Network aims to get businesses back on track after storm

May 13, 2008

Palm Beach Post--May 12, 2008

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

WEST PALM BEACH — After a hurricane, workers are repairing roofs, social agencies are handing out food and water, and bulldozers are clearing roads.

But who’s getting the corner pizzeria, the stock brokerage, the town’s biggest employer back up and running?

"We believe that if we can get the rough information to the right people at the right time, we can cut that recovery time down, as opposed to the black hole we all deal with following the storm," Florida International University’s Steve Luis said Monday.

To that end, FIU has created the Business Continuity Information Network in cooperation with Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties’ governments and several major employers, including IBM, Office Depot Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

"It will help them with employees, customers, supply chain and whether they have to relocate," said Luis, director of information technology at FIU’s School of Computing and Information Sciences. "Is there a flood at my facility? Do I have power? Is there debris in the road in front of me?"

The alternative to a business’ speedy recovery can be grim: Studies show that when companies close for three or more days in the wake of a major disaster, 40 percent are out of business within three years.

Lewis steered a demonstration of the network at the Palm Beach County Emergency Operations Center Monday. Officials and business leaders participated simultaneously in Miami-Dade County and at the governor’s office in Tallahassee.

The idea is to connect people who need with people who have.

Web pages will show the status of schools, emergency services, public transportation, evacuation shelters, curfews and distribution centers.

Maps will display the status of power outages, damage and bus systems.

And a running timeline – a blog of sorts – will let businesses update each other on the status of those factors as well as debris removal and distribution of food, water and ice.

"As a business owner, I need to know, ‘When are you going to close the schools?’ I’ve got parents at my office that need to go get their kids," Tom Serio, continuity management director for Delray Beach-based Office Depot, said at the exercise.

"We don’t want 10,000 businesses calling the EOC," Serio said. "Now businesses can talk to each other. This is going to be powerful stuff. It’s going to help the economic engine in our counties to get up faster."

Municipalities, counties and state and federal agencies will be able to sign on, as well as businesses in Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

Butch Truesdale, a senior planner for Palm Beach County Emergency Management, said several agencies and organizations are already studying the network. "This promises to be a model for the nation," he said.