- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Representatives of private companies outlined their successful responses to Hurricane Katrina yesterday in a hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Members of both parties praised the businesses for the speed and effectiveness of their disaster response.

“Not only were businesses able to recover and reconstitute quickly, but they were also able to provide supplies, equipment, and food and water to aid the recovery of their local communities,” said Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and chairman of the committee. The committee was convened “to learn how they were able to respond so quickly and effectively when government did not,” she said.

Representatives said they already had established crisis preparedness plans and had effective communications systems.

After the hurricane hit the Gulf Coast Aug. 29, Southern Co. restored electric service within 12 days to every customer that had a connection. The Sheraton New Orleans Hotel sheltered and fed guests until they could be evacuated, showing movies to occupy children and news broadcasts to inform adults.

IBM provided mobile servers and wireless technology that allowed survivors to search for family members and apply for federal assistance. Wal-Mart associates assisted in a variety of ways, from providing food, medicine and shelter, to changing tires on emergency vehicles.

“Our successful restoration following Katrina can be attributed to … pre-planning and practice based on the application of lessons learned,” said David Ratcliffe, chief executive officer of Southern Co.

Business representatives also said that local managers were authorized to take action without unnecessary bureaucratic restrictions, allowing them to secure the safety of employees and provide aid quickly.

“Our managers are encouraged to be an active participant in the events … and not just sit on the sidelines,” said Jason Jackson, director of business continuity for Wal-Mart.

In order to ensure that systems vulnerable to disasters and attacks are protected and can recover quickly, Congress in 2003 created a Infrastructure Protection Division of the Department of Homeland Security. The division has a budget of $873 million for 2006.

Senator Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, said the private sector owns 85 percent of the country’s critical infrastructure, including communications networks, power grids, financial and health services, and chemical plants. “These infrastructures form the backbone of our society and economy and therefore must be prepared, in the national interest, to respond.”

The four companies represented in the hearing were Wal-Mart, Southern Co., IBM and Starwood Hotels. Of the four, only Mr. Jackson of Wal-Mart indicated the federal government reached out to assist their recovery efforts.

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