. The collapse of the Soviet Union also allowed Witt to redirect more of FEMA's limited resources from civil defense into disaster relief, recovery and mitigation programs.

Witt started one of FEMA’s greatest outreach programs – a nationwide initiative called Project Impact-Building Disaster Resistant Communities. Implemented by FEMA in 1997, Project Impact joined states and territories in a partnership with FEMA to help communities change the way they approach and deal with natural disasters. Over 200 communities nationwide participated in the initiative.

What happened?

The winds of fate started blowing way before September 11 at FEMA. In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Joe M. Albaugh as the director of FEMA.  What was Mr. Albaugh’s background that prepared him for the top job at FEMA? Prior to his appointment, Mr. Allbaugh served as Chief of Staff to then-Governor George W. Bush. He also served as the National Campaign Manager for Bush-Cheney 2000 with responsibility and oversight for all activities related to the Bush election campaign. He had previously served as Campaign Manager for President Bush's first run for Texas governor.  Shortly thereafter, FEMA began to dismantle the programs that were developed during the Clinton era including the Project Impact imitative. 

FEMA and America Post 9/11

After September 11th, with the country reeling from the terrorist attacks, the action was swift and the shift was palpable.  The move away from an all hazards approach was quick and decisive – it became single focused – terrorism, weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and homeland security.

Within months after the terrorist attacks of September 11th FEMA coordinated its activities with the newly formed Office of Homeland Security. FEMA's Office of National Preparedness was given responsibility for helping to ensure that the nation's first responders were trained and equipped to deal with weapons of mass destruction.  As part of this evolution, many of the State Offices of Emergency Services around the country renamed themselves as “The State Office of Homeland Security.”

Follow the Money

We all remember the famous “Deep Throat” line from the Watergate days… “If you want to know what is really going on…follow the money.”  It seemed as if overnight, all training, exercises, equipment and plans were about terrorism and WMD.  The pendulum in the country swung and it swung hard to anything and everything about terrorism and far away from the “all-hazards approach.”  Cities across the country, regardless of their likely risk of a terrorist attack, were receiving financial grants, training, equipment and exercises.  Money flowed like water.

I have often felt that this must have been what it must have been like during the Civil Defense era of the 1950’s.  You remember that time of backyard bomb shelters, air raid drills and duck & cover exercises at school (or maybe you saw them in a movie)?  Community spaces and large public basements were turned into the neighborhood “air raid shelter” and were equipped with emergency supplies.  Even back then, money was poured into training and planning for terrorism in every community in America.


The Perfect Storm

In early 2001, FEMA listed the three likeliest, most catastrophic disasters facing this country: prophetically a terrorist attack in New York City; a catastrophic earthquake in San Francisco; and a hurricane and levee break in New Orleans. What happens when the “big disaster” that everyone knew would happen – does happen? As we all know, the results were beyond catastrophic…the country and the world all looked on with disbelief as the horrible scenes of New Orleans were nightly broadcast into our living rooms.  People waiting for days on roofs and in attics to be rescued; the elderly drowning in the rafters; snakes and crocs taking over the City; abandoned pets walking on islands of debris; and dead bodies were littered on the sidewalk and floating on the rivers that were once streets.  We all asked the big question – how could this be happening in America? 

FEMA Post-Katrina

It was discovered after Katrina that five of eight top FEMA officials came to their posts with virtually no experience in handling disasters and were leading an agency whose ranks of seasoned crisis managers have thinned dramatically since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. 

FEMA's top three leaders -- Director Michael D. Brown, Chief of Staff Patrick J. Rhode and Deputy Chief of Staff Brooks D. Altshuler -- arrived with ties to President Bush's 2000 campaign or to the White House advance operation, according to FEMA. A former Republican lieutenant governor and an official who was once a political operative filled the other two senior operational jobs.  Those who had been paying attention of course already knew this, but the public and elected local, state and federal officials were largely unaware.

Blame…there is plenty to go around…

Of course, there is and will be plenty of blame to go around in this perfect storm…it is important to clearly examine what worked and what didn’t work at all levels of government in this the most horrible natural disaster in contemporary times.  However, this will all take time…as Continuity Professionals, we need to move forward and reevaluate our plans and processes long before the formal investigations conclude.

Now what do we do?

Lets step back a moment – what is our goal going forward in emergency management and business continuity? What are we trying to accomplish?  An immediate goal is to improve our overall preparedness for the most likely emergencies and disasters we are liable to face.  To that end we need to look at three areas:

  • Individual – Promote personal preparedness
  • Business – Develop continuity programs around the industry cornerstones of comprehensive emergency management (CEM):
  • Government – Assess our strategies and improve our response

Individual – Personal Preparedness

It all starts with our own personal and family preparedness.  Now is the time to promote individual preparedness in your company.  Governments have long said to their respective communities that citizens must be able to care for themselves in the first few hours and more likely days after a big disaster.  In California, the Office of Emergency Services has said for years that after a large event such as a devastating earthquake “you are on your own for at least the first 72 hours.”  Now that many of us have personally witnessed the failures associated with Katrina, we see first hand what that really means.

It is in your company’s best interest to have prepared employees.  If your employees and their families know what to do in an emergency, there is a much greater chance that they will be able to come to work to assist in the company recovery because they are managing well at home.

Here are a few ways to promote home preparedness in your community and your company.

  • Provide emergency preparedness safety training for all employees aimed at being prepared at home and at work
  • Organize safety fairs that bring together community responders, not-for-profits and vendors who can provide information, resources, sell family kits and promote preparedness.
  • Develop your emergency response team (ERT) or floor warden programs by providing additional training in emergency response.  This is also a great recruiting tool to get more ERT members – training that they can use in their homes as well as at work.
  • Encourage employees to take Community Emergency Response Training (CERT) in their neighborhoods – consider sponsoring the training at your company.
  • Offer low cost family emergency preparedness kits at your company.
  • Develop an emergency preparedness web page on your company’s intranet site with links to community resources and pertinent information regarding the threats in your area.
  • Promote your 800# employee emergency hotline – reminding employees that they should call this number to find out what they should be doing after any event in your area.  Place the number on employee badges and give out items such as refrigerator magnets with the 800 number and company emergency instructions
  • Promote preparedness around target times of the year.  For example:  April is earthquake preparedness month in California; May is hurricane awareness month in hurricane prone states; September is national preparedness month, and October is national fire preparedness month.  Use the increased public awareness created by these promotions to create additional interest.
  • Some helpful websites to promote to your employees include:

Civil Defense brochure promoting family preparedness in the event of a nuclear attack.


Business – Comprehensive Emergency Management

Hazard Risk Assessment

Before you can begin to develop a plan you must clearly understand your risks.  Our recent preoccupation with Terrorism (with a capital T) has meant we have ignored other more likely risks.  A complete risk analysis will include a through review of the following risks/hazards:

  • Natural hazards: Earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornados, severe-weather, etc.
  • Your neighbors: Airports, freeways, train tracks, nuclear power plants, manufacturing, etc.
  • Human risks:  Bomb threats, sabotage, theft, workplace violence, terrorism, etc.
  • Environmental risks:  Indoor air quality, toxic mold, SARS, pandemic influenza, etc.
  • Geo/political concerns:  Human rights issues, kidnapping, trademark/counterfeiting, etc.

Your company resources should be directed to those risks that are most likely to occur.  Some of this assessment is subjective but will help you guide your time and resources. Attached is a sample assessment tool to get you thinking.  Once we know our risks we can then develop a plan.

Comprehensive Emergency Management

Comprehensive Emergency Management is comprised of the four hallmarks:

  • Mitigation
  • Preparedness
  • Response
  • Recovery


The more effort and resources that are devoted to mitigation and preparedness, the more successful the outcome is likely to be during the response and recovery phases.  One essential aspect of the mitigation and preparedness phases is the on-going maintenance of those efforts.


Mitigation is the cornerstone of emergency management. Hazard mitigation is defined as any sustained action taken to reduce or eliminate long-term risk to life and property from a hazard event. Hazard mitigation results in long-term, cost-effective and environmentally sound reduction of hazard vulnerability. The goal of hazard mitigation is to save lives and reduce property damage.  Mitigation steps at a company might include seismic bracing of computer equipment, bolting of a building foundation or hurricane roof support ties.


Preparedness consists of a wide range of measures, both long- and short-term, designed to save lives and limit the amount of damage that might otherwise be caused by the event. Preparedness is concerned with long-term policies and programs to minimize the impact of disasters. Preparedness examples include employee awareness training; fire or earthquake drills, safety training for employees, fire extinguisher training, business continuity training or emergency exercises


The emergency period is dramatic and often traumatic; therefore most attention by the press and international community is focused here. Yet in most disasters (with the exception of droughts, famines, and civil strife), the emergency passes relatively quickly, and in reality, only accounts for a very small percentage of the disaster continuum.


Recovery in the post disaster period can be subdivided into two phases. The first begins at the end of the response phase and is a transitional phase (sometimes called the rehabilitation phase) when people and community systems try to re-establish a semblance of normalcy. This period is usually characterized by such activities as businesses reopening in damaged structures, farmers returning to reclaim and clear their land, people returning to their homes and resumption of basic infrastructure such as water and sanitation systems in urban areas. The reconstruction phase is marked by large-scale efforts to replace damaged buildings, revitalize economies or restore agricultural systems to their full predisaster production capacity.

Ideally business continuity planners embrace the entire four-phase continuum of comprehensive emergency management.  Each phase represents its own challenges and rewards but provides the BCP manager with a clear road map of what needs to be accomplished.

Government – Strategies and Response

What should we expect from our government? What level of response is appropriate from each level – city, county, state and federal?   Express your concerns to your legislators about your feelings and suggestions about emergency management.  As emergency management and business continuity professionals we must speak out now to improve our countries response to disasters – our government is only as good as its peoples willingness to become involved and manage it.

What should happen at FEMA? Should the emphasis be shifted from homeland security and terrorism to the “all-hazards” approach of the past? Should the agency stay under the DHS?  Should the director return to a cabinet level position?  Should there be professional requirements for its leaders?  Should these positions continue to be political appointments?

When examining the issues it requires that we explore some difficult questions.  For example, should terrorism be a focus nationwide in areas that are not “likely targets”?  Are limited resources best spent preparing a community for its most likely risks with less of an emphasis to be placed on terrorism?  Are we willing to accept losses of both people and property in an area that is not as well trained or equipped to manage a terrorist event as another?

A through discussion of these questions needs to be explored by the community, emergency management professionals and our political leaders.  Corrective actions to improve our overall performance should be swift and then we must plan to stay the course to ensure our preparedness in the long term.

Where do we go from here? Don’t put your head back into the sand!

We have an incredible opportunity in the next few weeks and months. We all know that the public’s and governments attention span for these issues is quite short.  Once that aching heart and intense angst that we all feel so acutely today begins to dissipate the moment will be lost.  We must act now before complacency begins to set in.

Assess your personal, family and company plans now! Examine now what you can do to promote awareness and preparedness for individuals, companies and our government.  The window of opportunity is open for such a short time…and it is already beginning to close. 

Begin now – do it today! 




This Risk Assessment Survey provides a high-level overview of risk potential for an event.  It is not to be considered all-inclusive.  It does provide a general understanding of the threats and their probability and potential impact on operations in your company and at your facility.

Is the office within 1 mile radius unless otherwise noted Rank Risk Low, Medium, High Comments

Airports (10 miles)


Animal Confinement Facilities/Research




Bus Terminals


Chemical Plant




Controversial companies


Convenience Store - immediate proximity (1-2 blocks)




Fire Station




Government Buildings


High Crime Area


High profile national monuments


High profile tourist sites


Hospital/Emergency Room






Manufacturing Plant


Military Base - 25 mile radius


New Construction or Development


Nuclear Reactor - 50 mile radius


Nuclear Waste Site - 50 mile radius


Oil Drilling


Oil Refineries


Police Station




Racially Sensitive Areas - 5 mile


Rail tracks and/or yards


School/College/University - 5 mile


Shopping Malls






Train tracks


Trucking Facilities


Underground mines/shafts


Water Treatment Plant


Is the office within 1 mile radius unless otherwise noted Rank Risk Low, Medium, High Comments
Does the Office Have A History of Any of the Following Check if Applicable Comments

Earthquake/Fault Zone




Heat, Extreme








Tidal Waves










Wind storms, Heavy


Winter Weather, Severe (Snow/Blizzard/Ice)


Does the Office Have A History of Any of the Following

Check if Applicable Comments





Bomb Blast


Bomb Threat




Indoor Air Quality Problems


Infectious Disease Outbreak




Labor Dispute


Murder at work












Level 1 = Low risk

Low probability with low to medium impact

Level 2 = Medium risk
Low probability with high impact
Medium probability with medium to high impact
Level 3 = High risk

High probability with high impact


  • Probability - Likelihood that the particular hazard will result in damage at this location.
  • Impact/Severity- An estimation of how serious the potential problem might be in terms of harm to people and/or damage to property
General Building Information
  • Address of facility.  Main phone number
  • Do you own or lease?
  • Are you the sole tenant?
  • If not, briefly describe other tenants
  • Brief description of structure
  • Square footage of each floor 
  • Year of construction of the building
  • Total number of floors in the building (please note basements, mezzanines or mechanical floors)
  • Where is the parking?
  • Parking lot or garage (how many floors)
  • Number of employees at the site
  • Number of floors and which floors you occupy
  • If a campus type environment note the number of buildings. Please provide the square footage of each building, floor.
  • Please send floor plans and a site map.
  • Do you have a badge system?  Do you require employees to wear badges at all times?  Do they have employee photos on them?
Fire Safety Information
  • Standpipes in the building? Where? Usually in stairwell (high-rise) or in core of building (low-rise).
  • Fire Extinguishers? 
  • Where?
  •  What type? (ABC, A, B, C, Halon)
  • Smoke detectors? Where?
  • Elevator lobbies
  • Hallways 
  • Top of stairwells
  • How many stairwells?  Are they fire rated and enclosed?  Do you know the fire rating?
  • Elevators? 
  • How many passengers? 
  • How many freight?
  • Is there automatic recall with smoke? 
  • Is there a public address system?  If yes, is it used for emergencies (i.e. to give evacuation directions in a fire)?
  • A fire alarm?  What sound does it make?
  • Are there fire pull stations? Where are the pull stations located?
  • Does the building have sprinklers?  Throughout?
  • Do you have emergency lighting? 
  • Battery or generator powered?
  • What are your evacuation procedures (Full building evacuation or relocation)
  • If you go to the street - do you have designated evacuation areas?  Are they marked with any signage?
  • Is 9-1-1 the local emergency number in your area?
  • Where are your first aid kits?
  • Do you have disaster-type supplies?  If so what are they and where are they?
  • Is there a life safety system (fire panel)? 
  • If yes, where is it?
  • Is it monitored by an alarm monitoring company?  If so, who is it?
  • High-rise buildings-
  • Do you have a fire pump? Electric, diesel or both?
  • Do you relocate during a fire emergency?  If so, how many floors?
  • Is there an emergency generator? 
  • If so, what does it power?
  • Do you have UPS on your servers or phone switch?
  • If yes, how long will it last?
  • Who do employees report emergencies to?  I.e. Security, receptionists, a specific department?  What is that phone number?  Ideally a live person rather than voice mail should answer the number so they can track down the responsible person versus leaving an urgent message on voice mail.
  • Do you have Security? 
  • If so what is the Security phone number and hours?  What are their overall responsibilities?
  • Do you have a building engineer?
  • If yes, what are their hours?  How many on engineering staff?
  • Do you have property management?
  • If yes, on site?
  • Hours and phone number to contact?
  • Do you have floor wardens or emergency response teams?  Do they assist in building evacuation?
  • Do you have a security alarm?
    • What is the name and phone number for the alarm monitoring service?
  • Do you have a pre-designated command center or post for managing an event at your location?
  • Lastly, have you had any incidents in the last 1-24 months? This could be a natural disaster- hurricane, EQ, tornado or a person-made one such as a fire, violence at work, bomb threat. 
Utility Shut-offs- where to shut off? (for owned properties only)

Gas _____________________________

Main Electrical _____________________________

Domestic Water _____________________________

Sprinkler water _____________________________



President, Emergency Management & Safety Solutions

Capability Statement

Regina Phelps is an internationally recognized expert in the field of emergency management and contingency planning.  With over 23 years of experience, she has provided consultation and speaking services to clients in four continents.   She is founder of Emergency Management & Safety Solutions a consulting and training firm.  Ms. Phelps’s niche includes crisis management team development, emergency operations center design and the development of emergency exercises.

Corporate Incident Response Team Development (Crisis Management Team)

The Corporate Incident Response Team is the “umbrella organization” that takes all of the silo efforts in company response and recovery initiatives and manages the effort.  Historically called Crisis Management Teams, Ms. Phelps designs the protocols, plans and processes for efficient team functioning and trains team members in their roles.  An expert in the Incident Command System (ICS), she incorporates ICS into the corporate planning model.

Emergency Operations Center Design

The foundation for effective management of an event is a well-designed emergency operations center (EOC) and process.  Ms Phelps has designed both the physical EOC and the processes and procedures for the management of EOC’s for companies in the United States, Latin America, the European Community and Asia.

Emergency Exercises

The only way to know if your plans are effective is to have an exercise or a real event.  The former is generally less stressful than the latter and allows you time to correct your deficiencies before the real thing strikes. Designing multiple location exercises is a specialty of Ms Phelps.  There are numerous examples of her work but one that stands out is in 1999, Ms Phelps was engaged by Visa to develop 17 EOC’s (crisis management teams, facility, plans and processes) in 10 countries. She then designed and facilitated two global exercises to test them. The first exercise in May 1999 had 500 participants, 10 countries participating and a simulation team of 75.  The September 1999 exercise had 1000 participants, 17 countries participating with a simulation team of 150.

Web Sites

Please visit two web sites for more detailed information regarding Regina Phelps and Emergency Management & Safety Solutions.




References available upon request.