Security & Disaster Planning: Floods, Flu, and Funding

July 24, 2006

The Times They Are A-Changin’
By Bob Dylan

Come gather ‘round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he who gets hurt will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it’s ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

When Bob Dylan wrote The Times They Are A-Changing 43 years ago, the song soon became an anthem for a generation of Americans coming of age. Vietnam, the threat of nuclear war, and civil rights were on everyone’s minds. Yet Dylan’s words still ring true today, with new and different meanings.

Now, in the post-9/11 era, as America celebrates 230 years of democracy and freedom, Iraq, the threat of nuclear attack, securing the borders, and immigration are on the front pages. Our society is facing difficult and complex challenges, with limited available resources. From Homeland Security and terrorism to disaster planning, response, and recovery, our collective will to protect and help others has never been more critical than in the 21st century. Many opportunities exist for comprehensive security planning and best practices in the facility management, design, security, public safety, and law enforcement arenas.

In this monthly column, I will discuss these topics (and more) by exploring issues, case studies, and best practices that contribute to making society safe and secure, and improving the quality of life in the built environment.

If your time to you is worth savin’ ...
Whether you’re responsible for facilities in Manhattan, NY, or Manhattan, KS, there are baseline steps and precautions that you, your organization, your clients, and your community can consider for public safety. Terrorists may not be planning to take out a facility in Kansas, but owning a prime location along Tornado Alley or in a 30-year flood plain can inflict sufficient economic damage and casualties to provide strong incentive for developing a comprehensive disaster plan.

Design excellence, technology, and operations are the essence of a comprehensive building-security program, especially one addressing transparent security, invisible to the public eye. But, terrorist threats to destroy buildings and our way of life are not the only security issues to consider: Protecting our citizens, employees, and building occupants from the impact of natural disasters, crime, workplace violence, and emergencies such as power outages, contagious diseases, and biohazards are also important.

Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone ...
Disaster planning is a sink-or-swim proposition. Knowledge and implementation of security design and disaster planning can save lives, homes, businesses, civic infrastructure, and critical assets. Those of us in the building industry and related fields have a professional responsibility to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public, regardless of threat. Building owners, facility managers, and public officials must anticipate that disaster response activities may occur on short notice. Not doing so in this litigious society can lead to fatalities, loss of productivity and income, liability claims, and lawsuits.

Smart planning is a smart move. Here’s what some organizations are doing ...

Admit that the waters around you have grown ...
Hurricane season is upon us, and areas of upstate New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey have been dealing with devastating floods in early July that some residents call the worst they have ever seen. The recent Binghamton Area Flood Update I received from one of my alma maters, the State University of New York at Binghamton, now Binghamton University (BU), describes flooding from the Susquehanna River in New York’s Southern Tier:

“Record-high water levels have forced thousands of people from their homes and caused millions of dollars of damage to homes and businesses. Binghamton University has been the calm in the storm; the campus has not been damaged and operations are basically back to business as usual. The Events Center on campus served as a shelter to more than 1,000 people who had to leave their homes. University staff members assisted the American Red Cross in providing food, blankets, and cots to evacuees.”

Subsequent reports state that, at the peak of the crisis, over 1,500 people sought shelter at the Events Center, with the help of the local Red Cross, including a family whose home was entirely washed away. BU officials opened the shelter after being called by Broome County Emergency Services, and promptly mobilized their emergency team, including university police, emergency services, and the school’s ambulance service. County buses transported many evacuees to the campus shelter.

Almost a year ago, Americans watched the disturbing images of New Orleans evacuees at the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. If Binghamton’s flood response is any benchmark, the horrifying conditions from Katrina now serve as a compendium of emergency management lessons learned.

And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone ...
“Floods are the most insidious kinds of disasters. After the water goes down, you think all you have to do is sweep out the mud and repaint, but that’s not so. You’ll find more damage than you ever dreamed existed, when you open the walls and find the water is still in there, wicking up the insulation, and there may even be a snake or two,” observes veteran disaster responder Charles Harper, FAIA, principal at Charles Harper FAIA Architect, in Wichita Falls, TX.

Harper, who has responded to floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and wildfires across the United States, uses his 14-point Flood Damage Assessment Checklist for disaster-recovery building evaluations. Attention to wood flooring, interior walls, floorcoverings, doors and cabinets, mildew and mud, and repainting are among the items to be addressed. (Note: The checklist is reproduced in my book, Building Security: Handbook for Architectural Planning and Design (McGraw-Hill, 2004), pgs. 12.9-12.10).

It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls ...
“A disaster is usually not a priority until it happens. Disaster response is a brief, intense period of time for the facility manager to coordinate response. Preparation is essential to live through a disaster. After the emergency has passed, there is a short window of opportunity to better prepare for next time,” says Terrance Brown, FAIA, Chair, AIA National Disaster Assistance Committee, in Albuquerque, NM. Brown offers the following checklists for effective post-disaster response:

1. Flood, Fire, Earthquake, and Terrorism Disaster-Planning Checklist:

  • Determine who will staff the disaster-response office
  • Plan for a disaster occurring during office hours
  • Plan for a disaster occurring before or after office hours, or on a holiday
  • Identify skills available among staff members.
  • Determine administrative disaster-response work that can be performed by volunteers.

2. Business-Preparedness Checklist:

  • Maintain an accurate, current client list for the last 3 years with names, addresses, and phone numbers.
  • Keep copies of records that may need to be accessed.
  • Identify workplace vulnerabilities to be addressed during disaster preparation.
  • Determine steps to be taken to allow business continuation in the event of a disaster.
  • Identify what you need to take with you if you are evacuated to another location.
  • Review how your core services will be affected by evacuation and relocation.
  • Identify a colleague with whom you can share space, resources, and services in the event of an emergency, and ensure that this colleague is as prepared as you are.

 3. Equipment-Resources Checklist:

  • Check power and water sources to the building and shut them off.
  • Determine if a generator is necessary.
  • Ensure that there is at least one working land phone plugged into the wall (not dependent on electricity, in case power and cell-phone service are unavailable).
  • Store portable water (in portable containers) and 3 days’ worth of food.
  • Determine data to be stored in hard copy, and where it should be stored.
  • Back up critical computer data regularly.
  • Line up transportation, such as buses to transport evacuees to nearby shelters.
  • Check that first-aid supplies are adequate and current.
  • Ascertain if anyone on staff or on the emergency-response team has medical needs requiring storage of equipment or medication on-site.

Even in the summer months, contagious-disease outbreaks can devastate workplace productivity. According to David Chasco, AIA, Director and Professor of the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, “The University of Illinois and the School of Architecture have an active response plan generated in case of an outbreak of the bird flu. The emergency strategies apply to most disaster planning we are likely to encounter.” In addition to items previously noted, a June 2006 checklist sent to faculty on business continuity recommends the following:

  • Conduct an internal review of emergency operations plans.
  • Anticipate absenteeism. Conduct succession planning and identify at least three people who can perform each function.
  • Limit the number of face-to-face meetings.
  • Encourage staff members to keep workspaces clean with spray sanitizers and disinfectants.
  • Cancel non-critical events.
  • Prepare distance-learning alternatives and online materials.
  • Review security procedures and consider reducing public availability of meeting space to minimize health risks.

Come senators, congressmen ...
Implementing disaster-planning and recovery strategies on a broad scale often requires significant resources. Effective community-based institutions and organizations develop and maintain good relationships with local officials and law enforcement personnel before emergency strikes. Working with elected representatives is often one of many strategies undertaken by civic groups with emergency plans.

Please heed the call ...
But, these days, competition is keen for federal and state Homeland Security funds. As New York, Washington, D.C., and other big cities witnessed this year, federal Homeland Security funding is apparently not necessarily based on threat, need, and previous terrorist attacks or disasters, but on political proclivities of those distributing the money. This is all the more reason for each organization to develop a self-sufficient, workable plan.

A recent New York Times story (“Hiring Federal Lobbyists, Towns Learn Money Talks,” by Jodi Rudoren and Aron Pilhofer, July 2, 2006) notes that towns in Texas, Florida, and elsewhere that hired high-priced Washington, D.C., lobbyists received billions in earmarks, or special appropriations in an omnibus bill, for special projects.

So, if your organization is in a disaster-prone zone, with a comprehensive, costly community-based disaster plan that is in need of public funding, what to do?

With tongue planted firmly in cheek, New York pundit Michael Schenkler, publisher and editor-in-chief at the Queens Tribune, offers this advice: “Contribute heavily to your elected officials so that, when it comes time for them to divvy up FEMA funds or state appropriations, you’re near the front of the line.”

Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall ...
If you manage or design public-assembly facilities; work in a university, industrial plant, office campus, high-rise setting, or public agency involved with emergency management; or have these groups as clients, disaster planning is especially critical.

Is your organization (and its facilities) prepared to mobilize for shelter and disaster response on a few hours’ notice when the call from the Mayor or Governor’s office comes in?

Facility managers, architects, engineers, local building-code officials, and emergency-management teams should review disaster-response protocols and flexible use of space for accommodating increased occupancies and large numbers of evacuees for short- and long-term stays.

For he who gets hurt will be he who has stalled ...
U.S. transit systems take security very seriously, especially after major incidents in London, Tokyo, and Madrid. Take comfort in this fact the next time you are delayed on the subway.

San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) has recently revised the agency’s emergency plan, focusing on coordination with various counties, the State of California, and Federal emergency plans, to facilitate the responding agencies at all levels during an emergency, says Tian Feng, AIA, FCSI, BART District Architect, Oakland, CA.

“Different from buildings, rail transit systems encompass multiple municipalities and serve diverse transient-based users. Due to their nature, rail systems contain large masses of people at any time, and the properties (mostly right-of-way) are open and span long distances. A sound emergency plan for rail transit systems is essential for protecting life and property, and to mitigate any consequential damages,” Feng adds.

Resources Cited

  1. Dylan, Bob, “The Times They Are A-Changin’” (
  2. Basler, Gene, “Events Center serves as shelter for startled evacuees,” Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin, June 29, 2006 (
  3. Nadel, Barbara A., ed. Building Security: Handbook for Architectural Planning and Design, (McGraw-Hill, 2004) (
  4. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Office of Campus Emergency Planning: Avian flu, tornado preparedness, other information (
  5. Rudoren, Jodi, and Aron Pilhofer, “Hiring Federal Lobbyists, Towns Learn Money Talks,” New York Times, July 2, 2006 (Click to go to website).
  6. Queens Tribune (
  7. BART - Bay Area Rapid Transit District (
  8. AIA Disaster Assistance Program (

Barbara A. Nadel, FAIA, principal of Barbara Nadel Architect, in New York City, specializes in healthcare, justice, and institutional planning and design. She is editor-in-chief of Building Security: Handbook for Architectural Planning and Design (McGraw-Hill, 2004) and writes frequently on design and technology.

Contact Barbara at [email protected].

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