Emergency readiness seminar draws few responders

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Survival was the theme of a public form Thursday designed to help business owners maintain continuity and stability in the face of natural or manmade disaster.

Anticipating, but not limited to, the beginning of hurricane season, the Terrebonne Parish Office of Emergency Management, along with the Terrebonne Economic Development Authority, hosted an emergency preparedness seminar, specifically designed to address needs associated with businesses.

The meeting had nothing to do with stock market trends, the value of manufacturers or economic indicators. It had everything to do with the one element neither industrialist nor entrepreneurs can control – the weather.

A conference room prepared to seat 200 at the Houma-Terrebonne Civic Center saw 30 attendees, 15 of whom were not associated with the program’s presenters.

During the session, presentations were made on evacuation requirements, securing reentry badges, protecting real estate, maintaining communications with employees and clients, and even protecting computer files.

“The question is, ‘Is your business prepared to survive?’” Terrebonne Parish Emergency Preparedness Director Earl Eues said. “Can you survive two weeks without your office, or your shop or your warehouse?”

Eues said the population increase experienced in Terrebonne Parish during the past decade actually makes survival a greater challenge. He said time invested in readiness saves efforts when it comes to recovery.

“Up to 40 percent of businesses hit by a natural disaster never reopen,” Eues said. He explained that customers outside an impacted area might not understand delays caused by storm or other damage and would willingly switch service and loyalty to a competitor.

“They want to know their supply chain is not going to be interrupted,” he said. “Insurance will not pay for everything, and they will not replace customers.”

Stephenson Disaster Management Institute representative Margaret Pierce told those in attendance about planning techniques and the necessity to know what to do before disaster strikes.

Pierce introduced the Louisiana Business Emergency Operation Center to those in attendance as an information resource available to them.

“The past year has been eventful in disaster, but luckily Louisiana has been able to skirt most of that,” Pierce said. “When you think about all the regions hit by disaster, think about how many businesses are parts of those groups. Many are struggling … because they didn’t have a plan or just thought they had a plan.”

Pierce admitted that the BEOC has not been tested and is in the process of becoming fully activated as a networking center for businesses impacted by natural disaster.

The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security Coordinator Pam Roussel joined in the presentation by reinforcing common themes of risk and readiness. “We know weather and accidents,” she said. “Then you got technology issues.”

Roussel said preparing risk management and understanding the impact of risks helps in developing an emergency plan. “Try to focus on the biggest impacts and address those.” she said. “[Ask if] you can operate without technology, a limited supply chain, or limited cash flow. There are tools [and] all it takes is time to develop a plan. It is worth your investment.”

Disaster preparedness coordinators and industrial leaders worry that not everyone is getting the message, and won’t until it is too late.

“After the storm comes in and we return to the area, the very first thing we want is for our businesses to get up and running,” Terrebonne Parish President Michel Claudet said in response to the seminar’s content. “The sooner people get back to a normal routine – well, that is exactly what we need to happen.”

Eues said his office is working with business to help establish continuity. He explained the resources his office has to coordinate disaster management and keep businesses in contact with their needed resources.

[Turnout] was lower than we were expecting,” Eues said. “I think these people will let others know about the information they received and we will get a bigger turnout next time.”

Terrebonne Parish President Michel Claudet said the low attendance was unfortunate but typical. “Until there is a storm in the Gulf it doesn’t become an urgent matter [for many people] until that time.”

A second business preparedness seminar has been scheduled to take place at the Houma-Terrebonne Civic Center on July 26.