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Is Your Company Prepared?

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One week before the May 22 Joplin tornado, 6,000 people walked through the Springfield Expo Center doors for a two-day Get Prepared Expo. Through 89 exhibitors and nearly 40 seminars, the inaugural event by Grovespring-based USAPrepares.com addressed how individuals and businesses could ready themselves for a disaster.

USAPrepares.com Director of Operations Mark Wright, a former Missouri legislator from Springfield, said the tornado in Joplin served as a reminder that everyone can benefit from planning ahead for the worst.

“These are serious issues that affect everybody,” Wright said.

With speakers from 14 states, the May 14–15 conference covered everything from computer system recovery and the importance of storm shelters to canning, marksmanship and alternative energy.

According to the American Red Cross, 40 percent of businesses never reopen after a disaster, and 51 percent of Americans have experienced at least one emergency situation where they lost utilities for three days or more. In Joplin, officials estimate 450 businesses were damaged or destroyed as the EF-5 tornado swept through the Range Line Road commercial district. Safety officials said 138 were confirmed dead as of June 2.

Wright has since toured the damaged areas and talked to survivors about how they were impacted. He said he couldn’t help but wonder how many affected businesses had preparedness plans in place.

The Red Cross offers a free Ready Rating program for businesses, organizations and schools to become better prepared in emergencies.

Jonathan Epstein, vice chairman of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council and a co-creator of the Ready Rating program, said there is a host of steps businesses can take to prepare themselves for the worst, beginning with organizational commitment.

“From the leadership down, whether it’s a small, medium or large business, the organization needs to be committed to safety early and from the top,” Epstein said.

He said another key first step is to employ a vulnerability assessment to determine what threats a company might face.

“Any organization needs to know what it’s at risk for,” Epstein said, pointing to natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis and tornadoes, as well as man-made threats such as chemical spills or terrorist attacks. “You look at the possibilities as a group, and you can kind of rank them. You look at what’s the most likely, what’s the least likely and what has the greatest potential for life loss and business loss.”

Once a business has determined its threats, the emergency planning process can begin.

“If you know you have a weakness, if you are in a flood zone, maybe you should get a generator and instead of keeping it on the ground level, you look at putting it on the roof,” Epstein said.

The top threats identified influence the plans a business should put into place, including evacuation, medical response and communications. Once those have been established, it’s time to educate and practice, so that everyone is on the same page.

“That’s really where most businesses fail,” Epstein said. “They don’t actually exercise the plan and practice different components.”

He said through practice, workers can identify weaknesses, and then modify the company plans.

Karen Thomas, president of Oxford HealthCare in Springfield, said her company benefited by having an emergency plan in place when its Joplin office at 1701 W. 26th St. was totally destroyed. She said employees in Springfield began calling Joplin workers that night the tornado hit, and then reached out to the nearly 2,000 in-home patients Oxford serves in Joplin.

“They were able to start their calling trees and contact employees, who, in turn, contacted their clients. We were able to identify people in that way,” Thomas said. “They were very methodical. They had a plan, and they put that plan into place.”

The procedure quickly located all but a few of Oxford’s patients, Thomas said.

Oxford HealthCare is currently working out of the Destiny Church at 3411 N. Rangeline Road in Joplin. Thomas said an employee was a member of that church, and the congregation opened its doors to Oxford on the morning of May 23. She said the company had identified another church as an alternate office in its preparedness plan, but that facility also was desolated.

The Ready Rating program, unveiled nationally May 12 at www.readyrating.org, allows businesses and organizations to measure their readiness, and offers customized feedback for improvement.

The U.S. Small Business Administration also offers tips for business owners at www.sba.gov. The SBA recommends businesses review their insurance coverage to make sure they understand exactly what is covered. Many policies don’t cover flood damage, for example.

Business interruption insurance, a rider of commercial property and casualty coverage, protects operating expenses and compensates for income lost after a temporary closure, said Brent Butler, government affairs director for the Missouri Insurance Coalition in Jefferson City.

“Following a disaster like a tornado,” Butler said, “it would cover any expenses that are ongoing like loan payments or salaries. Of course, if you have a casualty loss with the inventory, that would be covered under that part of the policy. The idea is to draw the kind of income you’d be generating … so that when you do get your business back and running you haven’t incurred a huge hole to start from.”

He said business interruption coverage isn’t designed for companies indirectly affected by a loss of business due to a major disaster, and that all businesses and individuals should consult their insurance professionals about the details of possible coverage options.

Experts also recommended companies consider computer systems backups.

Paul Buie, owner of Springfield-based Net Source LLC, presented at the Get Prepared Expo the importance of securing critical company data in the face of disaster threats.

“There are different levels of preparedness a business can make for a disaster. You can have a complete wipeout of a business like many had in Joplin,” Buie said. “The question becomes, how can you continue to operate if that happens? Many times that means the end of your business.”

Buie said businesses also should be prepared in less dire circumstances.

“Let’s say you come into your business one day and your server, which houses all of your data, is dead – how do you continue to do business that day if your server is dead?” he said. “Of course, there is a minor level where, let’s say, an employee just deletes some of your data.”

In any scenario, Buie said it’s vital for businesses to work with a computer backup company they trust. “That provider will be covering their butt if something happens,” he said, noting that the cost to back up a company’s server system ranges from $2,000 to $10,000, depending on the number of servers and other variables.

To continue to preach the preparedness message, USAPrepares.com has signed a contract to host its next event in Springfield on an undetermined date this fall. Company officials are talking with a top sponsor about bringing the Get Prepared Expo to other areas of the country as well, Wright said.[[In-content Ad]]

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