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Preparedness Experts Talk Disaster Plans and Emergency Kits

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Jeana White

Executive Vice President, UST Brands

“Becoming complacent and thinking ‘it won’t happen to us.’ Trust me — someday it will.”

What is one of the biggest risks when it comes to a disaster?

Becoming complacent and thinking “it won’t happen to us.” Trust me — someday it will.  Just because the last storm missed you doesn’t mean that the next hurricane, blizzard or flood won’t come your way. Where we live in New Hampshire, we’re pretty much out of the path of major hurricanes, and tornadoes, mud slides, wildfires and floods are rare. We thought we were pretty safe until we had an ice storm and lost power for 11 days.

What are the most important ways to prepare for a disaster? 

Don’t wait to sit down with your family and review “what if” scenarios. Do it now.  Create a plan for getting out of town if an evacuation is called. Decide how you will contact each other and where you will meet if you get separated. Locate your closest shelter. You also don’t want to forget your pets. For your peace of mind, make sure their safety is included in your plan.

While it’s a good idea to download apps for governmental agencies, power companies, weather services and accommodations ahead of time, I also suggest you create an old-fashioned binder. Print preparedness checklists, regional maps and key family and friend contact information. Remember that cell phones are dependent on power and Wi-Fi, so all of those great apps and your contact list will disappear if the screen goes blank. Do you actually know your kid’s phone number by heart?

What should our readers have on hand in case of a disaster?

I recommend that you have two kits ready that you check twice a year. Replenish expired food and first aid supplies, add fresh batteries to your lights and update your binder during these checks. Depending on the situation, you will need to “Bug Out” or “Shelter in Place.”  Your Bug-Out Bag should be portable and light enough to grab when you are headed out the door. It should have the portable essentials to get you to a safe place. The Shelter-In-Place Kit is for situations when you are safer in your home. This kit should be kept in a basement or interior room. At UST, we talk a lot about “The 10 Essentials” for everyday survival situations: first aid, lighting, navigation, hydration, nutrition, signaling, fire, tools, shelter and protective gear. 

Why is it important for families and business owners to have a concrete disaster plan?

When the Weather Channel is getting more page views than NetFlix, it’s too late to gather all these essentials, and I guarantee the shelves at grocery stores will be bare. Think of planning for a disaster as life insurance. We feel a lot better if our family is prepared for the worst, even though it takes some time and money up front. Don’t be complacent. It could happen to you.

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Scott Sanderson

Director of Crisis Management, Albertsons Companies

“By developing an atmosphere of collaboration, you work more efficiently as a team and can quickly react to the uncertainties that each event presents.”

What is one of the biggest risks when it comes to a disaster?

Our biggest risk is not being able to serve the communities that have supported us over the years. After a disaster, the items that people need most are food, water and medicine, so it is critical that we quickly reopen our stores. For our business, it is essential that before the event, we have recovery plans in place to replenish our shelves and serve our customers. Every one of our recovery plans begins with our employees. We make sure that we have updated phone numbers so we can quickly locate them and assess their personal needs. Once that occurs, they feel comfortable returning to work and serving our customers.

What are the most important ways to prepare for a disaster?

Take stock of your most important resources and make every effort to protect them. In business, you have facilities, products and data. Establish a contingency plan if some or all of those assets are lost or compromised. More importantly, create a safety and communications plan for your employees and practice it frequently. How will you know if your team is safe? Do you have their cell numbers, addresses and emergency contacts? Task someone or a group of employees with making those calls and assessing the immediate needs of your team.

What should our readers have on hand in case of a disaster?

The American Red Cross has comprehensive online emergency preparedness checklists for individuals and families, which are very important. However, for businesses, it is critical that you also foster a culture that openly discusses risk management and disaster recovery plans. By developing an atmosphere of collaboration, you work more efficiently as a team and can quickly react to the uncertainties that each event presents.

Why is it important for families and business owners to have a concrete disaster plan?

When a disaster strikes, it is too late to react efficiently. At that point, fear and panic take over and rational thinking takes a back seat. Albertsons Companies has 2,300-plus stores across the U.S., which means people in those communities rely on us for food, prescription medicine, first-aid supplies and other products that are needed daily. Having a carefully planned disaster strategy and recovery plan is critical, not just for the business, but for the people who expect their workplace and their favorite supermarket to be there after the crisis.

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Rob Carter

SVP Solutions Engineering, TierPoint

“We are in the era of always-on, and if you aren’t there, customers will use someone else, or start looking for someone else.”

What is one of the biggest risks when it comes to a disaster?  

Lack of planning is at the top of the list. According to industry research, only 18% of businesses say they are “very prepared” for a disaster.   With advances in virtualization and cloud technologies, advanced disaster recovery plans are well within reach. Virtual machines and cloud strategies have greatly reduced capital expenditures, while automated tools reduce error and improve recovery time. 

What are the most important ways to prepare for a disaster?

First, back up your systems and data in multiple geographies and/or clouds.  Remember the old adage: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket; in this case, one area or cloud. Second, think about your suppliers and business partners.  What are their business continuity plans?  You can have a great plan that covers the systems you control, but what about other dependencies outside your control?  Think through every element; document everything; walk through every step, with every party, using mock disasters to train people.  Take a page from sports teams: practice and anticipate.

What should our readers have on hand in case of a disaster?

Maintain multiple copies of your business continuity plan and make sure it’s kept current, with in-depth contact information and instructions for different scenarios.  Also, don’t rely entirely on electronic records; even with advanced systems that support a recovery time objective of minutes, you have to start somewhere, and a hard copy of key contacts may be all you have during those critical minutes. Also, don’t forget to establish a primary and secondary, pre-determined emergency conference bridge, maintained in the phones and account records of every person or company that’s required to assist at the time of disaster.

Why is it important for businesses to have a concrete disaster plan?

Ask yourself what an hour or day of downtime costs?  What’s the impact of not being available or able to function effectively?  What would it cost your business, employees, and customers?  We are in the era of always-on, and if you aren’t there, customers will use someone else, or start looking for someone else. It is just good business practice and table stakes in this day and age.

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Josh Richardson

Director of Marketing, Viqua

“I can’t emphasize it enough: at least seven days’ worth of food and safe drinking water… Those are probably the most crucial supplies you can have in case of a disaster.”

What is one of the biggest risks when it comes to a disaster?

One of the biggest risks is losing access to one or more of the necessities: food, water, and shelter. Water figures prominently in natural disasters both as a cause and as an effect. Heavy rain, floods, hurricanes, and storm surges can damage infrastructure or overwhelm treatment facilities. Private water sources can become flooded, introducing contaminated surface water or run-off. Also, when the surrounding soil is saturated and flooded, septic systems are susceptible to failing. The wastewater will not be treated and will become another source of pollution.

Bacteria and viruses in water cannot be detected with the senses. In fact, a contaminated water supply may look no different than it did beforehand. Homeowners can protect their own water supply by installing a whole-home water treatment system that includes UV disinfection. Then, any water stored in preparation for an emergency will be free from pathogens, and as long as the system is powered, treated water can be consumed afterwards as well.

What are the most important ways to prepare for a disaster?

Not that you shouldn’t have food stored for an emergency, but a person can survive 21-40 days without food. Water, however, is far more crucial to survival. An average, healthy adult can only survive a week, at most, without clean water to drink, while children, the elderly, and the chronically ill will succumb much sooner. Fill re-usable, portable containers with safe, UV-disinfected tap water and keep them in a safe place. You can also fill zip-lock bags and freeze them in advance. Place these in your refrigerator to protect food supplies should you lose power. After these melt, you can drink the water.

If you have an emergency generator, make sure it’s connected to your water disinfection system so that you can continue to have access to clean, safe drinking water throughout any disaster.

What should our readers have on hand in case of a disaster?

I can’t emphasize it enough: at least seven days’ worth of food and safe drinking water. If you average 1-2 gallons of clean water per person per day (and per pet), that’s a good place to start. Those are probably the most crucial supplies you can have in case of a disaster.

Why is it important for families or business owners to have a concrete disaster plan?

Nobody wants to think it will happen to them, but with the effects of changing weather patterns – more frequent development of El Niño and La Niña systems, raging wildfires, hurricanes, tornados, torrential rains and flooding – the odds of being impacted by a natural disaster are steadily rising. And if you don’t make a plan until you’re experiencing wide-spread flooding, it’s too late.

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Ken Tolson

U.S. Property & Casualty CEO, Crawford & Company

“A defined business continuity plan, combined with proper insurance coverage, is essential in impacting successful recovery following a disaster.”

What is one of the biggest risks when it comes to a disaster?

Failing to plan. Whether you are a homeowner or a business owner, having adequate insurance policies to protect your assets is important. Too frequently, homeowners and business owners fail to review their insurance policies on a periodic basis to make sure they still provide the coverage needed. Many homeowners purchase an insurance policy when they buy a new home and don’t consider appreciation over time or the impact of a renovation. Policies should be reviewed at least annually to help ensure that you purchase the right coverage so you have the right resources to rebuild in the event of a loss.      

What are the most important ways to prepare for a disaster?

Disasters disrupt hundreds of thousands of lives every year. As part of your preparation, know the risks in your area. Purchase insurance, including flood insurance, which is not part of your homeowner’s policy. Assemble a disaster supplies kit and develop a plan on what you will do in each type of emergency. Follow the advice of officials in charge of the event.  If you are not evacuated, have a plan to be self-sufficient for at least three days. Finally, know where in the community you can turn to for help or for volunteering. Each disaster has lasting effects, both on people and property, and preparedness is essential for personal safety and to mitigate risks. 

What should our readers have on hand in case of a disaster?

Homeowners in catastrophe-prone areas should have a good supply of water, non-perishable food, a supply of prescription medications, a first aid kit, tools and other supplies such as candles, a flashlight, extra batteries, matches in a waterproof container, a manual can opener, a battery-operated radio, extra cell phone chargers, durable clothes and cash. In addition, it’s important to have documentation, like you driver’s license, passport, social security card, a list of important phone numbers, contracts, deeds and your insurance policy. 
Why is it important for business owners to have a concrete disaster plan?

No part of the country is immune to natural disasters. Companies today face an unprecedented number of exposures from weather and man-made events. Recovery from a disaster can present unexpected challenges that affect financial recovery. Conducting a business continuity assessment is important in allowing business owners to understand areas of vulnerability. Business continuity planning involves identifying potential risks and how those risks will affect operations, and implementing safeguards, or procedures, to mitigate those risks. Testing procedures to validate that they work is important, as are scheduled reviews of the plan to make sure it is up to date.

A defined business continuity plan, combined with proper insurance coverage, is essential in impacting successful recovery following a disaster. Taking these steps to prepare a concrete business continuity plan is one of the best investments a company can make.   

Staff, [email protected]   

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