Corporate First Responders

When Mike Wanik first left the active military after nine years of service in military law enforcement, he departed with many skills that would be a base for his future career in Corporate Security. He has recalled his experience during the devastating moment on 9/11, when the second plane hit the tower, and how he, his team, and members of other corporate first responder disciplines gathered to conquer the mission of safeguarding people, both mentally and physically, whilst ensuring continuity of business operations for those dependent on their services.

Recently reflecting on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and my actions that day and the year following, I realized that our heroic first responders have counterparts in corporations that are big enough to sustain those operations. Corporate first responders do not normally face danger in their responses, but do help control workplace related issues from growing and help optimize recovery times. A key corporate first responder function on days of kinetic events is Corporate Security. Corporate Security leaders always seek to proactively identify and avoid security risks; however, when a risk transforms into an event such as 9/11, it is leaders from our discipline that are looked to for guidance and support to weather the storm in an enterprise or organization.

When I first left the active military after nine years of service in military law enforcement I departed with many skills that would be a base for my future career in Corporate Security. Working with people, addressing processes, vetting and monitoring environments, and watching ever-changing technology for both threats and protection - I learned even more.

Over the years in the private sector, I worked with many colleagues from many different disciplines in support of business operations, but during crisis management my primary counterparts were those in Human Resources, Legal, Risk Management, Public Relations, and Executive Leadership. Each event presents different challenges; however, we are always focused on the safety and security of our people first, followed by protecting our operational continuity and shareholder value.

Over the years I watched and participated in the morphing of the security profession from "gates and guards" to the supplication of a holistic blanket of protection and response; supporting what we today refer to as "organizational resiliency."

At that moment on 9/11 when the second plane hit the tower my experiences called me to lead and execute. I was a corporate security leader in a Fortune 25 company who had a full floor of people in a large tower, iconic office building in Manhattan. I was in Hartford, Connecticut; our CEO was in an airplane in the mid-west; and the phone was ringing from literally a hundred offices scattered around the US and other places looking for guidance. It was time to be the first corporate responder into the event. Taking accountability and responsibility I began to execute while bringing in other corporate first responders from other disciplines into managing the crisis. A phone line into the New York City office was established quickly and kept live and open for days which was helpful in dealing with employee fears. Quickly locking down hotel rooms in the area also worked for us as we worked through the unknown.

I won’t say it was an Alexander Haig moment, but I acted like I owned it and my boss, the General Counsel, was appreciative. Sure, we had binders on the shelf for an event response; but an attack on America was not prepared for in our playbook.

All corporate first responder disciplines gathered to divide and conquer the mission of how we would safeguard people both mentally and physically, how we’d help them get home, and how we’d ensure continuity of business operations for those dependent upon our services.

Meanwhile, a corporate first responder named Richard “Rick” Rescorla, also a Corporate Security Director, was in the World Trade Center South Tower taking action by evacuating 2,687 employees of Morgan Stanley against the shelter in place messaging given to him. Because of his decisive actions that fateful day, all but 13 Morgan Stanley employee lives were saved. Unfortunately, Director Rescorla perished in the line of duty along with other employees and first responders.

After the initial moments of a crisis like this and some basic exigent reactive decisions are made, the response focuses on our people. Leaders from Human Resources, Employee Relations and Legal fully jump in. They were there at moment one, thinking about and preparing for various scenarios, but it soon becomes their time to be out front leading us on our next steps. As well, our business continuity personnel were focused on delivering services to customers who in this case were health care centric and in need of uninterrupted services.

After employees left the city and the world began to recover, our leadership and human resource responders made decisions about repopulating the New York City offices. The president of the business unit located there asked me to accompany him to the site and speak to the employees. We rode the Amtrak train out of town that night and had a few beers- it was really the first exhaling for us.

As I reflect on that fateful world changing day, as well as on other both mundane and challenging “call for service” days, I am proud to be a first responder of another sort. A corporate first responder delivering needed action at a time of issue in a business enterprise. Life safety, emergency management and organizational resiliency. Corporate first responders proudly identify, protect, detect, respond, and recover to support our business enterprises. Like front line first responders; we’re there for you.

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