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DCE Magazine

Superstorms and Rising Tides

Spring 2018

Climate change creates a growing need for emergency management experts.

Susan Zielan was organizing an emergency drill for a large company in Chile, an exercise to simulate the response to a major earthquake. Her mission was to make sure the company had the proper resources to respond effectively and continue functioning in the event of such a disaster.

How would the employees be safely evacuated? Would there be a contingency plan for any damaged or destroyed facilities? And most important, they needed to know exactly how to respond with rescue and recovery efforts if workers were trapped or injured.

The drill went off like clockwork on a Friday morning. Then, less than 12 hours later, a 7.8 to 8.0 temblor struck the region. Suddenly there was a real, major catastrophe to deal with.

“Fortunately, we were very well-prepared,” said Zielan, a DCE instructor. “The company already had employees in place in the U.S., so we were able to transfer work to them. In addition, we were able to move employees, products and services in Chile outside the earthquake zone. Laptops were issued, so they could take work with them.”

The quake did not hit during business hours, so there were no onsite casualties to deal with. “If it had, we had systems in place for triage, and we knew how to work with local EMTs and hospitals,” she said. “People are always your biggest, most important asset.”

On the business side, Zielan was happy to report that the company did not lose a dollar in revenue or miss a single deadline, thanks to a thorough preparation plan — one of the essential principles of emergency management Zielan teaches in her two DCE courses.

A climate in crisis

We've witnessed these scenarios all too often lately: Powerful Category 4 and 5 hurricanes decimate regions in quick succession. Massive flooding destroys and isolates entire communities. Widespread wildfires burn neighborhoods to the ground, spreading so quickly the residents can't evacuate in time.

Nearly all scientists agree that climate change is a factor, with unusually warm ocean water fueling the storms and severe drought adding fuel to the wildfires. However, even skeptics can't deny the rising sea levels, coastal erosion and increasingly violent weather, Zielan said.

“Regardless of whether you believe in climate change or not, we're having more major hurricane events and huge storm surges, which actually cause most of the property damage,” said Zielan, Business Resiliency Manager for CoreLogic in Irvine. “After the hurricane winds subside, storm surges flood the area and cause catastrophic and often lasting damage. It can seriously hamper rescue efforts, as well.”

She points to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “Flooding caused the most damage to the area, making buildings and entire communities uninhabitable,” she said. “But at least with hurricanes you know they're coming about a week before they hit landfall, giving time to prepare for response and recovery.”

Earthquakes and wildfires strike suddenly, making it even more crucial to be ready with a plan for rapid response and recovery, whether you're planning for a business or community. That's Zielan's job — her passion, really — developing and implementing enterprise-wide plans for CoreLogic offices across the U.S. and Australia.

Before that, she led efforts in Europe, South America, Asia and Australia to create and customize effective business continuity, disaster recovery, and emergency management programs. It's a calling that can save lives while keeping businesses humming along, even in dire conditions. You never know when the next earthquake might hit.

Learning to lead

Zielan's online courses — part of the Facilities Management certificate program — provide a solid background in disaster preparedness and response for current facility professionals as well as anyone who wants to enter the broader field of emergency management.

The Emergency Management: Business Continuity Planning course specifically addresses the types of issues Zielan faced with the company in Santiago — how to prepare for potential disasters and implement safe, effective contingency measures. Principles of Emergency Management introduces participants to the basic, essential issues for managing a broad range of scenarios.

The course gives an overview of emergency management with a focus on the roles of local, county, state and federal agencies, how to leverage their resources and implement current regulations and standards. Participants learn from real-life events, and guest experts share real-world expertise.

Zielan bases the core of the curriculum on FEMA's four key principles: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery — the basis of effective emergency management leadership.

“First, you have to make sure you take steps to prevent or reduce any damage that could occur,” Zielan said. “Mitigate any safety issues that could contribute to damage and make sure they aren't issues anymore, long before an event happens.”

Effective preparation involves developing plans for what to do, where to go, and who to call for assistance. Holding disaster drills, posting emergency numbers and safe escape routes are all basic preparation steps.

“Facilities or emergency managers need to know the resources that are available — the local, state and federal agencies,” Zielan said. “Create relationships with authorities, know how to request aid and work with FEMA, for example. Get to know them and learn how to talk their language.”

When an event does occur, you must know how to respond and put your preparedness plan into action quickly, safely and effectively. “That's when the boats come in and helicopters pull people off roofs.”

Once the immediate danger is over, recovery begins. Steps are taken to make sure everyone is safe, and operations can function and recover as efficiently as possible.

For anyone interested in a career in emergency management, there are a number of paths available, Zielan said. Every city has disaster response personnel; corporations, hospitals and universities all need emergency response experts, as well.

It can be a challenging, stimulating and fulfilling job, one that's becoming more crucially important than ever — and DCE's Facilities Management certificate can be a good place to get started.

“We get students who are curious or maybe just taking the courses because they need to for the certificate,” Zielan said. “But many of them find that emergency management becomes a true passion.”

Learn more about the Facilities Management Certificate Program.