When the unthinkable happens, it pays to have thought ahead. A Lenexa-area business is ready to help companies, schools, municipalities and organizations do emergency management planning, and be prepared if disaster strikes.
Kent and Libby Harris formed Harris Associated Consulting earlier this year. The firm provides a variety of emergency planning services so clients can respond appropriately and minimize damage.
“Nothing is 100 percent, but you have to have a plan in place,” Kent Harris said. “We want to help clients so all concerned are trained on how best to respond to a crisis situation and handle it, facilitate resiliency and business continuity … so they can deal with the new normal.”
The company uses what it calls the three P’s in its approach.
“We help them plan, prepare and progress so they get past what happens,” Libby Harris said. “A lot of plans will go up to the event but not what will happen after.”
The company’s co-owners bring with them vast experience to deal with emergency and crises. For more than 20 years, Kent Harris served as fire marshal for the city of Olathe. He also commanded the bomb and arson units. Harris is a graduate of training at the National Fire Academy and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Since retiring from the city in 2006, Harris has been a member of an anti-terrorism team with the U.S. State Department. As part of that team, Harris has traveled to the Middle East and Asia performing high security and soft-target assessment and training.
Libby Harris, a former teacher, is familiar with school settings and the safety concerns in that sector. She grew up in California, “so emergency preparedness for earthquakes is something I grew up with,” she said.Since the 9/11 terror attacks, Kent Harris has become increasingly concerned that states aren’t doing enough to prepare for such attacks or other emergencies such as tornados, hurricanes and earthquakes.
“It’s what the world is today,” he said. “What you see overseas — I give it a few months until we see it here in the United States.… It’s our job to prepare for the possibility. If you’re not prepared, you’re a liability.”
Harris said those in the Midwest often are lulled into a false sense of security “because it is somewhat untouchable unlike the coasts. In reality, it presents a soft target,” he said. “It’s not paranoia — all things are possible and you need to be prepared.”
His company’s services are based on the client’s needs. Services include physical security risk assessment, ALICE training (alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate) and hostile intruder response. His company will review existing plans and make recommendations to bring it up to date. Or it will create plans from scratch.
“We tailor the plan to the organization,” Libby Harris said. “We ask them, ‘What are your concerns?’ ”
The Harrises’ company looks at 25 different topics, assessing where a client’s organization is and build the plan from that point.
“We look at everything from how does your security cameras work to how far is your company situated from a public roadway,” she said.
Every plan includes three components to it — communication, accessibility and accountability. Plans are priced based on the scope of the plan.
“We have basic packages available — everything from review and update of an existing plan to customizing a new plan,” Kent Harris said.
Plans generally begin at $500 and go from there. Plans include annual training for staff.
“Maintaining a plan is much less expensive than completely writing a plan,” he said.
All plans include a confidentiality agreement.
“We don’t give away any information on operational procedures,” Kent Harris said.
The Harrises worked with their attorney and financial planner to set up Harris Associated Consulting under White Sands Enterprises Inc.
“That’s the umbrella for this and for my overseas work,” Kent Harris said. “We are hoping this company is more than successful and that we can take advantage of tax benefits this way.”
Kent and Libby Harris are the only full-time employees, but they have five contractors from across the country, who lend their expertise in such areas as cyber terrorism.
To this point, Harris Associated Consulting has been operating out of the Harris home in Lenexa. They plan to move the company into an office nearby in the first quarter of next year.
“We have various contractors we bring for jobs, and we need a place with desks and a conference area where we can collaborate rather than our kitchen table,” Libby Harris.
Currently, clients have been coming in thanks to word of mouth — and the phone has been ringing steadily since the recent shooting tragedies in Oregon and Connecticut. In mid-January, Kent Harris will speak at the National School Response Conference on the topic of post-disaster planning and preventing a secondary disaster.
The couple said the greatest challenge with this new business is educating potential clients about the need for their firm’s services.
“We want to change people’s perspective that nothing will happen,” Kent Harris said. “We try to help people realize they do have control, if they’re prepared.… It’s less scary if you’re prepared. Spending the money now will save them tenfold.”
Libby Harris said: “9-1-1 is not a plan — it’s part of a plan. You have to take the initiative yourself.”