The July 27 Chinatown power outage, which affected nearly 300 homes and businesses, brought the issue of emergency management to the forefront for Philadelphia's Center City community. Now,
The Corporate Emergency Access System (CEAS) allows designated employees access to restricted areas following a disaster or serious emergency by using a secure identification card, recognized by police, through a partnership and formal agreement with state and/or local goverment authorities. A Cardholder can enter to perform essential tasks, such as assess damage, power down networks, and remove critical business assets, said Liam O'Keefe, the assistant managing director of emergency management in the City's office of the managing director, during a July 31 presentation at the Bar Assocation's Disaster Planning Committee.
"The card is meant for you to get into [your] facility, do what you have to do, and get out," said O'Keefe, who is working to increase enrollment in the program throughout Philadelphia and the surrounding counties.
The program is beneficial to businesses because it allows for rapid recovery of critical assets and records, restoration of critical operations and customer services, and the ability to minimize financial loss, said O'Keefe. The benefits for local government are, again, rapid recovery and the ability to limit long-term financial impact, said O'Keefe. And, O'Keefe noted, the program costs the City nothing.The City of Philadelphia is partnering with the Business Network of Emergency Resources (BNet), a not-for-profit organization that administers CEAS in New York, Boston, Buffalo and a handful of other East Coast cities and counties. Costs for the CEAS program are borne by program participants, said O'Keefe. However, rather than charge a yearly fee to participating companies, all costs associated with the program (e.g., application management, card producing and training,) are built into the cost of the cards. This allows costs to be distributed equitably, with smaller businesses paying a relatively lower fee for their few employees and larger companies paying more, commensurate with their number of critical employees, according to the CEAS Web site.
The CEAS is typically implemented 24 to 48 hours after an emergency — once an area is deemed safe by the first responders, O'Keefe said. Members are alerted by a text message to their phone, through postings to the City and the CEAS Web site, and by media alerts.
O'Keefe encouraged attorneys to look into the program for their firm. The number of cards issued per firm is based on the size of the firm. (View O'Keefe's presentation, including a breakdown of the card allotment numbers, here.)
What if an attorney needs access to a client's office? "If your client deems you so critical to be in that office following an incident, they are responsible for acquiring a card for you," said O'Keefe.
The Rules and Procedure Committee's July 2 meeting focused on how lawyers can prepare for a disaster and how to resume their practice in the aftermath.
The planning materials presented focused on two main areas. First, setting up clear lines and methods of communication in times of disasters; with a clearly designated decision making structure, to avoid chaos and improve a firm's ability to quickly respond to a flood, fire, or other disaster. The second area of focus was operational recovery. If a fire or flood were to hit your firm, what plans does your firm have in place to recover operations and begin to handle client business quickly and effectively?
Committee Co-Chair Mark Cohen pointed out that with regard to the legal profession, disaster planning has to address two broad levels: the individual practice of lawyers and law firms, and the regional impact such a disaster could have on the court system. Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Marlene F. Lachman mentioned the importance for all lawyers, their families and their staff, of having personal disaster plans, with emergency contact information and medical decision-maker contacts. She talked about the trouble that Louisiana courts faced after Katrina, where lack of disaster planning left many of the courts with no physical buildings in which to convene.
For the final portion of the meeting, Kevin M. Masucci, an associate at Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, LLP (one of the two lawyers in attendance whose firm did have a disaster plan) shared information about the recent difficulties the firm faced when one of its servers nearly crashed, and about the step that the firm has taken since the incident to better prepare itself to avoid and respond to disasters in the future.
To help them better prepare for the future, Stradley Ronon brought in a consultant who specializes in disaster planning for law firms. Masucci pointed out that there is a cost to disaster planning, and that bringing in a consultant can be helpful in controlling those costs as they can help determine what steps are necessary and appropriate for your firm.