Planning to Provide Continuity

May 23rd, 2016
Disaster Recovery for Businesses

An open sign is one of the few items left after a tornado struck this convenient store in Oklahoma in 2013. (Photo: State Farm/Flickr)

Author: Gary Scronce, Director of Preparedness Programs, IEM

Where I live in Louisiana, we have been hearing a little more about emergency preparedness than normal lately with the start of hurricane season on June 1 fast approaching. Then this morning, I noticed that the week of May 16-20, 2016 has been designated as Business Continuity Awareness Week. A lot of the focus of the emergency management community prior to hurricane season is on trying to get the public to prepare itself and rightly so. During the first 48-72 hours after a hurricane, people should be prepared to take care of themselves. So how does this tie to Business Continuity? In two important ways at least.

First, the public sector version of Business Continuity Planning (BCP) is Continuity of Operations Planning (COOP). Governments develop COOP plans to help reduce or prevent the risk of critical government services and functions going offline in a disaster. For those risks that can’t be prevented, COOP planning prioritizes those services and functions and seeks to minimize the time it takes to recover them if they go offline. The faster governments can recover, the faster they can resume providing day to day services to their citizens/customers, respond to their emergency needs and support their recovery from disaster.  Being able to do those things helps a community get back to “normal” faster. Read the rest of this entry »

Crude Oil Derailments Continue – Are You Prepared?

May 1st, 2014

trainderailmentAuthor: David Willauer, Transportation Manager, IEM

Another train transporting crude oil derailed yesterday, this time in downtown Lynchburg, VA, resulting in a large fire and oil spill on the James River. CSX reported 15 tank cars derailed on a train traveling from Chicago to Virginia, four of which breached and caught fire. While there were no injuries reported, a half-mile evacuation was ordered by local officials.

Crude oil train derailments are occurring with alarming regularity in North America, and this trend is likely to continue. Advances in methods of extracting oil from shale formations in North Dakota and Canada have led to a dramatic surge in North American oil production. With gaps in the pipeline network connecting production facilities to U.S. oil refineries, producers are relying on rail carriers to transport significant amounts of crude oil to meet this new demand. U.S. freight railroads have carried more than 400,000 carloads of crude oil in 2013 compared to 9,500 carloads in 2008. With this level of crude oil transport continuing for the foreseeable future, it is critical that local officials prepare to respond to these types of incidents.

hazardsignHigher Flammability of Bakken Shale Oil
Bakken Shale Oil is more volatile than other crude oil, increasing the probability of incidents we have seen in Quebec, Alabama, North Dakota, New York, Pennsylvania, and now Virginia. Read the rest of this entry »

Protecting Our Armed Forces Critical Infrastructure: Prioritize Patriot

March 14th, 2014

Author:  Maj. Gen. Richard Rowe, US Army (Ret.), IEM Vice President of Response and Defense

Reprinted from The Hill

patriotJust 50 years ago, theater missile defenses arrayed our nation’s capital.  Since then, we were able to close down the homeland Nike Hercules sites. And for the past 13 years, we have dealt with specific 9-11 type threats by way of air and ground based alert interceptor aircraft and selected deployment of limited short-range air defense capabilities based upon specific threat assessments.

But as the Department of Defense designs our Armed Forces for the future, the joint force capabilities must continue to be responsive to our Combatant Commanders’ requirements.  That being said, today – and in the foreseeable future – combatant commanders must consider the threat from aircraft and ballistic missiles. This includes the imperative of protection that can only be provided by Patriot, THAAD, and the SM-3. Read the rest of this entry »

Common Alerting Protocol Used in Response to October 2013 Fires in Australia

December 10th, 2013

Author: Dr. Patti Aymond, Senior Scientist, IEMemergency022

Research shows that in an emergency situation, the most effective warnings are those that are delivered consistently over multiple channels. When people hear the same message from different sources, they are convinced it is real and are motivated to take action.

However, with so many diverse warning technologies available, it has been a challenge to develop a standard format that can be used to distribute a consistent message successfully by all systems.

The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) has addressed this challenge by developing the Common Alerting Protocol, or CAP—a message standard to support the automatic exchange of consistent alert and warning messages among different types of communication systems. CAP increases warning effectiveness and minimizes the complexity of notification since the CAP format is used by a variety of different systems.

As a software developer and a partner in OASIS standards development, I am proud to see the benefits of CAP coming to life through actual use in emergency management situations. This year, we saw it used during the unfortunate series of wildfires in New South Wales, Australia. Read the rest of this entry »

Another Oil Train Disaster: Are You Prepared if it Happens in Your Town?

November 12th, 2013

Last week a 60-car crude oil train derailed and caught fire in Western Alabama. To many, the derailment and subsequent conflagration of a 60-car crude oil unit train in rural Alabama may be somewhat of a surprise. After all, Alabama is a long way from North Dakota, the origin of the crude oil transported by rail. However, this is a reminder that this type of incident can occur almost anywhere in the United States and Canada that is connected by North America’s extensive rail network.

Smoke rises from a number of cars that derailed and exploded from a train carrying crude oil in Aliceville

Photo credit: Reuters/WBMA

The rapid expansion of crude oil shipments by rail in North America is the direct result of more domestic sources of crude oil. U.S. Class I railroads originated 93,312 carloads of crude oil in the third quarter of 2013, up 44.3 percent over the 64,658 carloads originated in the third quarter of 2012. Since U.S. pipeline projects are currently stalled, this trend of transporting crude by rail is expected to continue. Read the rest of this entry »

Emergency Specialist Reflects On Life’s Work During Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (Podcast)

August 26th, 2013
Madhu Beriwal cutting Ribbon at IEM Opening Ceremony

Madhu Beriwal (on right cutting the ribbon) when headquarters were moved from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to the Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

By Nicole Campbell and Frank Stasio
Reprinted from

listen to podcast Listen (47:24)

Host Frank Stasio talks with Beriwal about her life and research in emergency management.

In 1985, Madhu Beriwal was conducting hurricane research for the state of Louisiana. She charted possible directions and outcomes that different storm conditions would bring to New Orleans. Looking at [a hurricane atlas she developed]  in 2005, Beriwal said it almost perfectly predicted the severity of Hurricane Katrina.

Today Beriwal heads IEM, a private emergency response company that focuses on homeland security, natural disasters and evacuation support. The State of Things host, Frank Stasio, talks with Madhu Beriwal about her life and research in emergency management.

listen to podcast  Listen to the podcast. (47:24)

Quebec Oil Train Disaster – It Could Happen in Your Town

July 10th, 2013

The train explosion involving a 73-car crude oil unit train in Lac-Megantic, Quebec on July 6 serves as a sobering example of what can happen in your town.Quebec-train-wreck

The train’s oil was being transported from the Bakken Oil Region in North Dakota to New Brunswick to be refined. The incident occurred just 10 miles from the Maine border.

Rail shipments of crude oil are on the increase because of limited pipeline capacity in the Bakken region and in Canada. Unit trains carrying crude oil are traversing urban areas across the United States and Canada because our cities were connected years ago by railroads. In some cases, unit trains are blocking off entire portions of some urban areas because they can only unload so many cars at a time. Read the rest of this entry »

India Floods in Uttarakhand-Natural or Man-Made?

July 9th, 2013

Author: Jackie Covington, Emergency Management Associate, IEM

Many people are overwhelmed when such an extreme disaster like the June 2013 flooding in Uttarakhand, India happens. The scale of destruction is huge and thousands remain stranded in parts of northern India as they wait to be rescued from Uttarakhand where at least 5,000 people may have died due to the heavier than normal June monsoon rains. At least 12,000 people have been evacuated. The priority right now is for the continuation of rescue efforts. The devastation is the result of extreme heavy rainfall and landslides. Could this be the disaster that was waiting to happen? Many questions are being asked and remain to be answered, such as was there adequate response and evacuation planning? What if anything was done in advance to mitigate against such flooding and destruction of this magnitude?

Uttarakhand-India-Flood Read the rest of this entry »

Tornado Tracks from Moore & El Reno, Oklahoma Show an Eerie Correlation with Heavily Populated Areas

June 20th, 2013

Author: Bill Proger, Java Developer, IEM

On May 31, the area around Oklahoma City, already battered by tornadoes a little over a week before, experienced several more tornadoes that caused damage including loss of life.  A tornado reaching an EF-3 (Severe) wind speed and damage rating touched down just southwest of the city of El Reno, approximately 30 miles west of Oklahoma City.  It moved east and ended at the Interstate 40 corridor.  On May 20, a tornado reaching the maximum EF-5 rating devastated a large area immediately south of Oklahoma City. It touched down near the city of Newcastle, cut through Moore, and ended approximately two miles west of Stanley Draper Lake.

The interactive tornado map above, powered by OpenLayers and using an OpenStreetMap layer, shows the May 20 and May 31 approximate tornado tracks, as well as tracks of other tornadoes that have occurred in this area since 1999 and reached a Severe or higher wind speed and damage designation. Their tracks are approximated with straight lines between their starting and ending locations.

It is apparent from the map’s pattern of streets and building footprints at higher zoom levels that many tornadoes produce tracks that impact lives and infrastructure in urbanized, heavily populated areas. As an example, zoom in on the May 20, 2013 track just west of Interstate 35.  Panning west in the storm track’s reverse direction, we see the intersection of the track with Plaza Towers Elementary School, on which the most closely followed rescue effort was focused, and with Briarwood Elementary School a little to the southwest.  Near the school, the track intersects the footprints of other mass gathering places, including a movie theater next to the interstate, and many individual homes.  Looking at the May 31 track, the reader can see its convergence with Interstate 40, a major highway serving Oklahoma City.

As focused as many tornadoes often are in their damage paths, a tornado moving through a heavily populated urban area can have a devastating cumulative effect even with a relatively short track. Current discussions about increasing public safety during tornadoes are very timely.

Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion Raises Questions About Planning and Zoning

April 19th, 2013

Author: David Willauer, Transportation Manager, IEM

The explosion at the West Fertilizer plant in West, Texas, this week serves as a sobering reminder of the role of planning and zoning for facilities near chemical plants. Why were a middle school and a nursing home located so close to a fertilizer plant that stores and uses dangerous chemicals, such as anhydrous ammonia?

West Texas Fertilizer plant - buildings near explosion


Planning and zoning officials often do not have critical information such as downwind hazard zones or isolation protective action distances during the planning board process. As a result, schools, nursing homes, residential subdivisions, and child care facilities are often built too close to chemical facilities with downwind hazard zones or too close to highways and railroads transporting chemicals with known recommended isolation protective action distances.

IEM is working with local officials and industries in several states to gather real data about hazardous materials storage and transport and to translate that into actionable intelligence that helps planning officials make more informed zoning and facility siting decisions. This process is also building stronger bonds between industry, communities, and local officials as they collaborate more closely to improve public protection.

For details about the explosion, see Explosion hits fertilizer plant north of Waco, Texas.