Gabriela D. Garcia
James Madison High School
11th Grade
Vienna, VA
Virginia – 3rd Place Winner

    It was a typical March morning in the chemistry lab at my high school when our principal urgently announced over the intercom that the school must go on lockdown. Worried that an armed criminal had broken into our school, I laid down on the floor as the lights were switched off and the windows covered. I waited nervously as the minutes went by. Finally, the principal came back on the intercom and gave us the all-clear signal to continue with lessons. I did not learn about the reason for the lockdown until later: A man robbed a bank a few blocks from the school.

    I was unharmed, but I learned a valuable lesson from this experience: an emergency plan is an essential safety tool. What would have happened if the armed robber entered the school and we did not have a lockdown plan? As I contemplated this topic, I thought back to the lockdown and realized how crucial it is for Greater Washington-area businesses to have an emergency plan. Also called a “business continuity and emergency preparedness plan,” this plan helps businesses prepare for disruptive events that may impact their operations and even their survival. Without a business continuity and emergency preparedness plan, businesses can lose revenue, customers, and even their reputation when they are forced to close due to an unforeseeable event. A plan can help businesses in our area prevent such losses due to disasters.

    The Greater Washington area is vulnerable to various types of disasters, natural and man-made. For example, our area is not immune to natural disasters such as the 2010 snow storm and the H1N1 virus outbreak. There are many large institutions nearby, including the federal government; international organizations, such as The World Bank; and corporate headquarters like General Dynamics, Marriott, and Capital One. After the 9/11 attacks, the Greater Washington area still remains a target for attacks—both physical and cyber. Thus, Greater Washington businesses need to develop and improve their business continuity plans, and they can learn from today’s high school students about this subject.

    Today’s high school students can help because they have paved the way for the communication technologies that could be the most effective for businesses in a crisis. Today’s teens are rightfully called the “connected generation” due to their reliance on social networking sites and wireless devices to communicate with friends and family. Research on the impact of new technologies on business confirms that teens 17 and older are leaders in embracing new technologies.i Greater Washington businesses can improve their business continuity plans by understanding teens’ technology preferences. Their preferences will be the technologies that workers will use in the future, so it is important that businesses remain up to date.

    Social networking and micro-blogging sites, such as Twitter, are good examples of technological trends that teens adopted first. Recently, a hostage crisis brought operations to a halt at Discovery Communications, headquarters for a large nonfiction media company in Silver Spring. Fortunately, the company was able to continue its operations with little disruption because it acted on its emergency plan through social networking.ii Most of the 1,900 employees were able to escape from the building as the crisis unfolded due to the company’s effective communication with its employees and suppliers.

    In addition to the previous example, the Washington Business Journal reported how dozens of local restaurants used Twitter to get the word out about their status during the snow storm of 2010.iii They used Twitter to announce openings, closings, and even special deals to lure customers out of the snow and into their businesses. For example, Liberty Tavern, a restaurant in Arlington, Tweeted to customers: “Open for business. Burger and a pint for $10 if you can walk on by.” These technologies, first used by teens, helped resume business and daily life in the Greater Washington area.

    Businesses and teens share the need for communication during emergencies. A recent survey of IT executives in Washington and Baltimore found that one of the top three lessons learned by executives who experienced an emergency was having multiple means of communication.iv In another survey, by Harris Interactive, four out of five—or about 17 million—teens in the United States said they carry a wireless device. Eighty percent of those teens said that their cell phone gives them a sense of security while on the go.v Although it is not a surprise that teens mostly use technology for entertainment, the survey found that more than one in three teens have used their phone to help others in trouble, and 18 percent have used their phone to get help in an emergency. When asked what feature they would like on their next phone, 74 percent of teens said it would be an emergency transmitter.

    This evidence suggests that large corporations in our area can learn from high school students about communication during emergencies. However, as I thought about the small retail business my mom owns, I realized that it does not have as many emergency planning resources as large corporations. What are options for small businesses?

    To further develop their business continuity plans, small businesses in Greater Washington can offer internships to high school students. Our area is known for its great internship opportunities, and this would give high school students hands-on business experience. These students can help businesses learn about the latest technologies that have not yet been widely adopted. As previously mentioned, businesses can employ teenagers’ knowledge of trends in technology.

    Businesses that adopt these technologies first will be more competitive in their sector. At my mom’s business, I noticed how her computer crashed, losing crucial business information, including her most recent orders. I saw how the computer crash was not only stressful, but also prevented her from conducting business for two days. My mom now pays a small fee to back up her data every day. The next time her laptop crashes, she will be able to resume her business in just a few hours and not lose any orders.

    In closing, the lockdown reminded me that using a modern emergency and business continuity plan is the best defense businesses can take against emergencies. Greater Washington businesses can improve and update these plans by understanding teens’ technology preferences, as these will be the technologies that workers will use in the future. Recent events in our area demonstrated that technologies first used by teens had a practical effect in helping resume business. Small businesses can use low-cost strategies, such as offering internships to high-school students, to learn about the latest technologies that have not yet been widely adopted. As Norman R. Augustine, former CEO of Lockheed Martin, said, “One should expect that the expected can be prevented, but the unexpected should have been expected.”

  • “Teens and Technology.” Pew Internet and American Life Project. July 27, 2005.
  • “Discovery Communications Crisis a Reminder to Review Emergency Plan.” Washington Business Journal. September 2, 2010.
  • “Restaurants Turn to Twitter in D.C. Snowstorm.” Washington Business Journal. February 8, 2010.
  • “2009 AT&T Business Continuity Online Study, Baltimore-Washington, DC, Results.” AT&T. February 18, 2009.
  • “A Generation Unplugged.” Harris Interactive. September 12, 2008.