Experts say preparing businesses for disaster takes planning
by Maddy Houk | Patterson Irrigator
Sep 29, 2011 | 2639 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Patterson Fire Chief Steve Hall goes over portions of the cities' Emergency Operations Plan Monday morning at City Hall.--photo by Elias Funez/Patterson Irrigator
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Folks who think a first-aid kit and a working flashlight will prepare them for the next disaster should think again, according to emergency experts.

Patterson-Westley Chamber of Commerce members, business owners and other individuals learned that and a whole lot more during a disaster-preparedness seminar at City Hall on Monday, Sept. 26.

Lennette Dease, president of the Elk Grove-based Dease Group, an emergency management and business continuity planning outfit, stressed during the workshop that everyone needs to know what to do when a disaster strikes.

“The responsibility really starts with you — you need to prepare,” she said.

Typically, 75 percent of businesses close for good within six months of an earthquake, fire or flood because they were not prepared, and 25 percent of businesses never reopen after the initial disaster, Dease said. When business owners clean up after a major disaster, they may find lots of hidden costs or a drop in customers, which limits their cash flow.

Employers must have personal contact information for each employee and must educate their staff about preparedness, evacuation procedures and how they will communicate with each other after disaster strikes, Dease said. The first instinct for most people is to leave the workplace right away to make sure family members are OK, so employers often do not know if all their workers are safe after an emergency.

Some companies do have disaster policies in place. Starbucks Coffee, for instance, has an emergency call-in system that it uses during a disaster. After Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, Dease said, 100 percent of Starbucks employees checked in using the system.

She urged businesspeople to plan to assemble in a designated place and to listen to radio and television stations for information immediately after an earthquake, fire or flood.

“I just encourage preparedness. That’s the byword for me: Prepare!” Dease said. “You might be on your own for awhile.”

Four steps are important when dealing with disasters at work or at home, Patterson Fire Chief Steve Hall said: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.

n Mitigation: People should secure their homes by installing smoke detectors or a fire extinguisher and by making a defensible space around the house, a clearing of vegetation or brush that would slow a fire if it should threaten. Parents should teach their children how to drop and cover themselves during an earthquake, too.

n Preparedness: Households should have an emergency bag with three days’ worth of food and three gallons of water, as well as clothes for each person, towels and washcloths. It’s also a good idea to include emergency equipment, such as flashlights and radios that use the same types of batteries, and extra batteries.

n Response: After a disaster strikes, if people are interested in offering a hand, they should sign in at a local checkpoint where police, fire or ambulance crews are stationed, so they can be assigned a place to help. Training for local Community Emergency Response Team groups is planned for the near future, at a date to be announced. CERT programs train people in basic response skills in the event an emergency should happen.

n Recovery: During the recovery from the disaster, the city’s fire, police and public works departments get together to work on recovery efforts.

Hall said people should try to be patient with officials.

“We will get to you, but it’s not going to be instantaneous,” Hall said.

Several local businesspeople who attended Monday’s session said they found it informative.

“I liked the demonstration of the emergency kit,” said Linda Murdock of Gateway Financial Advisors Inc. “It reminded me just how critical that can be.”

Mary Jo Talbot, Patterson area manager of Turlock Irrigation District, also found the program to be educational.

“I learned a lot of different ideas for my home and for the businesses, as well,” she said.

Contact Maddy Houk at 892-6187 or maddy@pattersonirrigator.com.

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