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Preparing for resilience in disasters

Natural disasters like floods and fires are major disruptions for businesses, but they don’t have to be catastrophic. File photo.

With large-scale disasters from coast to coast fresh on the minds of many, the importance of emergency preparedness is especially pertinent.

Most recently, for example, more than 20,600 structures were collectively destroyed or damaged in the Camp and Woolsey fires in California, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire. The death toll for the Camp Fire is at 86 people and three for the Woolsey Fire.

Not only are these large-scale disasters dangerous, but costly. The economic impact of the recent California fires is still being calculated, but the current price tag for property losses alone was estimated to be as high as $19 million, according to analytics company CoreLogic.

For business owners and managers, there’s a responsibility for the safety of individuals, as well as a responsibility to ensure the property and staff can recover as quickly as possible after a disaster. The idea of being prepared to minimize damage and recover is often described in emergency preparedness circles as “resiliency,” says Paul “Crash” Marusich, emergency planner for Ada County Emergency Management.

“At the end of the day, as a community, you can’t stop it (an emergency) from happening. Most of the time you can’t prevent 100 percent of what’s going to occur in a disaster, but you can make yourself as resilient as possible,” Marusich says.

Personal Preparedness

First and foremost, business owners and managers should make sure they are personally prepared for an emergency event, as well as any staff, Marusich says. That “base level” of preparedness is important to keeping a business running.

There are plenty of resources available, Marusich says. You can take classes on emergency preparedness, compile a 72-hour kit, research the recent history of disasters in your area and attend meetings of local emergency planning committees. Marusich adds that Ada County Emergency Management offers classes on disaster resiliency for just about any group that asks for training.

Knowing the most common disasters in your area is key to preparation, says Elizabeth Duncan, public information officer for the Idaho Office of Emergency Management. Such risks can be identified at the state and local level.

“Each state identifies the most likely threats, hazards and risks facing the population in those areas,” Duncan says. “In Idaho the top threats we face are floods, fires and earthquakes. Incidentally, we are the eighth most seismically active state in the country.”

Duncan says county emergency managers can be an important point of contact. County emergency managers know the specific local hazards and geographic areas prone to disaster. In some cases, mitigation assessments of local geographic hazards and other resources can be found online.

Idaho experiences a variety of natural disasters, including wildfires. File photo.

Community Preparedness

Ensuring you are resilient to a disaster involves ensuring your community is also prepared, Marusich notes. Local planning committees meet with stakeholders in the business community, first responders, local governments, health, media and more to plan for emergency response.

The various elements of preparing your property or business for a disaster — whether it’s building codes, communications or transportation — are often interconnected with the rest of the community, Marusich says.

“It’s all those different kinds of elements that come together, many of them dependent on the private sector, including supply lines coming in for groceries and water and everything else — how you keep the roads open — it’s really all an interconnected thing,” Marusich says. “And that’s why you’re seeing a lot more of that term ‘resilience,’ because that spans not just our response to a disaster, but it goes before that.”


Creating an Emergency Plan

An established safety plan for your property is critical to being prepared, according to the Building Owners and Managers Association International (BOMA). BOMA advises its members to keep an updated comprehensive emergency preparedness plan that is specific to each building they own or manage. provides training and tips on how to prepare an emergency response plan for your business or property:

●      Set milestones (performance objectives) for emergency preparedness.

●      Conduct a risk assessment to determine hazard or threat scenarios.

●      Assess your resources, including people, systems and equipment.This includes internal and external resources.

●      Talk with local public emergency services.

●      Determine if there are any regulations you need to adhere to when it comes to emergency response.

About Lis Stewart