AIHce: Beyond Response to Readiness

Companies need to look beyond the ability to respond to emergencies to the ability to prepare for emergencies if they want to survive a business interruption, said John B. Copenhaver, and the best way to do that is for the departments managing security, emergency response, business continuity and crisis management to work together.

"There is a grave and urgent need to break down silos rather than patiently waiting for a seat at the big people's table," Copenhaver told attendees at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exhibition (AIHce) in Atlanta. Safety and industrial hygiene professionals are accustomed to preventing injuries and illnesses, said Copenhaver, and business continuity planning is the process of developing advance plans to reduce the disruption to business should a computer virus, tornado, fire or terrorist strike a business.

"The goal is to protect critical business functions," said Copenhaver, senior vice president of Marsh Risk Consulting. "You want to minimize surprises after the big surprise that disrupts your business. Prevention is important, but what we can't prevent, we must be prepared for."

He noted that 60 percent of small businesses without a business continuity plan got out of business within five years of a business disruption. Only 15 percent of executives believe their business is prepared for a major disruption, he said, and one-quarter of security managers believe their department is underfunded.

He made particular note of backing up computer systems regularly, regardless of the cost, and ensuring business can continue if one facility or part of the facility is shut down due to some type of incident. It is important not only for the business, he noted, but for the employees.

"You are real scientists, identifying health and safety problems," Copenhaver told the audience. "I think we have a future together."

Companies need to have an inherent understanding of the importance of business continuity planning like they have for occupational safety and health, he noted. One protects employees, while the other protects the business. "Without productive and healthy employees, the business can't go anywhere," said Copenhaver. Conversely, a business that can't continue to exist following some type of disaster can't support employees or its community.

"The real cost" of a business disaster "is measured in families and faces," said Copenhaver. "Real people who could lose their jobs and even their lives if you and I don't do our jobs."

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