There’s an ancient Chinese proverb that says, “May you live in interesting times.” Perhaps you’ve read it from a fortune cookie. If you’re a geologist or meteorologist, this has been an interesting week. On Tuesday a magnitude 5.8 earthquake rattled the east coast, making citizens jumpy.
Janet Napolitano, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, told CNN that the Federal government is reviewing many of its policies and procedures as a result of the earthquake. She said the government discovered flaws in its evacuation procedures because as employees were released from work the Washington, DC area cell phone circuits became overloaded and the public transportation system slowed to a crawl.
Meanwhile tonight, citizens in the Bahamas are bracing for Hurricane Irene as the storm approaches with 120 mph winds. According to the National Hurricane Center, Irene could be upgraded from a category 3 to a category 4 by the time it hits the U.S. later this week. Category 4 hurricanes have winds of 131 mph or more.
Irene is expected to clip the Carolinas and then head north to the more densely populated northeast where it could hit New York City, Long Island and the eastern portion of New England. All along the eastern seaboard local officials are meeting to draw up plans before the storm hits.
These two events are a sharp contrast in how organizations deal with emergencies and how quickly they are able to spring into action. In many ways studying the reaction to the earthquake is like working with a client who has never been through an eDiscovery process before. Everything is new and the people involved aren’t really sure how to react. Compare that to the folks who are in charge of preparing for Irene. They have a well thought out plan (based on years of experience), follow process and procedures.
There’s no way that anyone could have anticipated an earthquake with its epicenter in Virginia so the “flaws in evacuation procedures” that Secretary Napolitano referred to can be overlooked. I’m sure the Federal government will form some working groups or a task force and will tighten up its procedures. Should another earthquake hit the region people will know what to do and the process will be much improved.
In comparison, those in charge of hurricane preparedness have lots of experience getting ready for storms. They, like well trained eDiscovery professionals, know their roles and responsibilities. They know the priorities, the chain of command and, most importantly, they know when to make the critical decisions because lives are at stake.
The National Hurricane Center, national media, state and local government and the Federal government have worked together for years and, for the most part, slide into their roles seamlessly.
eDiscovery professionals can learn from studying the two events from this week. No one would have predicted the Virginia earthquake but studying how policies and procedures change because of an unexpected event of significant magnitude can, and will, be a valuable learning experience. eDiscovery pros can also pay attention this weekend as the events of Hurricane Irene unfold. Watch how various organizations work together share information, make decisions, get the word out to citizens, revise plans and continue to analyze data. The process is very similar to that of eDiscovery. A hurricane preparedness team that works well under extreme pressure is very similar to how a great eDiscovery team should function.
We certainly live in interesting times.