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Making an MPACT from Disasters to Building Resiliency
Spurgeon Robinson MBA
Founder, President & CEO
MPACT Strategic Consulting LLC
Interview conducted by:
Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor
Published – June 1, 2020
CEOCFO: Mr. Robinson, what is the focus at Mpact Strategic Consulting?
Mr. Robinson: We service the public and private sector and our core mission is to save and improve public safety through emergency management and disaster recovery. This encompasses fundamental actions beginning with planning and preparation, through emergency response and recovery. Our core business model is centered around disasters originally, but more importantly, helping communities to recover, mitigate and be more resilient for future events that may occur.
CEOCFO: What is involved in planning for disasters? What do you understand about the planning in advance that less experienced people may not?
Mr. Robinson: Planning starts with really understanding your vulnerabilities and also understanding how to continue operations during an event that may come, either expected or unexpected. Part of that is just understanding what are the things and the tools that we need to define, practice and document on how we are continuing to run an impacted business or how we are continuing to get our business running as quickly as possible. Business could also mean state and local governments as well.
Part of that plan exercise is just understanding where those vulnerabilities are and then having a plan in which you mitigate those as much as possible including preparation. You do scenario and practical training. You perform awareness training to make sure that employees and staff who have key or essential roles are positioned so they can continue to run the organization post event. Then, it is having that documented plan on what we call continuity of operations; how you continue to operate and save lives during these events.
CEOCFO: Would you give us one government and one enterprise example -
Mr. Robinson: One of the nation’s largest cities wanted us to actually do what we call a continuity of operations plan. With that, we looked at a scenario or event that would potentially occur and understanding the implications of the scenario or event, how would the city at that point return to minimal and critical functional operations, how would they communicate, how would they keep essential activities running, how they communicate to the masses, which is the public that they are responsible for on how the city is responding to the event, what actions they should take for safety, what actions they should take for recovery. We look at those things and actually create scenarios, making sure that all of the relevant, and key city departments are engaged. That is because as you imagine a city, especially a large city as we were exercising for, it has multiple departments that have some core or key function in operating the city and for the public safety.
We coordinate everything from law enforcement, police, fire, medical institutions, educational institutions, even the core public works administration, even things down to payroll and finance activities; all the things that still need to function and happen post event, especially one that may be short term or long term, which is the key factor, how we get that. We do a scenario and we actually plan out and we actually cross walk it through live action and do a desk top training as well, so that we understand where the gaps are in our processes and try to mitigate those as we go through the process. Therefore, we come up with a strategic plan that can be use or people who are in key positions are familiar with during an event, an episode, so we go straight into action if something were to occur.
CEOCFO: Do you find that organizations follow the plan when it has been put in place? Do you know how it worked, should a disaster or should an unexpected event occur?
Mr. Robinson: For the most part, when cities and organizations have been trained and have documented these procedures, we have found that they have been very successful. They are the ones that come up the fastest or come back and respond the fastest, because then people know where to go, because they follow the scripted plan. Therefore, when something happens, yes, chaos can come upon you, but when you have been trained on these procedures and have a standard operating procedure of how to respond, people go into that action mode and it comes more seamless. Now of course, I tell all of our clients that every disaster is unique and different. There is nothing that is cookie cutter about what disaster preparedness is about. However, the most important thing is if we understand the key roles and functions of the entity itself and then who is responsible for doing what. Then once that connectivity starts, once the communications get aligned, once the protocols or hierarchy are established, things tend to run better when you have done training and put this kind of operations plan in place.
COVID is an example of a disaster right now that we are also engaging with clients on their response. This one is different! One that has never been seen before! However, organizations that do have structure and have also may have done a scenario such as this, but in similar operations understand what the protocols are for us to make sure that when we are working remotely, how we communicate, how we set up, who is responsible for what, who takes the lead in these types of crises, how to I merge the operations seamlessly, how our disaster recovery operations work from an IT perspective if you are a corporation, and how do we communicate remotely to our employees and our customers in the field or worldwide or even globally. Those are types of things that you are starting to see happen and put in place today. Some of that is due to this planning that has been done before.
CEOCFO: Now, once you have created a plan for an organization, do they come back to you to update? It is a one and done engagement? Might a client call on you for help when an event does occur even though they are following your plan? What is the relationship?
Mr. Robinson: It is a continuous relationship. At least we would like to keep it as such, where even annually, they will update the plan. Much of the work had been done around disaster preparedness and response. It has been around hurricanes and the other natural events that occur in the late spring and through summer and early fall. There is a time period in the late winter that we are finding that entities are either updating their plans, reviewing them and so on, because of the typical cycle.
I think that we are going to find that more and more organizations look at this planning annually and those that are successful usually also have additional contract opportunities to engage us when something occurs. That is because some of this is also part of the staff-
CEOCFO: When an event occurs and someone has not planned or they are turning to you for the first time, how do you help them get through the crisis?
Mr. Robinson: The most important thing is that we get to understand where they are at and then we try to put structure around their organizational needs and gaps. Once again, the communication pathways and what the things are that they need to do from a step by step process on understanding what is at risk, what the things are that we need to address first and set those priorities, making sure that there is clear delineation of rules and responsibilities. Then, we assist them through the process step by step to make sure things are running simultaneously. However, there are things that need to be captured, information that needs to be vetted, data collecting, how we will respond to certain emergencies and critical needs, where the most critical needs are at and how we supply them with the equipment then need.
They may need technology, or if it is lifesaving events, how we get the emergency respondents to the right locations and help track and triage sets. Therefore, it is a lot of activity like that, that will go on and so those are the kinds of things we try to help coordinate, to make sure that it is just not mass chaos and people just doing things in a disconnected fashion, where nothing is getting done, or the perception is that nothing is getting done well.
CEOCFO: How do you ramp up with COVID, for example? Everyone is in crisis, as opposed to a section of the country suffering hurricane damage? How are you able to absorb very high volumes as they come your way?
Mr. Robinson: We are fortunate in an industry that we keep an, I almost want call it, a database of practitioners that we are familiar with that worked on multiple events for us. We have been in business now for thirteen years and my experience goes all the way back to hurricane Katrina. Therefore, we have built a cache of very talented resources that understand how this works. We are able to pull on those resources, both our internal team; sometimes it is all hands on deck from our internal team, even with something like COVID which is unique and different, but still a response in the pandemic. It is using our network of internal resources and internal consultants, but we also have a vast cadre of contingent partners, larger corporations and organizations that also provide us with bandwidth. We provide them with bandwidth if needed as well. The collegial environment that we have with others that are in this business is pretty solid and we work together to kind of help each other augment staff where needed or augment the resources that are needed as well.
CEOCFO: Where you surprised at this cooperative aspect when you started Mpact or has that grown over time?
Mr. Robinson: It is somewhat competitive too, in the sense that emergency management is a niche business, but since post Katrina it has really been a niche. People really focus on this with a look at every state emergency management coordinators in cities and municipalities to understand the nature of this. However, it has grown into a very sophisticated industry of unique partners. There are not a large amount of people that do this, but those who do it specialize in it.
What has happened is that we are faced with the fact that we have to work together, also because of the unpredictable nature of these events, from a staffing perspective and resource planning. Most firms keep a core team and then they keep a team of partners to help with augmenting when necessary or needed. Therefore, you find that there is a lot of cooperation across the industry. We do compete for business though, as any other company would or market does, but we also find it very beneficial for everyone to bring different pieces of the puzzle, with so many aspects doing this type of work that we have some niches that we are great at and the others have niches that they are good at. The combination of both provides a comprehensive solution.
CEOCFO: How do you reach out to private organizations? What type of projects do you bid on for various government agencies?
Mr. Robinson: Private organizations who reach out to our network work in industry forms, whether we are part of chamber of commerce’s. We have a network of industry partners that worked in disaster recovery, for example. You can imagine larger companies like Verizon, who do communications; satellite companies as well, with some of their information being relevant and GIS companies. They are very relevant for a vast recovery and being able to map and track and develop data analytics and analysis that goes into who and how many people are impacted and affected when it comes to the disaster and even their own organizations, when they need to have a continuity of operations planning, but going to these industry forums and trying to or communicating and presenting to them at conferences what we do, we find that what we do is so unique and so different that they are saying, “Aha! Wow! We never thought about doing that!” That is because nobody things about disasters until it happens.
Nobody thought about COVID until it happened this much! There were people thinking about it, but it was not like, “Ahh, it is a problem!” I think that post COVID, we are going to find that there are going to be a number of business and entities seeking our assistance. In the public industry as well, we were finding that being partners with those on the front line and first responders is very key in this. Therefore, we learn from best practices and when we do ‘after action’ reports, to understand where did we do well, what did the entities do well, where were the big gaps, how do we prevent this from happening again, what mitigation practice can we put into place, but more importantly, when this type of event does happen, how do we respond more efficiently and faster.
CEOCFO: What has changed in your approach over time? What have you learned over the years?
Mr. Robinson: What we have learned is that over the years is that data analytics is important in understanding how many, how much, where, when and why and the faster we can get that information, literally the faster we can help to save lives. The other thing we have learned is that proper planning and mitigation efforts help to reduce the cost and the impact of a disaster event.
The third thing we have learned is that listening to those who are most impacted and understanding how this impacts them in the long term, helps us come up with better solutions for mitigation and for resiliency for these types of things. Understanding like that for the end user, when I mean end user, the actual persons whose homes have been destroyed, the actual physicians now on the front line and not seeing the respirators or ventilators for example. We have got to understand where their needs are and what the things are that we need to do to help them.
CEOCFO: When you are creating a plan or when you are coming in after a disaster, how do you match cost to what is needed to be done? If something can be faster but it is going to cost twice as much, are you even going to recommend it or do you speak perhaps with the entity you are working for or who you are building a plan for and say, “Listen, we can get you this in two days, but it is going to cost twice as much as getting it in three days.” How do you put those two together when you are talking disaster situations?
Mr. Robinson: For the most part we realize that there is no cost for saving lives. We try to advise clients that these are the things that we need to do right now to saves lives, to go rescue someone, to make sure that people are in a safe and sanitary location as they are having to move from their homes to temporary housing and so on. We have to understand that there is a cost set, but that is not the most important factor right now.
When you talk about planning and mitigation of those things, such as a hurricane recovery, we understand that people have to be temporarily in a house. We have to set up an advance contract at a market cost or at a cost that we know is going to be absorbed, but for things at which we know, we control the cost in the front end, so no one gets hijacked in the back end. Those are the kinds of things that are a unique example of how you can actually balance out the cost curve. However, when these things happen real time and there is not enough capacity, sometimes pricing goes up and you see that with N95 masks for COVID for example, or ventilators. However, when those things happen, you are competing now astronomically for cost, but fortunately the federal government placed a price on many of these different things, and the state and local governments will decide for public safety and health, but in the same sense, you have to balance out what is most important for saving lives versus the cost on the back end.
Tracking those costs actually puts us in a position to understand, when we talk about mitigation for the future, I am saying, “Okay, we need to have a contract in place already and a fixed cost, so when these things occur again, I can order ten thousand ventilators and I know my price is going to be two thousand dollars per ventilator, verses someone on the market, opening their market and going to charge me ten thousand. Those kinds of things help us when we talk about now, preparation, preparing mitigation activities that we can do to control cost, but also be responsible.
CEOCFO: Why chose Mpact Strategic Consulting?
Mr. Robinson: Mpact is a proven responsive and also resilient company around emergency management disaster recovery. We have a national footprint. We are available to provide the right solutions, timely for large-
MPACT Strategic Consulting LLC, COVID-
“The other thing we have learned is that proper planning and mitigation efforts help to reduce the cost and the impact of a disaster event.”
Spurgeon Robinson MBA