Cell Phones Cause 1 Out of 4 Traffic Accidents (As If Traveling For Business Continuity Isn’t Hard Enough Already)

15 04 2014

Anything that ever starts out with, “According to experts” or “A recent study revealed” usually makes me immediately suspect that somebody’s working an angle and to proceed with skepticism.  But this one got my attention because it was conducted by the National Safety Council and Texas A&M: a whopping 26% of traffic accidents are caused by cell phone use but somewhat amazingly only 5% are caused by the driver texting.  That means that one in five of all accidents are the result of someone ‘only’ talking on the phone. I believe it and not just because I missed an exit several years ago because I was texting.  Think about that for a second.  Missed an exit.  That means I was in the wrong place by mistake because my attention was substantially and intentionally diverted.  And I was in the wrong place operating a 2,800 pound machine while traveling at 70 miles per hour.  Once I realized and really pondered the enormity of that, I’ve never texted while driving again and the continuing, rampant and heartbreaking examples of what can happen when you text and drive have turned me into somewhat of a zealot on the issue.  If you have a teen or anyone in your life who ever texts or talks while driving, make an impact this week: show them this. crash-your-carAs for the study finding that just talking on a cell phone (whether hands-free or not) causes a much larger percentage of crashes, while I find that mildly surprising, it also makes me wonder when in the world it became absolutely imperative that we be able to talk on the phone while we’re driving.  Life in general has sped up a good deal in the last few decades thanks to cell phones, the internet and the explosion of available broadcast data.  And the number of ‘imperative’ messages that we all exchange each day has increased substantially.  But that super important thing that you need to tell so-and-so?  It can wait.  It really can. And most of all, it’s critical to not talk or text while driving if you’re in the midst of a deployment that’s the result of a business interruption, whether on the way there, on the way back or somewhere in between.  Why risk making an already stressful situation even worse by unnecessarily and substantially increasing the odds that you’ll crash your car? Do this instead:

  • Pull over to text or talk, and pulling over means WAY over . . . to a safe place in a parking lot or driveway or legally curbside on a quiet street, not on a feeder (or ‘access road’ if you’re from the northeast).
  • Put it in park and turn off the engine.
  • If you don’t think it’s a safe neighborhood or stretch of road, keep moving until you’re more comfortable.  Either way, always keep aware of your surroundings when sitting in a parked car.
  • Designate the conversation or exchange of messages to a copilot if one is available.
  • My favorite: build time into your travel schedule ahead of time for regular check-ins and/or incorporate them into your stops for gas, to eat or to go to the bathroom.

I’ve pledged to commit to the tragedy of arriving safely home from the store not having received the message or call to not forget to pick up a quart of skim milk.   And we practice what we preach at Continuity Housing: not only is it against company policy for any of our team members to talk or text while they’re traveling on company business but we also stipulate in our client contracts that we don’t allow our employees to do so.  If it’s important enough to act on immediately – and often it is, especially during a deployment – it’s important enough to pull over. Our industry revolves around risk but intentionally engaging in distracted driving isn’t a risk worth taking.  Ever.

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Continuity Housing helps companies enhance their business continuity plans by pre-arranging guaranteed housing and providing logistical support for mission-critical employees during disasters.  Subscribe to the Continuity Housing blog (in sidebar at right) and follow us on Twitter, on YouTube, on LinkedIn and on Facebook.  To subscribe to our mailing list and/or to find out about a free 30-minute deployment housing assessmentemail us.





Thinking About Installing A Standby Power Generator? A 20-Minute Webinar To Increase Safety, Save You Money and Minimize The Hassle

9 04 2014

register-buttonThere’s been a surge in sales of backup/standby power generators over the past few years and that’s for a variety of reasons. They’re conspicuously on display at Home Depot and Lowe’s, taking up floor space that just a couple of years ago would have been occupied by fertilizer or gas grills.  It could be that the frequency and nature of storms that disrupt our lives seem to have increased along with our reliance on power for everything we do. Or, with the media’s help, we may fear the worst: that the bulk electric power system is a great target for physical and/or cyber attack that results in a prolonged and widespread blackout.

generator-rentalDr. Ed Goldberg, CBCP has worked in the power industry for over twenty years, including over a decade in business continuity and disaster recovery planning as well as threat assessment. Join us for around 20 minutes – plus Q&A – at 10:30 a.m. Central on Wednesday, April 23rd as he discusses the rationale for making an investment in a generator as well as the ins and outs of shopping for, selecting, purchasing, installing and maintaining generators, including both portable and permanently installed varieties.  Two years ago, Ed installed a standby power generator at his home in Connecticut and his hands-on experience resulted in a new education and appreciation of the finer points of proper, efficient and hassle-free installation.  This presentation will also cover aspects of installing an industrial generator for use in corporate and other larger-scale environments as well as the pros and cons of incident-specific generator rental.  And no, this is not even close to being a sales pitch.

Ed-largeAbout the presenter: Dr. Ed Goldberg, CBCP manages Northeast Utilities’ BC, DR and Threat Assessment Programs in Berlin, CT. Ed served 10 years as IT manager at Millstone Nuclear Power Station.  Ed is a CBCP with 25+ years IT and management experience. He served 4 terms as president of Connecticut ACP, is in his 5th year on the ACP Corporate Board, chairs its Education Committee, and is a popular conference speaker and published author.  Ed has a BSEE and MBA, an advanced Graduate Certificate in Computer Communication Networks and a Doctorate in Management and Organizational Leadership.  He has Professional Engineering and amateur radio licenses.  Ed serves as faculty at Capella University since 2003 and taught at Albertus Magnus College for 11 years.  He has firsthand experience designing military computer systems, fire alarm control panels, web offset printing press accessories, and electrofinishing/plating computerized controls. And as if that’s not enough, he has a patent for sub-ambient fluid circulation systems used in the printing industry.

If you’re even thinking about installing a generator either at home or for your organization, spend a few minutes with us on the 23rd to find out how you can avoid unnecessary expense, increase safety and avoid some major headaches. Register now.

dark-night-generator

Image: kohlergenerators.com

Continuity Housing helps companies enhance their business continuity plans by pre-arranging guaranteed housing and providing logistical support for mission-critical employees during disasters.  Subscribe to the Continuity Housing blog (in sidebar at right) and follow us on Twitter, on YouTube, on LinkedIn and on Facebook.  To subscribe to our mailing list and/or to find out about a free 30-minute consultation, email us.





Those Hurricane Season Outlooks? They Make Great Paper Airplanes

1 04 2014

Two months to the day before the start of the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season and right on schedule a variety of seasonal outlooks have come out in the last few weeks.  I’m not a meteorologist but I worked in the global corporate meteorology industry for 22 years so I know how much effort, research and dedication goes into the production of a well thought-out seasonal forecast.  And the how much is a LOT.

Hurricane Alicia.  Dig that crazy “high res” '80's resolution.

Hurricane Alicia. Dig that crazy “high res” ’80′s resolution.

The primary components of a seasonal forecast are to review the current environmental setup factors and then carefully compare them with similarly behaved seasons over the last 80 to 100 years in order to come up with what are called analog years.  Occasionally a sexy new predictive model comes out and from what I observed the seasonal outlooks are sometimes tweaked or otherwise weighted one way or another depending on how much faith is put into the newer models.  The shorter, less geeky version of this is that loads of passionate devotion go into the outlooks, not to mention lots and lots of discussion and sharing of experience.  There is screaming.  People throw things.

blog artwork 2And sometimes, more often than not, the outlooks are fairly accurate.  The skill of meteorologists and the accuracy of the science have increased dramatically in the last 20 years, even in the last 5 years.  But nature is nature and those of us in hurricane country remember last year, which was predicted to be the hairiest, scariest hurricane season in decades.  Do you remember any storm names from last year?  Neither do I.  And I’m a weather geek.

Even more importantly, whereas it’s nice to inform yourself about what might be anticipated regardless of the topic, relying on the seasonals is a waste of time.  Because it just takes the one *!@# storm to kill your business.  Forever.

My favorite examples of this are the “A” twins, Alicia and Allison.  Easy enough to remember because they both impacted my hometown but they did so in two fairly different ways:

  • I-59 runs 17 feet below-grade just southwest of downtown Houston. Allison filled it up and caused historic flooding throughout the region. Photos: Fred Rogers

    I-59 runs 17 feet below-grade for a stretch just southwest of downtown Houston. Allison filled it up and caused historic flooding throughout the region. Photos: Fred Rogers

    In a very late start to the ’83 season, hurricane Alicia started out as a fairly innocuous cluster of thunderstorms off the coast of Louisiana on August 15th that slammed into the Houston-Galveston area as a major category 3 hurricane just three days later causing 21 direct deaths and $2.1 billion (1983 USD) in damages.  Granted, we knew a whole lot less about forecasting hurricanes back then but even now such rapid development of such a powerful storm – one storm – so very close to land would be a major shock.  Another hurricane fun fact? ’83 was the least active season of the previous 53 years. There were only four named storms that year.

  • 2001’s tropical storm Allison shot right out of the gate starting on June 4th.  ‘Only’ a tropical storm with max 1-minute sustained winds of just 60mph, it’s the only storm to have its name retired without ever having reached hurricane strength because of the $5+ billion (2001 USD) in damage and 41 deaths it caused.  For days and days it simply would not stop raining.  As bad as Ike was in ’08, you still hear plenty of vinegar in folks’ voices when the topic of Allison comes up.

And we’re still hearing about another single storm from the year before last: Sandy.

So yeah, the one storm.  The one fire.  The one broken water pipe.  The one sustained power outage.  Be motivated.

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Continuity Housing helps companies enhance their business continuity plans by pre-arranging guaranteed housing and providing logistical support for mission-critical employees during disasters.  Subscribe to the Continuity Housing blog (in sidebar at right) and follow us on Twitter, on YouTube, on LinkedIn and on Facebook.  To subscribe to our mailing list, email us.





A Devastating Example of Why There’s No “Season” For Business Continuity Preparation

27 03 2014

Monday’s massive apartment blaze in Houston – including the fairly dramatic rescue of a construction worker – is an excellent reminder that whether you live in Tornado Alley or an earthquake zone or along the Gulf or East Coast or where your area is susceptible to flash flooding or wildfires . . . there’s no such thing as a ‘season’ during which you should be prepared.

Photo: abc13.com

Photo: abc13.com

The 380-unit, 4-story luxury apartment building under construction and luckily none of the 100+ construction workers nor anyone else was injured. But according to the Houston Fire Department, it was as close to an inferno as this city has seen in more than 10 years. And, fueled by high north winds courtesy of a late-season cool front, the blaze spread amazingly fast. (Interestingly, a similar fire in 1979, the second largest in Houston history, resulted in changes to building codes nationwide. No one was seriously injured or killed in that fire either but it left 600 people homeless. Immediately.)

I was working exactly two miles south of the property and the smoke blotted out a substantial part of the otherwise clear sky. Burnt, charcoal-like chunks of ash as big as your hand rained from the sky towards the middle and end of the most intense part of the fire which lasted less than 90 minutes. But the majority of the structure was fully engulfed within 15 minutes of when the fire started.

Which is exactly my point: there was no time to do anything but run.

Photo: abc13.com

Photo: abc13.com

Granted, it wasn’t a business site and it is a genuine blessing that the units weren’t occupied. But if had been an office building? All those paper files, all the IT equipment, all of the physical assets, the machinery, the furniture – all of it would have been gone just that fast. Necessary deployment would have had to occur immediately and 100% totally without warning. And it’s true for all of us at any time.

Plan. Revise. Improve. Repeat. And always consider the most efficient and productive options and systems. Because sometimes all you have time to do is run.

P.S. – This is a great city.

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Continuity Housing helps companies enhance their business continuity plans by pre-arranging guaranteed housing and providing logistical support for mission-critical employees during disasters.  Subscribe to the Continuity Housing blog and follow us on Twitter, on YouTube, on LinkedIn and on Facebook.





Business Incontinuity: “Surprise” Oil Spill Leads to Considerable Business Interruptions

25 03 2014

Today’s the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill which up until that point had been the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Unfortunately the Deepwater Horizon tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 far exceeded the 11 million gallon impact that the Valdez had on Prince William Sound. The spill this past Saturday in Galveston Bay pales in comparison to what happened with those historic spills but the impact is and will be considerable for those affected.

Why is it relevant to business continuity? Because like so many other causes of business interruption it happened out of the blue. But more importantly it’s a relatively small event that’s having a significant direct impact on tens of thousands of lives and thousands of businesses because of its exact location (click on the map just below to enlarge). Which leaves me to wonder how many companies had a plan for this kind of interruption.

oil-spill-mapThe short version is that a cargo ship collided with a barge loaded with more than a million gallons of bunker fuel but luckily – for lack of a better word – only punctured one tank containing about 168,000 gallons. The rest of the fuel on the barge has since been transferred and secured, so the event could have been up to five times worse since the total capacity of the barge is around a million gallons. Another lucky aspect is that bunker fuel is thick and the bay water is still seasonably cool and both of those factors, along with mild weather and calm waters, contribute in a significantly positive way to containment and clean-up.

For Continuity Housing Principal (and my boss) Michelle Lowther, the spill really hits home. “As soon as I heard about the spill, my mind immediately went back to April of 2010 when I got a call asking how busy I was. I was driving at the time and remember pulling into a parking lot and scribbling notes as fast as I could. Little did I know that that phone call would result in a multi-year commitment where I’d be managing a team of 30+ on a single project. At its peak, we took care of more than 1,000 responders per night. We contracted with 70 hotels across 17 cities, which is a much larger scope than any of us imagined in the early days of the response. Although we’d been through deployments before, we really cut our teeth on that project and developed techniques that we still use today. I’d love to think nothing like that will happen again, and I hope that it doesn’t, but if it does, we’ll be ready.”

As I write this, a team of more than 400 people is working to contain this weekend’s spill, an event that the Coast Guard is referring to as “significant” – which I guess is better than “monumental” or “colossal.” But the direct and immediate if not long-lasting impact is substantial.

  • First and foremost, the Houston Ship Channel has been closed for several days, something that almost never happens, and will remain closed until they can ensure that no vessels will travel through tainted water and spread the oil. The impact of that alone is a lot more than significant. The Port of Houston is the 13th busiest in the world and the second busiest in the U.S. I’ve been far offshore and seen the tankers and cargo ships marshaled for miles and miles waiting their turn to get into the channel and up to the Port. And that’s on a regular day with no unexpected interruption to traffic.
  • The impact on the regional refineries will be costly, even if the channel fully reopens within a few days. Refinery efficiency depends on the flow of product both in and out. Will there be a negative impact on gasoline and other fuel prices?
  • Cruise ship operations were delayed quite a few hours on Saturday as returning ships were not allowed to enter the harbor and dock on the bay side of Galveston Island. The cruise industry in general has suffered a series of highly publicized setbacks in the last couple of years. The spill doesn’t help that any as the delay in operations affected the schedules of many thousands of passengers.
  • Fishing, both recreational and commercial, will suffer for a while. The oyster industry in particular will take a hit because of the location of the spill [reef map], the sensitivity of oysters to pollution and most importantly the lengthy half-life of public perception on what will and will not be okay to consume from anywhere in and around the bay. (The Deepwater Horizon incident had a massive impact on Gulf seafood commerce even though the spill affected only a relatively small part of the Gulf itself, something I know all too well from personal financial involvement in a seafood restaurant that no longer exists.)
  • Dozens of bait camps will be affected and those folks will mostly have to wait it out until public perception normalizes.
  • The Galveston-Bolivar Peninsula ferry was closed for several days and has now reopened but only for daytime running. For tens of thousands of people, when the ferry is closed, a 3-mile ferry ride that usually takes no longer than 15 minutes turns into a 120-mile drive.
  • The impact on the overall economy, especially relevant to tourism. I’ve witnessed the impact of several spills over the last 45 years and unfortunately, just as with the seafood situation, public perception everywhere else is usually much grimmer than the actual reality. Who wants to plan a seaside vacation where there might be spill damage?
  •  The damage to the ecosystem overall which so far has been minor but which will play out over months or even years.

It’s bad but it could have been a lot worse. At 618 square miles, Galveston Bay is massive and the spill is only affecting a very small part of it but it couldn’t have happened in a worse place relevant to Port access, ferry traffic and the perceived value of a region that so heavily depends on tourism for its economic viability.

In the end it all gets back to who was prepared – and for what – in the event of this, yet another unforeseen impact on so very many businesses. Your average bait camp can’t afford a comprehensive backup plan when calamity hits, but if you’re reading this the chances are that you can. The expense of preparation, as always, trumps the calamity of lack of preparedness.

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Continuity Housing helps companies enhance their business continuity plans by pre-arranging guaranteed housing and providing logistical support for mission-critical employees during disasters.  Subscribe to the Continuity Housing blog and follow us on Twitter, on YouTube, on LinkedIn and on Facebook.





Counting The Costs, and Benefits, for Business Continuity From The Perspective of a Veteran Deployment Housing Warrior

17 03 2014

Who knew it could cost $1,000 per person per day just to house critical personnel near their backup site in the event of a category 2 hurricane?  But that’s exactly what happened to one of the largest banks in the U.S. when they had to deploy their Gulf Coast personnel in anticipation of the landfall of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008 before they became our client. As business continuity professionals the first rule of reality is that at no other time will a company hemorrhage cash more than during a business interruption and/or unscheduled deployment.

per-dayTake, for example, our friends at the bank…

Pre-hurricane facts:

  • Gustav and Ike were large-scale events with significant advance warning.
  • The bank needed 200 rooms.

The bank’s entire deployment housing plan:

  • Their internal travel department would negotiate with each individual hotel at the time of a crisis.

How it actually went down:

  • They were still trying to secure group blocks of rooms when responders were already on the road.
  • They scrambled to collect critical information regarding responders’ detailed needs because they hadn’t gathered it in advance.  And again, responders were already on the road.
  • Since the travel function was outsourced to a travel agency rather than handled by a deployment housing specialist or internal folks at the bank, agents didn’t work the 24/7 schedule that the deployments demanded.
  • They signed contracts on the fly (i.e., at the last minute), which made it impossible to negotiate the most advantageous contractual terms and very difficult to find someone with proper signing authority within the structure of this large company.  Since they couldn’t move fast enough, they lost some of the rooms it had taken them so long to secure.
  • Once onsite, they had myriad issues such as hotel shuttle service (limited availability), catered meals (cost, accuracy, service, quality), pets (responders bringing them but hotels not allowing them) and simple human behavior (people bouncing from hotel to hotel to be with friends, enable carpooling, and – my favorite – “to save the bank money.”)
  • Invoices were a nightmare, as they tried to retrace the steps of 200 people and haggle with hotels to eventually agree upon amounts owed.
  • They had 12 people working full-time for 5 weeks on nothing but these 2 deployments.

The cost:

  • They spent $3 million over the 2 deployments for the combination of lodging, per diem and travel expenses.
  • THAT’S $1,000 PER ROOM PER DAY, and that’s RIDICULOUS!

And it could have been prevented.

There are so many ways the bank could have done better: rates they could have negotiated, concessions they could have requested, credit they could have established, research they could have done, contracts they could have signed…  You get the idea.

And then, in addition to the unanticipated housing costs resulting from a deployment, whether well planned or not, there’s a long list of other costs that can impact a company as the result of a business disruption.  Not all of them need to be incorporated into an organization’s business continuity plan but they should all be considered and discussed.  This list includes but unfortunately is not limited to:

  • Offsite facility costs: rent, maintenance, IT and other infrastructure, security, utilities, insurance.
  • Away team onsite expenses: food, hotels (and hidden hotel fees such as unsecured rates, stringent contract terms and missed opportunities to save), per diem, overtime.
  • Transportation costs: last-minute airfare . . . or gasoline and either mileage reimbursement or vehicle rental.
  • On the back end once your team returns home, they might still not able to get into their homes and while there may be electricity at work there might not be power at many of the employees’ homes which definitely has an impact on performance – and then the entire issue of presenteeism.
  • The soft cost of the impact on employee morale and resiliency issues in general
  • Recovery planning costs: repair, reconstruction, restocking.
  • The cost of the impact on your customers and their future need for your services or products.
  • The cost of the potential impact on your vendors, suppliers, carriers, etc.; will they all be able to continue to perform during and after the impact?
  • Whether you send an away team or not, your ride-out team will cost the company: food, bedding, kitchen/break room and bathroom maintenance (Cleaning crew? What cleaning crew?), bottled water and probably the largest potential cost, generator fuel.

Each possible cost is an opportunity to save.  With hotels, for instance, contingencies can be factored not only for the cost of the employee rooms but also for the cost of rooms for each employee’s family, cleaning deposits for pets, internet costs for working remotely, catered food and beverages for a war room, parking, taxes, various negotiable “freebies,” and especially strong contract terms such as attrition, cancellation, early departure allowances, rolling no-shows, etc.  And the cost of generator fuel can be mitigated or at least more efficiently considered by securing a fixed price contract well in advance of a potential disruption.  The list of known and unknown costs is a long one.  But it can be managed, planned for and, most importantly, reduced.

As in any industry, there’s always a struggle between the academic/philosophical part of the equation and the actual application of processes when it all hits the fan.  What brings reality much more sharply into focus – and what usually amounts to the lighthouse in the distance while you’re setting specific goals – is prioritizing the planning for runaway costs in order to reduce them as much as possible.

[This post was composed for the Business Continuity Awareness Week “Counting the Cost” flashblog.]

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Continuity Housing helps companies enhance their business continuity plans by pre-arranging guaranteed housing and providing logistical support for mission-critical employees during disasters.  Subscribe to the Continuity Housing blog and follow us on Twitter, on YouTube, on LinkedIn and on Facebook.





Next on the Business Continuity Calendar: Winter’s Finally Winding Down . . . So Here Come the Floods

11 03 2014

Winter weather still dominates the headlines but it’s time to think about what’s next.  Typically for the continental U.S., that would be the turbulent spring weather season, which too often includes tornadoes, and then we start focusing on the tropics.  But for many regions of the Plains States and areas east, there’s something else to consider.

Noah, the movie, comes out March 28th and the timing might indeed be prophetic in that the Next Big Weather Story is probably going to be thaw-related flooding.  A much larger than usual portion of the country has been in relative permafrost  the last few months and news coverage of the Great Lakes and even Niagara Falls has been astonishing.

Lake-Michigan

The St. Joseph Lighthouse on North Pier, Lake Michigan, Jan. 6, 2014. Photo: canadianawareness.org

Bad weather is the leading cause of business disruptions* but the good news is that, as opposed to many other types of interruptions, we can prepare for it.  Keep an eye on where the flooding will probably have the greatest impact and make sure your company is as prepared for it as possible, especially if any of your assets are in regions that will be potentially affected.

Just as importantly, consider whether any of your vendors or suppliers are in a potential flood region and remember that your customers might also be affected and that the effect on those suppliers might affect how your organization provides services to those customers when they need it.

flowing-waterFlooding is bad, much worse than most people realize.  In addition to causing widespread property damage, flooding is the number one weather-related cause of death in the U.S. (see yellow 30-year average column).  And remember to never, ever drive through flowing water – or ANY water if you’re not exactly sure of the depths involved – and to be extremely careful when traversing flood waters on foot.  The rule of thumb is that each knot of speed of flowing water is equal to 20 knots of wind speed.  A single inch of rapidly flowing water can knock a person down and carry him or her away and vehicles can be swept away in only 6 inches of moving water.

Finally, keep an eye on changes in flood insurance regulations. ‘Guaranteed’ coverage looks like it will soon favor property owners but the pendulum of legislation on different types of coverage is swinging fairly wide lately.  And any changes in flood insurance regulations usually take a while to go into effect.  Make sure you’re covered and start by checking to see whether or not any of your assets are in flood zones using the official flooding maps that were updated just last month.  And then let’s hope March doesn’t go out like a lion.

* Top 3 Leading Causes of Business Disruptions: 1. severe weather, 2. power outages (commonly weather-related); 3. IT failure (occasionally weather-related): Forrester Research / Disaster Recovery Journal Business Continuity Plan Survey, December 2011.

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Continuity Housing helps companies enhance their business continuity plans by pre-arranging guaranteed housing and providing logistical support for mission-critical employees during disasters.








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