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The Discussion

Sharon Dawes (CTG, Moderator): I’d like to start with Larry Knafo and ask you to compare what passed for normal operations before September 11th and what normal operations look like today. What are the most obvious changes, and what things do you think should change but haven’t?

Larry Knafo: I think there’s clearly a presence of business continuity, at least across what we’re doing in the city. Concepts of business continuity are present in most of the projects that we do today, especially in the technology area. We really see people focusing on what’s required to keep systems running. We’ve made a real focus of determining those systems and projects that are mission-critical versus those that are not.

When we did Y2K planning, we looked at everything and came up with tons of business processes and systems that we wanted to put disaster recovery in place for. But what we found during September 11th was that eighty percent of those plans were not needed. We didn’t need to worry about the Landmark Preservation Commission being up and running after September 11th; it just didn’t matter. We did need to make sure that paychecks were distributed to employees and that health systems were running and that OEM could operate. So we really started focusing on those things that are critical and necessary to running the City versus what’s not.

Karen Schimke: I think it’s interesting to contrast what I might call "macro-preparation" and "micro-preparation," in terms of children and child care, for example. During 9/11 and during the following days and weeks, children suffered a tremendous impact from these disasters. There were situations where parents of children were never able to come to pick them up, or children had to be quickly evacuated and then trying to figure out how they would connect with parents. Most of the child care centers in New York City and DC probably didn’t have any kind of preparation whatsoever before 9/11. They had no idea what they would do if something really terrible happened.

There was time afterwards when the child care centers in New York City and the groups that work with them began to try to lay out some of the elements of a disaster preparedness plan. Where do the kids go? How do we connect up with parents? Do we have a second emergency telephone number? What happens if parents don’t show up? Because many, many parents at the Pentagon simply never showed up for their kids. We know of many stories where child care directors and other providers just kept children with them, took them home without knowing how to proceed. The child care community looked to the state to provide some help and leadership. The effort got started, but it petered out.

They weren’t able to sustain the effort to come up with a level of planning preparedness that you need to run a childcare center. And that’s just one small sector—a very important sector to children and their families.

Peter Levin: The mission of the Centers for Public Health Preparedness is to develop educational programs and training for public health and first responders. They have developed a course for school teachers and school administrators on emergency response because there has to be more knowledge and preparation at the school level. We offered this training in partnership with the School of Education here at the University at Albany this summer, and only five people signed up and then two dropped out. We made the investment in a joint enterprise with Education but to me it symbolizes what Karen said.

The Centers for Disease Control, who funds us, was thrilled that we were doing this. Other centers from across the country asked to share it with us. But if people don’t think they need this, this is a huge issue. If our schools are not ready yet to learn how to handle the next incident, we’re going to be in trouble.

Steve Kos: The whole event and what happened at our bank, and throughout the private sector, made business continuity become more of a strategic issue. I can focus on the large financial institutions here but I think it’s true in middle market companies and even in small companies. You have an awareness now of the importance of being prepared, the importance of thinking outside of what I’ll call "traditional business continuity and disaster recovery." Historically, we would think of that as a fire in our building or water damage in a building, and we’d have to move our people out for some period of time. 9/11 moved that way of thinking off the table. Now we think about threats, managing our risks from wherever they may come, and thinking about loss of our critical people—not just loss of one of our critical facilities or one of our critical IT systems.

As a result of this strategic shift, there’s a real attention in the boardrooms. Senior management—the new CEO of our institution—talks about our preparedness and our readiness on the business continuity and disaster recovery front. He has major concerns about the safety of our people, our customers, and our ability to keep our business going. He is concerned about terrorist threats, power outages, and so forth.

So every time these events happen, I think we’ve learned lessons from them and we’ve responded to those lessons.