The Press-Enterprise: Businesses advised to prepare for emergencies

By CHRIS H. SIEROTY

Special to The Press-Enterprise

Inland businesses are being encouraged to prepare ahead for potential disasters, as part of a national campaign in tune with National Preparedness Month.

The program, Ready Business, was launched nationally five years ago by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Advertising Council as an extension of the Ready Campaign, which was implemented as a response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and was designed to educate Americans on how prepare for and respond to emergencies.

A disaster plan can save lives, company assets and get a business back up and running after a disaster, according to an executive with the Ready Campaign.

“You need to remember at least one in four businesses never reopen after a disaster,” said Becky Marquis, acting director of the Ready Campaign in Washington D.C., a division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is overseen by DHS.

Marquis said more often than not these disasters are everyday events and not necessarily a major event like the wildfires in Southern California that have been dominating the local headlines.

Robert Bahler, a spokesman with the American Red Cross in San Bernardino, said local businesses seeking assistance in preparing an emergency plan can schedule an appointment to have one of his employees come to a local business and speak about emergency preparedness.

“We work with a number of business partners every year to establish emergency preparedness plans,” Bahler said. “Our chapter serves people from Yucaipa to Chino Hills, which is home to more than 2 million people. We probably work with 30,000 people a year in preparing for a disaster.”

Marquis said preparing for a disaster can be daunting but urged business owners to visit http://www.ready.gov/business for information on how to prepare for emergencies.

“Once they print out what they need to get started, they’ll find it’s rather simple to put a plan in place that will protect their business and employees,” she said. “We recently conducted a survey that found only 38 percent of businesses nationwide had an emergency plan.”

One business that is prepared is Best Best & Krieger in Riverside. Debbie Prior, the company’s director of human resources, said for a modest investment other companies can follow the law firm’s lead in preparing their employees for any emergency.

“One of the things we do is provide every employee with an emergency backpack that includes water, a flashlight, whistle, first aid kit and granola bars,” she said. “We also encourage employees to bring in other items, including tennis shoes. It may sound funny, but many female employees wear high heels and would need to change into tennis shoes if a disaster happened and they needed to get out of the building.”

Prior said the firm also holds occasional staff meetings to update employees on emergency procedures, and has CPR trained employees in every office.

With fire season in full swing and the experts predicting an increase in cases of swine flu virus this fall, U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Karen G. Mills said now is the time to revisit preparedness plans.

“We should all realize that storms, floods, earthquakes, fires and man-made disasters can strike at anytime and anywhere,” she said in a statement.

One local business that is no stranger to rebuilding after a disaster is the Redlands-based KOLA-FM and KCAL-FM radio stations. Steve Hoffman, KCAL’s program director, said the station’s transmitter was destroyed in the Old Canyon Fire that burned thousands of acres in Waterman Canyon in San Bernardino County six years ago.

“We were lucky because we were able to get back on the air using backup equipment,” he said. “We do have a disaster plan that would allow the stations to keep operating following an emergency of any kind.”

Hoffman explained that if the building were to collapse after an earthquake, everything from music to commercials is backed up on computers.

“Our technical people would grab two computers and they would be taken to the transmitter,” he said. “In the old days, stations had booths at their transmitters that would allow them to broadcast live. If something happened, we would still be able to broadcast and inform the community.”

But unlike other businesses, Hoffman said on-air and technical employees would automatically come to work in the event of an emergency.

“We would broadcast information to the community in the event of an earthquake,” he said. “That’s what we do. We are also part of the Emergency Alert System, which is operated by the Federal Communications Commission and gives the president the capability to address the nation during a national emergency.”

As part of National Preparedness Month, Fontana is hosting an emergency preparedness and safety fair Saturday at the city’s police station. Laura Wolbert, Fontana’s emergency manager, said residents and local businesses who attend will learn how to make an emergency supply kit, create an emergency plan, and receive valuable local emergency preparedness information so they know how to stay informed during an emergency situation.

(For more news about Riverside and San Bernardino counties, visit http://www.pe.com)


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