Founded in 1982 as a nonpartisan lobby to help cut through red tape and ideological debate that has in the past stymied governmental responses to emergencies, the Washington D.C.-based Business Executives for National Security is working to promote links between businesses and the appropriate federal, state, local and tribal governments to respond more efficiently to emergencies.
BENS, with offices in Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, California, New Jersey, New York, Texas and Washington, D.C., has found that during emergencies many business owners are desperate for information beyond that which is available through public broadcasts.
With more logistical information available about a disaster, the BENS lobby believes the private sector can do a lot more to help the victims, whether it's delivering supplies, transporting the shell-shocked to safer ground or setting up temporary shelters. More than 500 executives are active BENS members.
Last year, in the wake of a 2006 white paper calling for regional public-private partnerships to tighten coordination between public agencies and private companies, BENS reiterated its call for a public-private, disaster-response action plan.
Executives with expertise in crisis management believe a tighter fit between the private sector and public agencies is possible, in part with the help of the federal National Incident Management System, which sets interoperability standards between the nation's public agencies.
"The thing that that I like about NIMS," says Jim Shortal, The Home Depot's director of crisis management, "is that it creates the standard framework so that anywhere, and in any state I am in, I know that when I talk about getting through a roadblock, I know I can call the operations section, law enforcement branch."
NIMS, which grew out of a 2003 presidential directive in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, creates a "consistent, nationwide template" for emergency responses, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Homeland Security officials are pushing these standards down to local police and fire departments as local responders are often the quickest and most efficient at saving lives during an emergency.
Creating an interoperability standard for agencies to follow is "how NIMS works best," says Bruce Lippy, an industrial hygienist from Baltimore who worked at ground zero. Ultimately, using these standards makes emergency response more efficient and helps saves lives as responders use the same procedures, share a common focus and turn their attention to managing an incident--whether terrorism or natural disaster--when it occurs.
NIMS, says Shortal, does a good job of assigning responsibilities among public and private responders during emergency situations that are often confusing and change by the minute. "You need to make sure your program is consistent with what is going on in the public sector," he says.
Lippy says training together "makes all the difference" because responders know key people on a first-name basis and can evaluate what heavy equipment is necessary before showing up at the site of a building collapse or at the scene of damaged train cars leaking toxic gases.
"We need some commonality so that we can speak the same language," says Chip Hughes, director of the worker education and training programs of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences.
Hughes' team trains private-sector workers who may be called upon to help out in emergencies, and he looks toward matching emergency response units as they fit together in the urgency of the moment.
April 15, 2008
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