Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Emergency preparedness critical to businesses

BY KATRINA CORNWELL/Staff • June 8, 2009 Mary Clement, a Gallatin-based attorney and counselor, says being prepared for emergencies as a business owner and at home is one of the most important things someone can do. "I think personally preparation is very important," Clement said. "It needs to be carried into all spheres of our lives. "Research shows that people who are prepared for disasters emotionally and psychologically are less likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, and it takes them less time to recover." Clement was among a group of businesspeople at the Gallatin Chamber of Commerce luncheon Monday, who heard a presentation by Anna Smith, the state coordinator for civilians with the Tennessee Department of Homeland Security, urging them to plan ahead for all the ways natural and man-made disasters could disrupt their work and home lives. "There were people when Hurricane Katrina hit who lost all of their documents," Smith said. "They had to prove residency. If you needed medication, you had to prove who your doctor was and that you had a prescription. "You can never prepare enough for a disaster of that magnitude. It's difficult if you don't have a plan in place to recover at all." Small business stats show importance of plans According to statistics from the Advertising Council, 92 percent of businesses think it's important to have an emergency preparedness plan, and 88 percent of those business owners believe the idea makes sense; but only 39 percent of them actually create one. Since statistics show small businesses represent 99 percent of all employers and that 75 percent of new jobs are created by these employers, having a plan in place to function in spite of natural or man-made disasters is all the more critical, Smith said. "Small-to-medium-sized businesses are the most susceptible to the long-term effects of an emergency," she said. Jimmy Overton, the Chamber's president-elect, said in the wake of three killer tornadoes that hit the city in recent years, emergency preparedness here hits close to home. "It's an asset for everyone to get their families and businesses prepared. We've been through a lot with the tornadoes. We need to be prepared in case it happens again." Steps toward preparedness Recognizing the need to prepare for emergencies like fires, floods and tornadoes, and in the case of business, involving people at all levels of the organization is half the battle, Smith said. "From the person at the top to the person at the bottom, everybody needs to know your plan," Smith said. Some of the critical components of that plan involve: • Planning to stay in business, whatever the circumstance, whether it's on or off-site, such as setting up shop at a nearby business; • Talking to employees, customers and vendors, involving employees in creation of the plan and keeping patrons and suppliers abreast of changes in the event of an emergency; and, • protecting investments, such as duplicating important paper records and electronic files and keeping that information off-site, and reviewing and revising insurance policies to ensure there is adequate coverage. Preparing for less than $500 Emergency preparedness doesn't need to be an expensive endeavor, Smith said, offering several tips. Buying fire extinguishers and smoke detectors are inexpensive ways to prepare for the event of a fire. Buying the kinds of emergency supplies such as food, water or a battery-powered radio that would be needed in the event of a disaster is another low-cost option. The Tennessee Department of Emergency Management, for example, keeps blankets, bottles of water and cots on hand in case its employees have to work non-stop for days responding to natural disasters. Another way to prepare for little or no cost is to establish a telephone tree of employees, patrons, vendors, utility providers and others that would need to be called should an emergency occur. Providing first aid and CPR training is another way low-cost preparation alternative. Preparedness for more than $500 Some emergency preparedness steps are well worth it, albeit more expensive, Smith said. Buying and maintaining adequate insurance on your business and assets is a worthwhile investment, she said. Another slightly more expensive preparedness plan involves providing for utility alternatives, such as generators, in the event that primary utilities are disrupted.The installation of automatic sprinklers, hoses and fire-resistant doors can also protect a business for a cost. Another good way to prepare for emergency is by ensuring one's business meets building codes, even if it's an older building that has been remodeled. For more on emergency preparedness, visit the Department of Homeland Security's Web site at www.ready.gov

No comments: