The Safe America Foundation holds its Be Safe America kickoff meeting in Washington D.C. this week, where representatives from the US Chamber of Commerce, International Emergency Managers Association (IAEM), National Emergency Managers Association (NEAM), UPS and a host of Fortune 500 companies will discuss ways to get 2 million people to participate in preparedness drills during September and October. Continuity Insights speaks with Len Pagano, President & CEO of Safe America Foundation, about the advantages of using text messages during a disaster, the lack of awareness surrounding preparedness and how business continuity professionals can use their exercising skills to promote community resilience.
Continuity Insights: The Safe America Foundation is about more than disaster preparedness. What is your mission?
Len Pagano: I founded the Safe America Foundation in 1994. The premise was to focus on emerging issues in health and safety. A major part of what we do deals with transportation safety. We’ve also worked with some big companies to teach the public about different safety issues: home safey with Home Depot; disaster readiness with Lowe’s and Wal-Mart; traveler safety with Delta Airlines; and kids' safety with Nickelodeon.
We were in cybersafety before the term was defined and we worked with the coast guard to re-engineer water safety. We’re proud that we can get a message to different audiences and make it compelling enough to change behavior.
CI: The Be Safe America initiative is focused on getting two million people involved in drills in September and October. What types of drills are we talking about?
LP: We want people to do what is relevant to them, whether it’s a business, a neighborhood or family. Shelter-in-place and evacuation drills are good places to start. CNA Insurance, for example, evacuated a 42-storey skyscraper at their headquarters in Chicago as part of this initiative.
We’ve also encouraged people to think about communication drills and texting. We realized that in an emergency people want to stay in touch. Because wireless towers either damaged or overwhelmed during a disaster, we focused on texting because a text message will stay in a queue and eventually will get through.
We did research with the University of Missouri and found that you could send a four-digit text message 800 times in the span of one minute. That is, 800 text messages could get out in the same digital space as a one-minute phone call. In an hour, 48,000 people could get a message through.
CI: What was the genesis of the Text First. Talk Second. initiative?
LP: We launched this initiative nearly three years ago. Looking at what happened in Katrina, 9/11, Haiti and Joplin last year, we recognized that often people can’t make calls during an emergency, whereas they can send a text message. We also looked at it from a structural point of view because the wireless system doesn’t have the same capacity as the old landline system, and the public is generally not aware of this. So we worked with Expression College to develop some television spots that explain this.
CI: Are you working with wireless companies to promote Text First. Talk Second.?
LP: We’re talking to all of the major wireless carriers right now. We’ve had good conversations with representatives at Verizon Wireless, who are invited to participate next week. We’ve also spoken with AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile — one of our former board members is a senior executive at T-Mobile. We’ve also spoken with CTIA.
We’re sensing growing support and we think that people are jumping on the bandwagon.
CI: What is the Pledge to Drill? How is Text First. Talk Second. related?
LP: Our analysis shows that individuals and companies are generally disinterested in this concept. The reality is it should be on everyone’s mind. What we are trying to do is give people something simple to do so they can’t make excuses and say they can’t do it.
Not everyone can evacuate a 42-storey skyscraper!
CI: What are you trying to achieve with your Fortune 500 corporate preparedness survey?
LP: Firstly, we’re trying to find out what current preparedness practices are. The second thing is to be more proactive in reaching company executives so we can ask them to do something.
Collectively, what we want to do is to monitor what people are doing so we can increase participation and preparedness a little bit each year.
CI: The DHS and other government entities seem to focus on critical infrastructure in their efforts to create public-private partnerships and improve resilience. How can all businesses, large or small, engage with public authorities in order to improve their own preparedness and the resilience of their communities? Does the Safe America Foundation help facilitate these relationships?
LP: Yes, we do facilitate these relationships and it’s not too late for those that read this to come to our meeting in Washington D.C. on Thursday, September 30. You can just listen or take a more active role on one of our task forces.
CI: Business continuity professionals are usually well-versed in exercises and drills. How can they get involved and contribute to their community's resilience?
LP: Anyone that wants to be a volunteer in their community can contact us and we can play match maker with the relevant groups.
CI: As someone heavily involved disaster preparedness, what keeps you up at night?
LP: Right now, I think there is a devaluation of emergency support services — they are being underfunded. Reducing our tax bill is shortsighted.
I also worry that there will be a disaster tomorrow and that we will find we haven’t thought of something or practiced enough — that is where these drills come into it.
Continuity Insights will be at the Be Safe America kickoff meeting in Washington D.C. next week. Stay tuned to our twitter feed for live updates: @ContinuityMag. For more information about the Safe America Foundation can be found at https://safeamerica.org/