Business, Interrupted: Creating a Network of Preparedness


As organizations of all sizes experience a range of concurrent disruptions, from managing pandemic response to tackling cyber breaches, we’ve now moved into an era where we should no longer wonder if we might experience a disruption but accept that for all of us the new focus should be when.

Facing that reality, what can resilience management professionals do to always be prepared?

That’s what we spoke about recently with Andrew Velasquez, First Deputy Aviation Commissioner for the Chicago Department of Aviation, and Justin Pierce, Emergency Management Director for Los Angeles World Airports, in a recent episode of Castellan’s podcast, “Business Interrupted.”

And when you’re in a massive industry with the size and scope of aviation like Velasquez and Pierce the likelihood of a disruption—or overlapping disruptions—is an unavoidable reality. That’s why building relationships, not within your own teams, but with partners and your network as well, is so important.

It’s all about finding the best ways to help people collaborate and work together, even if they’re working for different operations that are focused on a common goal.

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Building and Benefiting From Networks

In aviation, one of those important resources is an emergency management association that helps unite emergency management professionals across the industry, with a goal of building some response standardizations from the smallest hubs to the largest ones.

“That’s obviously critically important for developing these types of synergies across the airport, community and industry,” Velasquez explained. “We would likely work together. I mean, of course, if there are any sort of threats that would be germane to the airport environment that would effect potentially airports across the country.”

The goal is to build collaboration, for example, potentially through coordination calls, so one airport could support another with resource requests or other needs.

“But I think primarily it’s working together in a collaborative fashion to understand each other’s programs and to help each other build programs that are standardized,” Velasquez said, “and really to ensure that we’re keeping emergency management at the forefront of preparedness at our airports, because it’s critical. Airports are small cities in essence. And so we deal with a large variety of the same types of incidents and events that other large cities would have to contend with.”

This is especially helpful because emergency management as a profession in aviation is relatively new and evolving, Pierce added, saying previously those tasks generally were tackled by airport operation’s staff or local police and/or fire.

One of the benefits of this new direction is these professionals are quickly learning how beneficial it is to work together.

“And if you can’t find the solution in house, there are folks out there in that same industry who are willing to help out,” Pierce said. “Never be afraid to ask for a different perspective on items.”

Leadership Challenges

Working in a large and rapidly changing industry like aviation has provided both Velasquez and Pierce with unique growth and leadership challenges and lessons.

For Velasquez that was working through a forecasted catastrophic flooding event back in 2008. One of the learning opportunities created by the event was it challenged the team’s emergency management assumptions about planning and preparedness, teaching how important it is to always stay proactive in these processes and to not assume everyone is ready for every event they may face.

“It was a great lesson learned because number one, they can’t always assume that people have preparedness plans in place,” Velasquez said. “Secondly, it speaks to the importance of having a sense of urgency in making sure that you’re proactive in your efforts to engage communities and people, to make sure that everyone is on the same page from a unity of effort perspective, to respond to a crisis. And for me, that was a defining moment.”

Pierce looked back at his career from a broader perspective explaining that as he thinks back to incidents and events he’s been a part of, the thing that sticks out the most to him is how far the nation, all the way down to local jurisdictions, have come in terms of emergency management improvements.

“It’s really quite impressive,” Velasquez added. “I just think it really speaks to how emergency management has truly evolved into the respected profession that it is today.”

Want to hear more from Velasquez and Pierce, including what it was like tackling coronavirus response for large airports and about advice they’d share for others just getting into the industry? Listen to the full episode, “Creating a Culture of Preparedness with Andrew Velasquez and Justin Pierce,” which is available on the Castellan website or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.

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