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A proactive approach to disaster preparedness can save businesses future heartbreak

By ALLISON MILES
April 14, 2010 at 8:05 p.m.
Updated April 13, 2010 at 11:14 p.m.

A man with a chain saw rides his bike past a sign that reflects at least one business owner's feelings toward Hurricane Claudette in Port Lavaca in 2003. Emergency Management Coordinator Jeb Lacey told local businesses that the worst thing a business can do is react to a disaster after the fact.

For more information on preparedness programs:

StormReady Supporters: visit http://www.weather.gov/stormready/supporters.htm

Victoria Partners in Preparedness program: call Lacey at 361-485-3362

Resilience is an attitude and it pays to think ahead, Emergency Management Coordinator Jeb Lacey said.

"We need to think about our businesses - and a lot of us do - as our children," he said Wednesday. "If you are not thinking of it as something you need to take care of going into an emergency, you won't have it when you're done."

Lacey spoke to about 100 people at the Victoria Chamber of Commerce April luncheon, updating them on how to build disaster-resistant businesses.

There is always a way to make a business stronger and better able to bounce back, Lacey said.

Sit down and think through a disaster plan, he advised, talking through every aspect.

That includes looking at potential emergencies such as hurricanes, floods, power outages and the like, and figuring out how to minimize damage.

Whatever a company can't prevent, he said, it should be prepared for.

Know how to respond when an emergency occurs, he said, and how to fix it when it does happen.

Few companies have plans in order for alternative work sites during storms, he explained, and not every business knows how it would get in touch with employees if disaster struck.

He advised companies to focus on education, and not solely for the employees. Management, workers and employees' families should all be kept abreast of what's going on.

Businesses aren't alone in disaster preparedness.

The Victoria Partners in Preparedness program, for instance, is a new group focused at getting various departments in the community together before, during and after emergencies to solve potential problems.

With its different sub-groups, such as business, special needs and animal issues, the organization tries to combat issues before they happen.

StormReady is a nationwide program, also aimed at preparedness. Participating companies must have a safety officer who undergoes eight hours of training per year, must have a functioning weather radio per permanent work location, host one safety talk per year and two safety drills annually.

StormReady has 112 supporters nationwide, Lacey said, and only two in Texas. He said that, two years from now, he'd like to return and find that every person in that room was now part of the program.

All in all, Lacey said, it's best to address the problem before it arises than to catch up in the aftermath.

"Plans shouldn't say, 'This is what we do when it's broken,'" he said. "Plans should first say, 'Here's what we're doing now so that it doesn't break.'"

Lacey's messages about coming together for disaster preparedness were encouraging, said Rosa Vidal, hard lines assistant manager for Sam's Club in Victoria.

Sam's Club has a plan in place, she said, so area stores know what to do before, during and after such events. Even so, she said she wanted to look into getting involved with StormReady.

Toni Rivera is advantage coordinator at Sam's Club and was working when Hurricane Claudette swept through the area.

The West Texas native isn't used to such storms and, after Lacey's speech, checked with her co-workers to make sure the local store had a weather radio.

"In El Paso, all we get is sand storms," she said with a chuckle. "I'm not used to this."

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