The Alliance Security Council ™
Acute Threats
Disaster Planning and Private Families

An Interview with Catherine Hooper, Founder, Black Umbrella

Are private families more or less at risk from disasters?

The best survival tool is not a fixed blade knife or a fire making kit.  It’s a prepared mind.

The core purpose of Black Umbrella is to make people, families, and communities more resilient.  Our company values serve as the keystone of all of our recruitment and training efforts: confidence over fear, protection, and meticulousness.  We believe that confidence in the face of the unexpected is a natural result of having made a plan in advance. Our brains work differently in a crisis.

Yes, of course, wealthy families have much more to lose than many others, and I find it is typical that they are often uncomfortable in disaster planning beyond the purchase of liability insurance.  But, in the face of a disaster, there may not be hotel rooms available, trusted advisors cannot help them, personal and financial data is not available.  The family dynamic I see most often is that one spouse is deeply committed to beginning a plan; the other is more reluctant.  Once the family and the couple begin the process, they begin to feel an ownership in planning together.  We do not tell them we will come to save them, we make it clear that this is their plan: it is what you have designed for your family.  It’s very empowering.

What are the greatest areas of exposure for private families?

When private families think about exposure, a hot topic now is reputation management and the risks of social media.  But in my opinion, families are at a greater risk from a lack of planning in response to even a small emergency.   An example:  recently, a family in a north suburb had to enact part of their emergency plan when a tree fell on a utility pole, leaving no access to electricity, causing multiple problems in the home and an inability for the husband to return from New York.  Other families were attempting to hire a car service when my client family had already anticipated the possibility and completed advance planning.

And, even with a plan, it must be tested.  In another example, a family completed a disaster plan including assembling a full state of emergency supplies, including a generator.  But when they unexpectedly lost electricity, the generator would not start: a small part in the generator had not been tested.  They were trapped in their beautiful home with no ability to function for three days.  In that moment, they ask themselves, ‘Why didn’t I take this tiny extra step?’

Proper advance planning provides everyone in the family with the ability to work very quickly in their own self-interest, while others may panic, wondering where to start and how to proceed.

Do you anticipate a rise in disasters in the future?

There has been much discussion in the media recently about global warming and climate change.  As an economic entity, we must understand that the phenomenon of extreme weather is here to stay. The insurance industry has already understood that recent weather disasters are unprecedented.  We have seen a one hundred year storm this year and may see one next year and so on.  It is inevitable that storms like Hurricane Sandy will recur.  Disaster professionals have significantly revised the construct of preparedness.

Prior to Hurricane Sandy making landfall, some of my clients chose to stay in their homes, or their second homes, or other locations.  What all of them had in common was they all acted very quickly.  Our clients were not people who waited for the storm to pass, wondering what to do.  These were people who evacuated their homes, and made it as a prepared decision.  All their critical documents were in a binder, portable, to go with them to a hotel or other protected place.  I felt so proud that they knew how best to respond.  Our clients self-select, they are people that have already made the decision of what’s important to them.  And they all had confidence over fear.

What steps can families take on their own to be disaster ready?  

I have a company but I also have a mission.  It is important to realize that there are some things we can all do on our own.  Personal training is an excellent example.  You can do push-ups and other exercises, a trainer or nutritionist may be optional.  Black Umbrella client families don’t have the time or the expertise to understand all their options and how to effectively plan.  We provide them with the resources and information.  Making a plan is neither difficult nor time consuming.

Pre-planning is something that people seldom choose to do on their own.  We know people don’t want to initiate it.  But as their planning progresses, I so often see that families are surprised how much fun it becomes.  One of the last steps in our process is to have an hour visit walking the family through the tabletop scenario, a technique also used by the military.  It’s a way of teaching ‘if this happens, this is what do you do’.  We give everyone a slide deck of scenarios, with details and responses that are interwoven, blended responses so everyone interfaces.  In familiarizing themselves with their plan, they become competent to make independent choices in an emergency.  As they enjoy planning for the likeliest possibilities, I see them building confidence, which embodies trust:  trust in themselves, in their decisions in any emergency.


What steps should families take with trusted advisers and other family support?

In 90% of the time, it’s the patriarch or matriarch who calls us, not a member of the family office.  As my staff or I gather information, we often see that the husband may be in close contact with the accountant, the wife is in touch with the pediatrician.  He may not know what she knows.  Beginning the process of coordinating who the key people are is essential.  A sixteen year old may ask: “What is an estate attorney? or Who is the trustee of my trust fund?”  That process of interweaving and coordinating the entire family team is deeply connected to preparedness.  And, it’s not about the next 9-11, it is more likely about the unexpected death of a family member, or an injury on a school trip.  These can be momentously traumatic if you’re not organized and prepared.   Because private families are comprised of highly accomplished people, life has insulated them from disruptions.  And, this is why they may be more emotionally impacted.

It’s important to understand that risk and uncertainty are completely different.  Many of our clients are used to dealing with risk, which is measurable, can be analyzed and is quantifiable.  But uncertainty is completely different:  it’s far more amorphous, cannot be measured or controlled.  Having a plan that builds a prepared mind empowers families and a safe response is the key deliverable of Black Umbrella.

Are certain geographic areas more likely to be affected by the unexpected than others?

Certain geographic areas are certainly at greater risk, California being a significant example. Upheavals come in all forms and none of us are safe from uncertainties in the world.  People so often think they’re immune, that it can’t happen to them.  Many residents of our country believe they are off the terrorist radar, but we all need to remember the tragedy of Oklahoma City.  “It can’t happen to me!”  That kind of thinking is my greatest competition.

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