Baltimore Fires Serve as Reminder that COOP Planning is Critical

Two massive, five-alarm fires in Baltimore City shut down traffic, displaced workers and kept fire fighters busy for one long, cold night this week. The first fire started on “The Block” at 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 6, requiring the evacuation of private business and government employees, and even swept close to the Baltimore City Fire Department’s own headquarters. The second fire started at 1:30 a.m. in Mt. Vernon buildings that house restaurants and several offices. Many of the Mt. Vernon fire fighters also battled the fire on “The Block” earlier in their shift. For the businesses and organizations affected by the fire, getting day-to-day operations back up and running is the next big hurdle now that the fire is extinguished.

Fires are just one of the many hazards that Continuity of Operations planning seeks to mitigate. Working in tandem with evacuation plans, COOP plans can help businesses ensure the safety of their employees and minimize damage to vital equipment and records. Furthermore, a COOP plan is the most important tool a business or organization can have in place to ensure their most essential functions continue uninterrupted after a fire or other emergency.

The fire on “The Block” required the evacuation of 2,000 workers, many of whom did not have a chance to take their keys and other essentials. Amazingly, no one was injured, but the blaze raged for hours and employees were not allowed back into the building. A temporary shelter was set up for city employees. As part of COOP planning, we always recommend that employees put together a drive-away or go-kit for both personal emergency items and business continuity essentials. A kit is as simple as a Tupperware container with necessities such as personal items, important business documents, and other equipment needed to carry on their job functions from another location. The personal items inside the kit can also be used if employees need to shelter in place at work. These kits will travel with employees to alternate work sites, one of which could be the employee’s own home. Tele-working can be a good option when a building is temporarily shut down or when traffic and street closures necessitate alternate facility arrangements.

Workers will not always have enough warning to grab their keys and their go-kits but many of the hazards a business will face usually strike with enough notice to make creating and maintaining a kit a worthwhile endeavor. Having a ready kit at home is also a basic part of family preparedness planning, which businesses should encourage for all employees.

We recommend the following items for personal shelter in place or go-kits:

  1. Water
  2. Food
  3. Medication
  4. First Aid Supplies
  5. Radio
  6. Flashlight
  7. Paper plate, utensils
  8. Can opener
  9. Personal hygiene items
  10. Plastic garbage bag
  11. One change of clothing and footwear

A professional go kit should contain the following items:

  1. Continuity of Operations (COOP) plan
  2. Current contact lists for personnel and external parties
  3. Formatted computer diskettes, CD-ROMs or memory sticks
  4. General office supplies (small amount)
  5. Cellular telephone, Blackberry, Nextel, PDA device
  6. Office telephone contact list
  7. Current equipment report
  8. Current software report
  9. Current vital records, files and databases

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