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When the Crisis Is at Your Doorstep

| December 15, 2014

By Howard B. Price
ABC Television Network
Director, Business Continuity


pricehowardbwriterNEW YORK — As I write this, Australian authorities are trying to end an hours-long hostage situation in the Lindt Chocolat Café at Martin Place, in the heart of Sydney’s central business district.

The area is home to government offices, shopping, financial institutions – and Sydney’s Channel 7, which is located virtually across the street from the scene.

Shortly after police responded, Channel 7 was ordered evacuated – its staff relocated to temporary facilities (see picture below left) — and police set up a monitoring point in its offices.

For now, Channel 7’s Sydney transmitter is carrying coverage via a sister station in Melbourne – 545 miles away.martinplacemap

Over at Australia’s 2GB Radio, host Ray Hadley (below right) says one of the hostages called into his radio show, with a demand — said to be from the hostage-taker– that he be put on the air, live.  Hadley declined.

Many readers of this publication may try to reassure themselves that if they operate far from major markets and other high-profile terror targets, they are all but immune from situations like this.

How quickly we forget. Long before the Twin Towers came down in New York City at the hands of jihadists and the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was the target of domestic terrorism. The hard truth is that in these troubled times, incidents such as the one unfolding in Sydney can and will happen anywhere and at any time.

tempstudioThe only question: Will you have a plan to deal with it?

In the aftermath of 9/11, many places – New York City chief among them – redrew regulations requiring building operators and their tenants to develop so-called “emergency action plans,” to deal with fire and non-fire emergencies. Among other things, these plans call for the formation and training of “emergency action plan directors” and fire safety teams; some organizations with expansive buildings or campuses have designated site coordinators, and site response teams who may have advanced first aid training and emergency provisions to sustain a lockdown/shelter-in-place order for hours, or even days.

The idea behind these regulatory changes is to learn the lessons of 9/11 – to know when to evacuate and how, when tohadleyhead shelter-in-place and how, establishing a system for employee accountability, better emergency communications in the absence of phones and e-mail, and better coordination with first responders.

Additionally, business continuity became a priority – and many organizations drew up plans to do what Channel 7 in Sydney had to do – curtail its primary operations and set up shop somewhere else. Quickly.

Can you transfer your operations to another location – almost instantaneously? Would you be able to sustain local coverage of whatever forced you from your main facility – on-air and online? Would you be able to conduct a secure lockdown – or a safe, speedy evacuation to a designated alternate location? How would you communicate if cellular resources were inaccessible or inoperable – or commandeered by first responders? Have you invested in dedicated two-way radio resources? Have you partnered with clustermates, distant corporate cousins – perhaps even your competitors to establish a resource-sharing plan?

And what if it’s your facility under siege? What if hostage-takers are demanding to take YOUR air to communicate their grievances? Have you a protocol for dealing with THAT? Have you invited local law enforcement in to run a tabletop exercise for THAT scenario?

With the eyes of the world on a hostage crisis in a café across from its studios and offices, Channel 7 Sydney had perhaps minutes to initiate a disaster plan, stay on the air, and cover the story.

Don’t wait for the clock to start ticking when disaster strikes. Plan NOW for the unthinkable. The safety of your staff and facility – not to mention your reputation – may well rely on it.


Howard B. Price, CBCP/MBCI is director, business continuity for ABC Television Network. He can be emailed at Howard.B.Price@abc.com or phoned at 212-456-1073.

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Category: Advice