Mark Gillan spent 26 years with the Saint John Fire Department, retiring as Deputy Fire Chief and Director of the Emergency Management Organization. His time as a firefighter included four days in New York in September 2001 as a Rescue and Recovery volunteer at Shea Stadium and Ground Zero.

Shortly after that experience Gillan and his department got involved with the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear and Explosives (CBRNE) Resilience Strategy and Action Plan for Canada. The need for both government and industry to have effective crisis management plans was becoming increasingly apparent.

Gillan is now bringing his expertise in crisis management to the private sector, leading Saint John-based Emergency Solutions International (ESI), a risk management firm serving both government and private industry.

We spoke to him about what business leaders should know about crisis management, operating in New Brunswick, and more.

ONB: Can you give us an overview of ESI?

Gillan: We provide risk management services to public and private sector customers. As a specific example, at the federal level, we provide project management support for entities with research grants under Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC). Through their Canadian Safety and Security Program (CSSP) we work with the International Emergency Management Group comprised of the five easternmost provinces and the six New England states. We support that group with cross-border hazardous materials interoperability strategic planning.

Our team also provides risk assessments, emergency, business continuity and security planning services, training, and evaluation to a variety of private sector clients. This involves entities like ports, secured marine facilities, and nuclear plants like NB’s Point Lepreau Generating Station. These clients have regulators and we ensure they are always improving their emergency plans and competencies to remain compliant. For example, we just finished a large validation exercise at Port Saint John. Several entities were involved including local Fire and Police departments. Over the period of a couple of weeks, ESI ran participants through exercises to illustrate gaps, then helped them adopt training and planning tactics to address those gaps.

ONB: If you could tell business leaders anything with regards to emergency preparedness, what would it be?

Gillan: First, should any sort of a crisis arise you need to have a community-based solution. There should be other stakeholder groups involved in your crisis planning. Whether it’s local media, interdependent businesses or first responders, those relationships are best built well in advance. Those will be the people helping your team and organization through a crisis situation. As a leader, if you don’t have a crisis communication strategy for your company you can and will be adversely affected by the public’s perception of how you brought your team through the crisis.

Second, there’s real financial incentive to being prepared for a crisis. Whether it be through cybersecurity solutions, business continuity or crisis communication planning, studies have shown firms save 15 dollars for every dollar they spend on crisis planning. It is something enterprise risk managers, no matter the business type, should be taking seriously.

Increasingly we are seeing a public expectation that companies perform and communicate well during an emergency; those who do not are being criticized harshly and often times senior management is held personally responsible, especially when there are releases of hazardous materials into a community.

ONB: Cybersecurity is a focus area for ONB and New Brunswick. Is there a cybersecurity component to ESI?

Gillan: With the recent exercise at Port SJ there were discussions of cybersecurity scenarios coming to the forefront; ESI has in recent weeks partnered with a U.S. firm to assist in providing these types of validation exercises internationally. I’ve had occasion to see a presentation from CyberNB on NB’s approach to the emerging threat, this is a tremendous initiative for New Brunswick. Via ONB/CyberNB we expect potential growth opportunities for ESI.

ONB: What else helped you realize there was a need for ESI’s services?

Gillan: My time with the Fire Department and work with Saint John Emergency Management organizations opened my eyes to certain things. Saint John is Canada’s oldest incorporated city, and it’s heavily industrialized. Industry is in close proximity to residential neighbourhoods, so you need high levels of planning within industry and the municipality to ensure a strong level of resiliency. Obviously, all municipalities face challenges, but working in an industrialized city really hammered that home for me.

After we got involved with DRDC it became apparent that both government and industry needed to do better risk assessment. We needed to improve training and better ensure we have measures in place to ensure resiliency in every community. ESI has found that industry can use a team of experienced risk managers with a response background to liaise with authorities, ensuring security, business continuity, and emergency management programs are robust. With community expectations understood fully and plans validated, firms are assured that should something go wrong, their “brand” and social license in the community are protected.

ONB: Finally, tell us about the benefits of operating from New Brunswick?

Gillan: We could work anywhere but we choose to operate in Saint John; the community is very supportive. We feel our services are progressive compared to competitors. That is due largely to the great support we have received from progressive individuals within government and industry. We’ve built a strong foundation in NB thanks to progressive practices from entities like NB Power and Saint John Energy, and industrial clients like Canaport LNG and Port SJ.

In the context of ONB’s work to bring in new industry and businesses, ESI can provide key planning advisory services, liaising with local regulators and responders on behalf of the new entity.

Beyond New Brunswick, ESI has already provided services in India, Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota, and New Mexico. What we have now is a package attractive to any community in the world, some as far away as Saint Lucia in the Caribbean. We intend to stay here where support is strong, and continue to work with groups like ONB to develop a sustainable export strategy. The security, business continuity and emergency management sector is projected to be a $100 billion industry; the sky is the limit.

Written by Jason Boies

Cover image via Flickr