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Are we ready? Oregon business and disaster preparedness

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BY MICHAEL R. WARFEL

While sitting in the two-hour traffic nightmare on I-5 north of Vancouver during the snowstorm a couple of weeks ago, I was nervously watching my gas gauge and wishing I had not previously raided the granola bars from my emergency kit. Living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest means enjoying our wonderful surroundings, while remaining aware of the multiple types of natural disaster threats that we face:  winter storms, windstorms, floods, landslides, earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis.

“Are we ready?” is a cliché we hear on the news within hours of these disasters. For Oregon businesses, the importance of the underlying message cannot be understated. According to the Institute for Business and Home Safety, an estimated 25 percent of businesses do not reopen following a major disaster. Similar research by the Insurance Information Institute indicated up to 40 percent of businesses fail after a disaster, and only 43 percent feel prepared to handle an extensive emergency.

Oregon businesses are not immune to this pattern of unpreparedness. A 2011 Oregon Business disaster preparedness survey showed that more than 80 percent of the 513 responding businesses were only somewhat or not well prepared for a disaster.

While I’m not an expert in disaster preparedness and business continuity planning, I have been fortunate in my work and community activities to discover some useful tips and resources that may be helpful to you and your business.

Since joining GeoEngineers last year, I have become aware of two basic tools our company uses to prepare for the variety of disasters that may strike our offices. Each of our 13 offices has developed an Emergency Action Plan tailored to its specific location (climate, potential hazards and building type). Each plan includes a map of building evacuation routes, an outside location for meeting after an evacuation, standard procedures for specific disaster scenarios, staff training (including regular drills) and recordkeeping. The plan identifies responsibilities for staff member response actions, along with communication “trees” and backup contacts. Close coordination with building owners and managers is key, especially in high-rise buildings with hundreds of tenants and site-specific evacuation procedures.

Our other disaster preparation tool is having a Business Continuity Plan for each GeoEngineers office that provides a stepwise approach to minimizing business disruption in the event of a local disaster. Our plans include a chain of command, responsibilities by staff function and a comprehensive list of internal and external resources critical to conduct our business.

Our Business Continuity Plans and Emergency Action Plans are designed to be applied in conjunction with each other. An example of our disaster plans in action occurred when Hurricane Isaac hit Louisiana in August 2012. Our Baton Rouge location closed its office as part of its Emergency Action Plan, and then forwarded calls to our office in Springfield, Missouri, as part of its Business Continuity Plan. These two plans together ensured the safety of our employees and continuity of service to our clients.

Here are some basic disaster preparation concepts that might be helpful:

  • Our businesses are only as strong as our employees.  When a disaster occurs during work hours, our concerns and those of our fellow employees immediately focus on our families. If we know our loved ones are prepared, we greatly enhance our ability to focus on the needs of our fellow employees and our businesses.
  • Planning is essential. When put in a difficult situation, we will respond in accordance with the planning and training that we have completed prior to the disaster. Without planning, panic can takeover.
  • The basic disaster preparation steps are the same for businesses as they are for individuals:
  1. Be informed
  2. Make a plan
  3. Build a kit
  4. Get involved

Hopefully this blog post has served as part of the first step for being informed. To help with the next steps, here are some useful resources.

Disaster Planning Resources

Business Continuity Planning Resources

About the Author

Michael R. Warfel, LG, LHG is a principal environmental geologist with the Portland office of GeoEngineers, and has 37 years of environmental consulting experience on projects across the U.S. His work has focused on the investigation, cleanup and monitoring of contamination at industrial facilities, waste disposal sites and landfills. He has also participated in developingemergency-response and business-continuity plans for his employers, and has served in his community as an elected fire commissioner, emergency response volunteer and amateur radio operator with training in CERT and NIMS.

 
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