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Bunker Time for the Rich June 07, 2017 12:06

Financial Advisor Magazine - April '17

Bunker Time by Thomas Kostigen

Joel Smernoff, chairman of Black Umbrella, a New York City firm that creates custom emergency/safety plans and curates disaster kits for executives, families and businesses, says wealthy individuals and their extended families view uncertainty and risk through a different lens than average people.

“I think risk mitigation is very important to them,” he says. “That’s why many have family offices and focus on capital preservation. So in following the concept of being able to protect what you have, I think they also over-index in preparedness. These are people that are used to having insurance for everything. One way to look at emergency preparedness is as physical insurance.”


Bunkered Down- Shelters, safe rooms, and designing for an age of anxiety June 07, 2017 12:03

Curbed - Nov 2, 2016

What’s the psychological toll of this kind of constant worry, of expecting the worst outcome and investing in the aftermath? Catherine Hooper, a New York-based safety consultant who founded Black Umbrella, which creates personalized escape plans and preparedness packets, says that she’s seen a consistent level of interest in this subject since starting her business in 2009. After seeing residents of New Orleans suffer through the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, she kept thinking to herself, "How could they not be more prepared?" She realized she couldn’t criticize them if she hadn’t prepared for a similar situation herself. After researching and finding no existing service, lots of incomplete and often contradictory information, and lots of interest from her friends, she decided to launch Black Umbrella.

Hooper has helped hundreds plan for what to do during a disaster and what comes next, and she says even the exercise of preparing can be emotional.

"Somebody who makes multimillion-dollar decisions multiple times a day"—Hooper tends to deal with very wealthy clients—"you’d think they’d be good at this, but it’s not easy," she says.


The Latest High-End Real Estate Amenity? The Luxury Safe Room August 09, 2016 16:59

Town and Country Magazine - Sept '16   

Disaster preparedness is a big deal to the one percent.

In 2009, Catherine Hooper started the firm Black Umbrella, which works with high-net-worth families to come up with individualized disaster survival plans and create prestocked kits of essentials. "Our clients know what it takes to gain, and they know how easy it is to lose," says Joel Smernoff, the company's current chairman. "They buy a lot of insurance. We're just a different kind of insurance."

 


Black Umbrella in Bravo TV's Odd Mom Out (s2e2) June 28, 2016 22:28

Black Umbrella featured on Bravo TV's Odd Mom Out from Joel Smernoff on Vimeo.


Emergency Preparedness Seminar (Metro Kids Movement NYC) June 28, 2016 22:20


The Huffington Post April 26, 2015 23:25

Disaster Prep: Are You Ready?

Posted: Updated: 

Lately I've been inundated with messages about disaster preparedness. Is the universe telling me something? I sure hope not! Being prepared is one of those things I never thought to bother with because I'm optimistic that any sort of catastrophe won't happen to me. Many people are in the same school of thought as I am on this, yet most of us tend to make health insurance a priority, right? Is disaster prep that much different?

So, as television and the Internet are starting to kick open my firmly closed door on the reality that I actually am a physically vulnerable human-being, I thought I might actually take a look at what other people are doing.

Disaster preparation can be a sensitive topic to bring up with people. Nobody wants to feel like a Chicken Little explaining to their friends that they keep astronaut food in their backpack in case a meteor hits. And I certainly don't want to live under a cloud of "something might happen." My outlook has been that I'm not likely to use a personally prepared survival kit, so why waste the time and money. 

But I live in New York City and have friends who were directly impacted by emergencies such as terrorist attacks, crane collapses and storms. And that's a city that's not even susceptible to disasters that are more likely to happen in other parts of the world. So when I put two-and-two together -- disaster-plus-preparation - the answer is Yes! Yes! We must be prepared. It can't hurt, it will only help.

The most user-friendly disaster preparedness strategy is the Bee Prepared: Go Bags concept created by mother and activist Michelle Manning Barish. This is a logical and un-scary approach to possible catastrophe. In fact, she even includes her daughter Bee in the YouTube video, which puts me at ease knowing that if a sweet little girl can prepare for disaster with a smile and style, then so can I! The video is captioned as a "Mom's practical guide", but Barish's refined and articulate direction is appropriate for anyone who needs a smart and efficient go-bag. 

The next level up on the intensity scale is Black Umbrella's emergency safety plans and products. Created by Catherine Hooper, the company was conceived out of Hooper's own frustration with not having an emergency plan for her family. Black Umbrella taps into resources such as certified and bonded tactical specialists to provide emergency plans, preparedness gear, and more. There are different family plans available and some include practice family drills, on-call service and more. 

But nothing is as intense as National Geographic's Doomsday Preppers. Not so much a 'how to', unless you're the prop-master for the next Planet of The Apes movie, but definitely entertaining. So if you need any motivation to subscribe to Bee Prepared: Go Bags, Black Umbrella or any other disaster preparedness information, then start here!

And lastly, let's hope none of us ever really have to use our go bags or emergency family plans, but it's always better to be safe than sorry!


Fortune Magazine April 26, 2015 23:19

Prepping for the next storm: An entrepreneur's advice


New York Times April 26, 2015 23:12

N.Y. / REGION

An Optimistic Seller of Disaster Plans

NO, Catherine Hooper did not live through Hurricane Katrina, and while she did see the second plane hit the World Trade Center, she viewed it from the treadmill at her gym, where she was watching television. But Ms. Hooper, a 5-foot-1, 99.6-pound disaster-preparedness entrepreneur in a Christian Dior dress, has had some riveting firsthand experience.

She had just moved in with her fiancé when word broke of Bernard L. Madoff’s sweeping Ponzi scheme. Her fiancé was Mr. Madoff’s younger son, Andrew.

“Disaster can be a megadisaster like something that affects all of us,” said Ms Hooper, 38, a former partner in the Fifth Avenue fly-fishing store Urban Angler.“But it can also be something that happens in your own world, whether it’s an unexpected death in the family or” — and here she chose a euphemism — “this kind of thing.”

For $750, families can hire Ms. Hooper’s new company, Black Umbrella, to help them prepare for whatever kind of disaster might ensue. That basic package includes a sit-down session with a specialist to develop a family communication and reunification plan and four “go cards” — sleek aluminum wallet cards custom engraved with 22 contact numbers in the order in which they should be called. For $1,450, the advanced family-preparedness plan also provides someone to scan critical documents like passports and birth certificates and both store them on an encrypted flash drive and print them out for safekeeping someplace away from the client’s home. Also: one family-disaster practice run overseen by Black Umbrella, and even more go cards.

Photo

 

PREPAREDNESS Marc Alabanza, left, of Black Umbrella, consults with Rebecca Hansen and Mike Keaney, at their Staten Island home. “We could do it ourselves,” she said, “but we still hadn’t done it ourselves.” CreditJoshua Bright for The New York Times 

For the people who are either really worried about a disaster or really wealthy (or both), there is the $1,950 plan, with a specialist on call to “run family practices, refresh emergency supplies or replace any family plans to account for evolving circumstances,” according to the company’s Web site. And starting next year, the company will sell its Go Bag, a $250 backpack that turns into a sleeping bag and was designed by the artist Mary Mattingly.

Continue reading the main story

Within the panoply of professionals some New York families employ — therapists, sleep consultants, manicurists, home organizers, bicycle-riding tutors — disaster-preparedness specialist is hardly the most indulgent. In fact, given the range of large and small disasters that could happen any given day, from losing your cellphone to that foiled Times Square car bomb, it can seem kind of crazy not to have a plan.

Ms. Hooper, a Bryn Mawr graduate who once dreamed of opening a clothing boutique, may be among the more glamorous entrepreneurs in a field associated with camouflage fatigues and Apocalypse-fearing stockpilers. But she is not alone in seeing the business prospects. In Pleasantville, N.Y., a volunteer emergency services worker and a volunteer firefighter have started 1800prepare.com, which sells survival kits ranging from a $6.95 bare-bones version to the $342.95 “Ready to Roll,” which includes waterproof matches, safety goggles and 100 latex gloves. In Putnam County, N.Y., there is Angel Care Safety Training, a company that since 2006 has led emergency-preparedness seminars for businesses, church groups, schools and, in the past year, three Girl Scout troops.

Ms. Hooper admits that you could do a lot of this on your own: the contact lists, the scanning, the designated meet-up locations should your house burn down or the Brooklyn Bridge blow up. But will you? Really?

“It’s like, ‘Oh, I can change the oil.’ But does the oil ever get changed?” said Rebecca Hansen, 35, who, with her husband, Mike Keaney, recently bought the basic plan.

Ms. Hansen and Mr. Keaney had planned to make a plan for years. Certainly before their first child was born. Finally, with the clock ticking toward the arrival of baby No. 2, they sat in the living room of their Staten Island home with Marc Alabanza, a Black Umbrella specialist. They racked their brains and trolled their cellphones for crucial contacts —parents, siblings, the day care center, their trusted cleaning lady — and determined that should Staten Island become inaccessible, they would meet at Ms. Hansen’s boss’s home, in Brooklyn. Ms. Hansen, they decided, should be the family marshal, in charge of calling the shots.

“We could do it ourselves,” she said, “but we still hadn’t done it ourselves.”

Ms. Hooper has recently begun advertising on the UrbanBaby Web site, but she said most of the 30 clients she had signed up since February — the majority of them families with two children — had come by word of mouth.

In the late 1990s, when Ms. Hooper’s plans to buy a boutique fell through, she recovered via a fishing trip to Venezuela, which she found “transformational.” That brought her to Urban Angler, then on East 25th Street, where she quickly smelled potential.

“There were all these people in there shopping, and yet it was dirty and kind of had lots of old merchandise around,” she said. “I thought, ‘This is the perfect retail business in need of reform.’ ” Over a decade, she helped catapult the company into a slick operation with a Fifth Avenue address, an outpost in Arlington, Va., and an internationally recognized name. It was through Urban Angler that she met Andrew Madoff, a client who became an investor.

In 2008, she took a consulting job at Christian Dior, but she resigned after the news broke of Bernard Madoff’s scheme. “A lot of what I did was represent the brand to their clients,” she said, “and that wasn’t really appropriate for me to be doing.”

Ms. Hooper said she had thought about the possibilities of a disaster-preparedness business since Hurricane Katrina, in 2005. Determined to create an emergency plan for her family — she has a 5-year-old daughter with the co-founder of Urban Angler — Ms. Hooper had found the Internet cluttered with a mess of contradictory information. Over the years, she read survivalist books and research papers, networked wherever she could and trolled online “prepper” chat rooms. She grilled dinner companions: Do you have a plan? They didn’t. Nor did Andrew.

“He went to work that day thinking it’d be a day like any other, and when he walked out of the office to go talk to his father he had no idea that he was never coming back again,” Ms. Hooper recalled of the Madoff family’s disaster day. “When he said to me, ‘Everything’s at the office and I can’t even get a copy of my insurance policies,’ it made me realize that even someone as bright and talented as this guy didn’t really have this plan in place for what he would do if this kind of explosion happened in his own life.”

In December, Dealbreaker.com, which covers Wall Street, announced Black Umbrella’s arrival under the headline, “In The Event Of An Emergency, Let Andy Madoff Lovingly Wrap Your Knick Knacks In Bubble Paper.”

Andrew Madoff and his brother, Mark, who were co-directors of trading at Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, maintain that they knew nothing about the fraud until their father confessed to them, at which point they turned him in. Andrew Madoff is one of several family members who have agreed to preserve their assets pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by the court-appointed trustee charged with recovering money for victims of the Ponzi scheme. He has not been charged with any crime.

His Black Umbrella business cards say “Director of Operations,” but Ms. Hooper said he mostly helps with administrative tasks like payroll.

In a brief interview at the company’s office, on the 21st floor of a skyscraper at 590 Madison Avenue, Mr. Madoff said he hoped his name would not hurt Ms. Hooper’s credibility.

“I think that what happened to me illustrated to me how important it is to be prepared for unexpected events,” he said. “I’m just another example.”


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