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When Businesses Encourage Family Preparedness, Community Resilience Improves

Posted on September 30, 2014 in Emergency Preparedness Blog
Your business continuity plan could be compromised if your employees and their families are unprepared to keep their families and pets safe after a disaster. According to a 2012 poll by Adelphi University Center for Health Innovation, almost half of all Americans have no family disaster plan or supplies, making it very likely that some of your employees are unprepared.
Preparedness Gaps
  • 44% of Americans do not have a first-aid kit.
  • 48% of Americans do not have emergency supplies.
  • 42% of Americans don’t know the phone numbers of immediate family members.
Improving the Speed of Recovery
In order to return to normal as soon as possible after a disaster, communities need businesses open and employees at work. That’s why it’s vital that you work with employees, especially any that are essential for business continuity and resilience, to develop a family preparedness plan.
Most of the 48% of Americans without emergency supplies think it’s a good idea to have supplies and a plan, but they keeping putting it off. By incorporating family preparedness into the culture of preparedness you promote for the business, you provide people with information and a framework to make emergency planning a priority at home and at the office.
5 Ways to Encourage Employees to Develop a Family Emergency Plan
1. Hand out checklists that employees can take home to make sure they have everything needed in an emergency.
2. Distribute information about family preparedness as part of new employee orientation and post useful links on the company intranet.
3. Conduct a lunchtime training session about family preparedness, where people can ask questions and share ideas.
4. During your annual (or more frequent) business continuity planning review, send a reminder to employees and include the checklists and links. Remind everyone to inspect family go-kits for expired items.
5. Ask any employees who are essential to your business continuity plan to confirm that they have a family plan and emergency supplies.
Strengthen your business continuity planning by encouraging family preparedness for your employees. Everyone will be better off for it.
Man-Machine Systems Assessment, Inc (MSA) is an Economically Disadvantaged Woman-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB) headquartered in Arlington, Virginia serving those that support the public interest. MSA is passionate about our Warfighters and the preparedness of our nation; working diligently to evaluate defense systems, ensure continuity of operations and support mission critical programs. MSA has over twenty-five years of experience in government contract management for a wide variety of contract types.

Debunking the Five Myths of Federal Continuity of Operations (COOP) Planning

Posted on January 13, 2013 in Emergency Preparedness Blog

Due to recent incidents in the National Capital Region-dating back to the snowstorms of 2009 and 2010 and as recent as the earthquake in August 2011 and the derecho storm in late June, have put Federal continuity programs in the spotlight. How do these incidents relate to departmental or agency continuity programs, plans, and procedures and what are the myths surrounding them. And are our agencies and departments ready to implement such a plan in the event of these unforeseen incidents? Unfortunately, myths and misconceptions surrounding the true purpose of Federal continuity plans pose the single greatest challenge in the development of a cohesive continuity programs.

Identifying and addressing some of these myths will help set the record straight so that you can prepare the best operational COOP program for your environment.

1. Because a department or agency has a COOP plan, they are prepared.
Nothing could be further from the truth. A complete COOP plan will “check the box” by receiving passing scores from the FEMA Continuity Evaluation Tool (CET) but that doesn't necessarily mean a department or agency is well prepared. It is not the COOP plan that is key to success, but a strong COOP program. A COOP plan is only as good as the program that surrounds it. A successful COOP program requires continuous attention to improving in all of the elements of a viable continuity capability. This ensures that not only is a plan in place, but that continuity concepts are embedded into an organization’s daily operations.

2. Departments and agencies only need to participate in one annual exercise (usually the Eagle Horizon portion of the annual National Level Exercise).
The Eagle Horizon portion of the National Level Exercise series should not be the only time a year that a department or agency dusts off their COOP plans. Eagle Horizon should be the build up of a full year of training sessions, tabletop/functional exercises, and drills covering specific elements of a department or agency’s COOP plan. Employing a variety of escalating exercises throughout the year is part of the essential Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP). Utilizing the building block approach leading up to Eagle Horizon helps Federal agency meet both internal and external exercise objectives—ultimately enhancing a departments or agency’s COOP Program’s preparedness.

3. COOP planning is for “worst-case” incidents only.
It is typically found in the first several slides of any COOP presentation a statement that COOP planning is all-hazards and can be activated for any incident or event. There is a clear disconnect between this theory and reality. Oftentimes, COOP is not even mentioned during senior leadership discussion following a broken pipe or an upcoming snowstorm. The fact is many decisions are made that relate to an organization’s COOP plan, but it is not recognized as a COOP situation because the incident lacks a catastrophic feeling to it.

4. It is impossible to get senior leadership buy-in.
Like all other programs and initiatives, a COOP program must have a strong marketing and branding campaign to gain the attention of senior leadership and the general workforce. Continuity Managers can also be marketing specialists to enhance a COOP Program’s visibility. This can even make COOP planning and exercises fun. Federal Continuity Managers have the opportunity to think “outside the box” by training and exercising COOP plans in innovative and memorable ways. For example, planning for a snowstorm in July may not grab participants’ attention like a tabletop exercise about a zombie attack or an alien invasion. Both scenarios essentially test continuity federal operations, but with a fun twist. This has two practical benefits: participants may be reluctant to fight the scenario and it creates a fun learning environment to discuss what can be a dry subject.

5. COOP programs do not receive adequate funding.
The Federal government is cutting program funding everywhere. Dedicated COOP funding is not immune to this but it is only a piece of a larger continuity or emergency management program that receives resources as well. These programs include health and safety, pandemic, IT disaster recovery, records management, crisis communications, and critical infrastructure. Federal continuity managers can be the most innovative when they leverage their resources with other programs and other departmental resources to create a comprehensive approach to preparedness. In the Federal government, continuity planning provides Continuity Managers the opportunity to build partnerships and interact with all levels and elements of an agency. It all starts by breaking down the intra-agency stovepipes.

It is no secret that continuity programs can be dry, tedious, and even onerous. The key to successful planning, maintaining momentum, and receiving the appropriate level of buy-in and funding is to be as resourceful as possible. Continuity planning can be perceived as dull, but it does not have to be. If done correctly, COOP planning can be fun and exciting.

About the Authors: Justin Pierce and Todd Jasper are FEMA certified Master Professional Continuity Practitioners and have assisted over 14 department and agencies develop comprehensive COOP Programs. Want to learn more about how to improve your agency’s continuity program? Click Here.

Since 1990 Man-Machine Systems Assessment, Inc. has supported over 30 federal and commercial clients in the areas of Professional Services, Emergency Management and Defense Systems Test Evaluation Support. With a passion for engineering solutions and emergency management, this Minority, Women-Owned, government services firm has been recognized by Inc Magazine, Hispanic Business, Smart CEO and the Washington Business Journal for growth, excellence in service and service to the community. 

When the Floodwaters Recede, Will Your Business Be Afloat?

Posted on September 1, 2015 in Emergency Preparedness Blog
In May, states across the US experienced major flooding and record-breaking tornadoes plowed through cities and towns. In June, wildfires devastated Arizona. In April, newspapers and news channels were consumed with the Boston bombing. In every case, local businesses were impacted – and in some cases destroyed – in the aftermath of the disaster. 

With disasters—manmade and natural—on the rise worldwide, and local businesses increasingly impacted by what happens around the globe as much as what happens down the street, business continuity planning is more important than ever. 

Some Businesses Won’t Survive

Local businesses are the economic backbone of their communities. When they have no plan to guide recovery efforts after a disaster, the effects of lost wages and services ripple through the entire community, and the impacts keep piling up after the crisis.

Following a major disaster, local businesses that aren’t prepared continue to suffer. According to a study by the Institute for Business & Home Safety, 25% of local businesses never reopen. For those that do, reopening quickly is essential to survival. More than 80% of businesses that take more than 10 days to resume operations will close within one month. 

Some Businesses Will Thrive

Nobody would hope for a disaster to boost the local economy, but experience shows that they often do. The effect is so significant that local economies are often overrun by outside businesses seeking to get their hands on valuable contracts. Often, these companies bring in their own outside workers that have no ties to the community. If your business can weather the storm, it will help your bottom line and benefit local workers and families. 

Preparation is Key

Business continuity planning can help your business weather the storm—or anything else that comes along. The basic steps are relatively easy, but many businesses never get around to thinking about them until it’s too late.

  • Identify key stakeholders.
  • Prioritize critical functions.
  • Plan to restore functions following a disaster. Consider the following:
  • Establish orders of succession
  • Develop crisis communication plans
  • Design an IT disaster recovery plan
  • Define organizational roles & responsibilities that will take effect during the disruption

Benefits Beyond Survival

As you develop a business continuity plan, you’ll take a closer look at your organization and its priorities. Often, stakeholders uncover ways to streamline or improve operations as a byproduct of disaster planning.  

Disasters may be devastating, but planning is good for business. Get started today!

Is Your Data Disaster-Proof?

Posted on October 8, 2015 in Emergency Preparedness Blog
Information Week, a leading IT industry news source, estimates $26.5 billion in revenue is lost annually due to network and system interruptions. Despite the potential for depleted earnings, angry customers, tarnished reputations, and lost data, over 50% of businesses don’t have an IT disaster recovery plan.

Build a Strong Foundation

Your IT systems support your business, making it is essential to design a solid infrastructure that aligns with your business goals, secures your data, and is resilient. Here are a few simple tips that many organizations neglect.

  • Schedule maintenance for off-hours. Like your car, information systems need maintenance to operate consistently and at peak efficiency. 
  • Keep software up-to-date. You don’t need to be on the cutting edge, but falling too far behind can cause you more problems and leave you vulnerable to attacks.
  • Define a password policy and disable old employee accounts. These two best practices are easy to overlook, but the results of negligence can be disastrous, leaving the door open for hostile hackers and disgruntled former employees. 

Secure Your Digital Borders

The 2013 Data Breach Investigations Report from Verizon found 68% of attacks required very little skill on the part of attackers. This means that most networks are vulnerable to simple hacks by opportunistic individuals. With so many boxes to check and settings to configure, it’s easy to overlook minor flaws that create big security holes. 


Experts can help you close the back doors that hurried employees or loose security guidelines leave open. In the end, the cost of an attack, measured in lost data or downtime, is much higher than the cost of a secure infrastructure. 

Plan for Failure

Developing an IT Disaster Recovery Plan ensures your business can get back to work as quickly as possible after a service interruption, natural disaster, hardware failure, or anything cyberspace can throw at you. Make your IT DRP part of a larger, comprehensive Business Continuity Plan and you’ll be ready for anything. To start developing an IT DRP, follow these steps.

  • Gather stakeholders from various departments to determine which systems, software and data they must have to operate.
  • Assign priority levels to the most critical systems. You may want to consider generators that can provide power during storms or utilizing an off-site, secure data center.
  • Estimate the amount of time it will take to restore offline systems after an outage.
  • Test and reassess your IT DRP yearly or quarterly, depending on your business needs, to account for changes and updates to systems.  

Enjoy the Benefits

You may not find your business in the path of a hurricane or tornado tomorrow, but your systems are vulnerable to attacks in ways that your physical structures and employees are not. IT DRP prepares you to deal with data failures, hacking, connectivity outages, theft, and a host of other IT-specific threats and crises. 


Avoid the high cost of IT infrastructure failures by investing in a solid plan today. 

Man-Machine Systems Assessment, Inc (MSA) is an Economically Disadvantaged Woman-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB) headquartered in Arlington, Virginia serving those that support the public interest. MSA is passionate about our Warfighters and the preparedness of our nation; working diligently to evaluate defense systems, ensure continuity of operations and support mission critical programs. MSA has over twenty-five years of experience in government contract management for a wide variety of contract types.

Beyond Fire Drills: Is Your Organization Prepared for an Active Shooter?

Posted on September 16, 2014 in Emergency Preparedness Blog
Turn on the news following a mass shooting and the witness describe the same scene: people barricading themselves in rooms, hiding under tables, scrambling for shelter as a shooter stalks through the building. 

As unlikely as it seems, it is possible to prepare for this situation and make your workplace safer.

The Current Statistics

The FBI defines a mass shooting as an event where four or more people are killed.  USA Today used that definition to analyze 146 mass shootings during the last seven years and found that over 900 people had been killed in mass shootings. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence defines a mass shooting as three or more people killed or injured in a single incident. Following their standard, they estimate more than 20 mass shootings per year in the US.  

The Need for Drills

Practice makes perfect. Most of the victims or witnesses involved in a mass shooting were taught how to calmly evacuate a building in case of a fire as children, but almost none of them know how to react if they are faced with gunfire.  Conducting regular drills provides your organization with the muscle memory to respond effectively to an active shooter incident. 


The Importance of Planning

In addition to drills and training, your business should plan for an active shooter as it would other disasters. We recommend the following best practices.

  • Devote a section of your Occupant Emergency Plan (OEP) to active shooter procedures Train your existing staff and new hires to follow the procedures in your OEP.
  • Exercise active shooter procedures as you would fire drills, at least twice per year.
  • Planning will instill confidence and a create a culture of preparedness at all levels of your organization  

The Comfort of Preparedness

Active shooters are not something most people want to think about, but avoidance won’t keep you, your employees, or your business safe. Remember too that we learn to exit buildings safely during fire drills in school and at work, and we have some idea how to proceed in other buildings if a fire breaks out. If you take the time to train your employees, they’ll have that information no matter where they go. Some parameters will change, but knowing the basics of how to behave in an active shooter situation may save their lives even if they aren’t at the office.  


It’s easy to avoid uncomfortable topics, and we all do it. But don’t let discomfort lead to a lack of preparation. If you need help with active shooter preparation, we’re here to guide you and your staff through the process. 

Do You Know Where Your Employees Are? The Importance of Crisis Communications

Posted on September 2, 2014 in Emergency Preparedness Blog
Following the attack at the Boston Marathon, so many people tried to reach their loved ones that wireless carriers couldn’t keep up with demand. When faced with calamity, we want to check on our friends and family and get information about what happened.

Don’t Make It Up As You Go Along

This need to receive and disseminate information following a catastrophe is important to businesses, too. You need to determine where your employees are and if everyone is safe. You need to make sure people know what they should do or where they should go. You need to reach out to your customers. In some cases, you need to talk to the press and answer their questions. 


It is difficult, if not impossible, to come up with a coherent, comprehensive communications plan in the shadow of a crisis. Often, saying the wrong thing can haunt you for weeks or months after the event.

Plan Ahead, Communicate the Plan

Your building already has an occupant emergency procedure that covers evacuation during a fire or taking cover in the center of the building during a storm, but that plan doesn’t cover communication within your organization or to your clients. 


Compose two types of alerts—internal and external. Internal alerts should be broadcast through email, overhead paging systems, voice messages, or text messages to employees. Internal alerts should include information about evacuation, relocation, assembly points and status updates, including telling employees when it is safe to return to the office. Let your employees know, as part of your disaster preparedness training, how you will communicate with them after a crisis. 


External communication involves notifying employees’ families, discussing the situation with the press, social media status updates, and email to customers and clients. Each external message should be crafted to suit the intended audience. In the immediate aftermath, people will accept broad statements, but they will want more concrete information as soon as you can deliver it. Being prepared will make it easier to get the right message to the right people.

Communication is Mitigation

Once everyone is safe, you need to safeguard your business and your reputation. Planning what you will communicate, when you will communicate, and to whom you will communicate in the event of an emergency, may be the difference between a full recovery and a downward spiral. Customers, clients, the media, and your employees, will be reassured by clear, concise, professional communication if you’re business is faced with an emergency situation. 


After a disaster or a disruption, you’ll have enough to handle. Don’t leave crisis communications to chance. 

5 Reasons Why You Need To Get Your Parents Prepared

Posted on September 1, 2014 in Emergency Preparedness Blog

There are more than 40 million people over the age of 65 in the US and three-fourths suffer from a serious health condition. If your parents fall into this category (or will soon), you may need to help them plan for an emergency.
1. Delayed Emergency Services. During an incident that affects an entire city, state, or even an entire region, it is likely that emergency services will take much longer than usual to respond to calls. In some cases, first responders may need a day or more to respond to calls for service. If your parents have emergency supplies and a plan for what to do and who to contact during an emergency, your parents may not need to call on limited first responder resources. 
2. Telecommunications Outages. Prepare for interruptions in phone service by having multiple ways to contact your parents or grandparents. Get contact information for a nearby friend or neighbor that can check on your parents if you can’t reach them. Landlines should work if power is out, but cordless phones and phone systems that rely on newer technologies will not. Confirm your parents have a phone that doesn’t require external power before assuming the landline will work. If your parents don’t have a cell phone, talk to them about getting one for emergencies. Teach them how to use text messages and email as alternate forms of communication and remind them to keep the phone charged at all times.
3. Transportation Disruptions. Travel—across town or across the country—may be difficult or impossible following a disaster. Preparing your parents in advance means their safety won’t depend on your ability to travel.
4. Closed Pharmacies. Older Americans use more prescription and non-prescription medicines than all other generations. Ensure that your parents have extra medicine on-hand in case pharmacies are temporarily closed. Many conditions that are managed by prescription drugs—like diabetes or cardiovascular disease—can deteriorate rapidly if doses are missed. This is also true for lifesaving treatments like dialysis. Contact the local emergency management agency to find out where to go for critical care in a disaster. 
5. Peace of Mind. The biggest reason to make sure your parents have a plan is that it gives your family peace of mind. If you cannot reach them by phone or get to them in person, you will feel better knowing they have the necessary food, water, medicine, and basic supplies to get through an emergency.
Man-Machine Systems Assessment, Inc (MSA) is an Economically Disadvantaged Woman-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB) headquartered in Arlington, Virginia serving those that support the public interest. MSA is passionate about our Warfighters and the preparedness of our nation; working diligently to evaluate defense systems, ensure continuity of operations and support mission critical programs. MSA has over twenty-five years of experience in government contract management for a wide variety of contract types.

6 Disaster Preparedness Steps for You and Your Pet

Posted on September 15, 2015 in Emergency Preparedness Blog
Sixty-two percent of American households have at least one pet and 60% of those with pets consider their pet to be a member of the family. To keep your pets safe in the event of a disaster, include them in your family emergency plan.

1. Have identification. Make sure your pet has ID tags; current tags allow anyone that finds your pet to contact you as soon as possible. In case local phone service is unavailable, consider adding a phone number for a friend that lives in another area or including an email address on the tag. For added security, get your pet fitted with a microchip. The chip cannot fall off and get lost like a tag, and most vets and shelters have chip readers. If you move or change your number, remember to update the tags and microchip information. 
2. Find shelter. Local governments are required to offer shelters that allow pets. If you know you may have to evacuate, contact your local emergency management agency to find a shelter where your cat or dog is welcome (most do not accept reptiles, rodents, or livestock). 
3. Have a backup. Ask family or friends to be available to help care for your pet if you are unable to return home or must go to work during an emergency. Give them instructions on where you keep your emergency pet supplies and ensure they have access to your home. 
4. Take a picture. Keep two current pictures of your pet with your emergency documents: one of your pet alone and one of you with your pet. Having a picture of you with your pet can help if you become separated from your pet and must prove ownership upon reunification. If your pet wanders off during a disaster, pictures make it easier to create missing posters, inquire at shelters, and inform friends on social media.
5. Get a rescue sticker. Place a rescue sticker on a front window of your home so rescue workers know you have pets inside, including how many and what type. If you take your pets with you during an evacuation, write “EVACUATED” on the back of the sticker. 
6. Prepare a go-kit. Just like their human companions, pets need supplies if there’s an emergency. The kit should have anything your pet needs and be accessible if someone else will be caring for your pet during the disaster. It is advisable to have a three-day supply of the following items:
ü  Food and water
ü  Medication
ü  Leash with a collar or harness
ü  Travel carrier
ü  Sanitation supplies (water, paper towels, bleach, cat litter, bags, etc.)
ü  Toys and treats
ü  Blankets
ü  Copies of veterinary records
ü  Bowls for food and water
Check go-kit supplies periodically to make sure medications and food have not expired and all records are up-to-date.
Additional Resources
For more ideas about how to keep your pets safe in an emergency, check out the detailed preparedness tips at the following sites:
Man-Machine Systems Assessment, Inc (MSA) is an Economically Disadvantaged Woman-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB) headquartered in Arlington, Virginia serving those that support the public interest. MSA is passionate about our Warfighters and the preparedness of our nation; working diligently to evaluate defense systems, ensure continuity of operations and support mission critical programs. MSA has over twenty-five years of experience in government contract management for a wide variety of contract types.
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