More than 100 emergency managers and business continuity professionals gathered on Aug. 1 at Genentech for the Inaugural Bay Area Emergency Managers (BAEM) conference. 

The conference, co-sponsored by Genentech and Nexis Preparedness Systems, focused on integrating all aspects of risk management for more effective emergency response. The speakers, including academics and local professionals, explored the theme from various perspectives ranging from theoretical discussions of leadership to tactical recommendations for program implementation. All the presentations included real life examples from global and local disasters of the past decade, including the 2013 Asiana Airlines crash, which occurred just a few miles away. 

The morning kicked off with David Sarabacha and Mitesh Shetty from Deloitte & Touché. They set the stage for the day, proposing that integrated risk management helps raise the profile of Emergency Management (EM) and Business Continuity from an activity that “adds value” to an organization to proactive risk management that “protects value.” Opportunities for integration include coordinated communication during a crisis and GRC platforms. 

Next, Genentech discussed their Emergency Response (ER) program and offered numerous success stories to support Deloitte’s concept of “protecting value.” Conference organizer Greg Jones and his business partner Kyle Childers show-cased how the company’s ER program has evolved over time. Their cross functional and highly structured team relies on employee volunteers and public sector partners to respond to potentially life threatening and hazardous events on a daily basis.  

As long time colleagues at various companies, Edward Erickson and I then took a broader view of Crisis Management (CM). We examined opportunities for integration and “silo-busting” in the different elements of a CM program, such as risk assessments and streamlining EM and CM planning.  Our presentation closed with vignettes highlighting how understanding your organization’s approach to cross-functional collaboration, communication style and corporate culture can impact its crisis response capability.

After lunch keynote speaker Professor Arnold Howitt from Harvard University took the conference participants through an analysis of two different types of emergencies that organizations need to be prepared for. 

First discussed were familiar “routine emergencies” that can be anticipated, such as earthquakes and floods. Professor Howitt argued that routine emergencies may be urgent and potentially devastating, but organizations can plan, test and train for them. The second type of emergency is “sudden and emergent” crises that introduce a level of novelty that organizations will be unprepared for and potentially struggle to respond to as well as they would to a routine emergency. He explained that the critical challenges of novel emergencies might lead to gaps in plans, subject matter expertise and situational awareness.  Professor Howitt encouraged participants to prepare their crisis response teams for these types of emergencies by exercising using unlikely scenarios that will force the teams to practice improvisation.   

Regardless of the type of emergency, ER teams need to be prepared with well-organized disaster supplies. Kim Racine of Genentech and conference organizer Jeff Hamilton from Nexis Preparedness Systems walked the audience through how one local company successfully reengineered its disaster supplies using a kaizen approach and have made exercising with their supply cache a best practice. 

Michael Lozcano, Global Business Continuity Director for Gap, Inc., discussed “transformational leadership” in a crisis. Lozcano revisited the themes of organizational culture and critical communications and how they affect its incident response capability.  He also challenged conference participants to reflect on organizational and leadership issues they’ve faced in their careers through interactive working sessions. 

Wrapping up the day, Brandon Bond, Emergency Director of Stanford Health Care, synthesized many of the day’s topics in the context of one of the most challenging organizational environments for business continuity. He discussed how Stanford Health Care faces routine emergencies daily and presented a detailed case study of how the hospital stood up its mass casualty plan the day of the Asiana airplane crash. With a goal of no downtime ever in order to sustain critical care to their patients, Bond’s organization is constantly striving to improve their program. He illustrated how many of the lessons learned from the Asiana crash led to improvements in both their daily operations, such as using the same patient registration process for emergency and non-emergency situations, and the ER program. 

BAEM conference attendees agreed the inaugural show was a success are looking forward to a second conference near year.