May 22, 2013 by Rich Cooper

This week, a category 5 tornado ripped through Moore, Oklahoma, leveling the suburban area with winds up to 200 mph. In the words of Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, the tornado was like a “two-mile-wide lawnmower blade going over a community.” Homes, businesses and tragically, two elementary schools, were destroyed, with dozens of people killed and hundreds more injured and displaced. While emergency responders conclude their search and rescue efforts, the community is beginning to look towards the arduous challenge of rebuilding what was lost.

the community’s residents “resilient.” This ability to bounce back and re-establish normalcy as quickly as possible is critical after any disaster. For businesses, resilience is essential because of the important role the private sector plays in community recovery. Yet, not all businesses are aware of what it takes to build resilience into their operations or why it is so important.

Serving Community Needs: In a time of tragedy, citizens need essential goods and services. While local, state and federal services can help those affected through the immediate aftermath of a disaster, local businesses are in a position to offer essential supplies. The sooner a company can return to operation, the more quickly they can contribute to the recovery of community in a range of ways. This might include offering food, water, supplies or other emergency services. What is more, local businesses have already built the supply chains necessary to bring critical goods into an area; they are sometimes able to do so better than emergency response agencies.

Business operation also offers an important psychological advantage for devastated communities. When convenience stores, gas stations and other local shops open their doors, it gives those affected the perception that life and recovery are moving forward and hope can again take root. “Open for business” also offers residents confidence when they need it most, especially as people look to return to normalcy.

Restoring Critical Infrastructure: According to recent news reports, Oklahoma’s energy infrastructure survived the recent tornado without much damage, which is important not just for local residents, but also for other energy consumers throughout the region. Yet, there was water disruption, perhaps the most essential ingredient to a functioning society. Also important is the ability to communicate. As well as disrupting some cellular towers, the tornado also drove Internet and cell phone users to dramatically increase their activity. This led FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate to call on Oklahoma residents to “help the emergency response by keeping mobile phone lines free from congestion and staying in touch with friends and family by text messaging, email or social media.” To their credit, communications providers are working to re-establish full service, bringing in specialized equipment to help manage the increase in cellular use amid the infrastructure disruption.

More than 80 percent of U.S. critical infrastructure is privately owned, and following a disaster, businesses managing these utilities must work quickly to restore essential services. Community life has little chance of rebuilding until these needs are met, and resilient businesses can help make this happen.

Live to Fight Another Day: A business damaged in a disaster is in a perilous position. For companies that lack an emergency plan, 43 percent close their doors permanently, and for those that are able to reopen, less than 30 percent survive the next two years, according to the Hartford’s Guide to Emergency Preparedness Planning. Resilience is important not just for the business owner, but also, for the local economy. If a company permanently shutters its doors, it means lost jobs for the local workforce, which has cascading impacts on the economy. Falling revenue and employment impacts consumer spending, which can compound a disaster’s long-term impact.

How to Prepare: There are many best practices and plans businesses can employ to prepare for the worst. The Voluntary Private Sector Preparedness Program (PS-Prep) gives businesses the tools to implement best practices. It can also help a business gain resilience certification, which gives local stakeholders the confidence that a company is aware of risks and has developed the capacity to operate through a disaster. Businesses can also find valuable advice and many preparation and recovery plans on and from the Small Business Administration (SBA); FEMA”s tips for protecting business operations; as well as IRS plans for protecting business records. In addition to their other good works, the American Red Cross also offers its Ready Rating Program that helps businesses measure how prepared they are for any number of risks that might interrupt business as they know it.

Making businesses resilient to disasters is important on many levels. One of the most critical realizations for company owners, however, is that in an emergency, a business’ survival has wide-reaching importance, given the critical role businesses play in helping communities recover, rebuild and move forward. “Open for Business” is not just a catch-phrase. It’s an essential way of life for every community.

This article was originally published by the National Chamber Foundation.


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