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Be Prepared — What's to Lose?

To be ready for an emergency, there are more important preparations than duct tape.

That was the message of the Emergency Preparedness/Business Continuity Expo held last Friday at the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce. And, owner/operators of more than 80 businesses showed up to find out just what they need to do to survive in case of a disaster.

Under the aegis of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center (SBDC), representatives of the Red Cross, Alexandria Fire Department, Transportation and Environmental Services, insurance industry and information technology data protection services answered questions and distributed guidance materials to attendees over a four-hour time span.

Originally scheduled for Feb. 28, the Expo itself became a victim of an emergency now known as the Blizzard of 2003. "But, we ended up with 115 businesses preregistered on the new date," said Ruth Cope, SBDC small-business specialist.

"It's been so hard to get businesses to talk about this and take the necessary steps to protect themselves. I think they tend to view it as overwhelming," said William Reagan, director, SBDC.

"In the forefront of people's minds is personal danger. They don't really comprehend what could happen to their business in the event of an attack. Business leaders need to plan and discuss these matters with their employees. This is an ongoing process," he said.

"When we originally planned this event back in the late fall, nobody wanted to come, so we had to cancel it. But, when the alert increased, so did the interest. After this we're going to look at the entire spectrum of actions," Reagan assured.

ONE OF THE MOST critical elements in a modern business and one of the most vulnerable is the database. "A great percentage of businesses that lose their data don't survive," Reagan warned.

Backing up that fact was David Walsh, head of walshnet Information Technology based in Alexandria. "It's necessary for business owners to put particular emphasis on data management. Know where the data is stored. Computers can't find it for you," he said.

In a paper he distributed at the Expo, Walsh wrote, "Backing up your business' data is one of the most commonly overlooked and most important functions of a computer system. From single computers in a home office, to a large network ... backup and restoration of data is both something you hope to never need, but critical" for disaster recovery.

"The key for any small business is defining what is critical," Walsh said. He cited the following low-cost options for backup and storage: floppies, CD burners, zip drives, tape backup systems and online storage.

He also cautioned about having everything on-site. It is important to keep some copies off-site, according to Walsh. "Backup tapes do a business no good if they are inside a destroyed or burned-out building," he said.

Complementing his advice was that of Peggy Barr, CIC, Danaher Insurance, Annandale. As an independent insurance agency, Danaher works with a range of insurance carriers. "We try to point out to small businesses the various things they need to be aware of in case of an emergency," Barr explained. "Things like what exactly does your insurance cover and what doesn't it cover. The necessity to have a good credit relationship with the bank prior to any emergency. Is there a contingency plan in place?" she counseled.

One of her handouts was a "Notice of Terrorism Insurance Coverage." It noted, "Under the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002, effective Nov. 26, 2002, you have a right to purchase insurance coverage for losses arising out of acts of terrorism."

CRITICAL TO THIS coverage is the terminology "certified act of terrorism," the leaflet stated. This is defined as "any act that is certified by the Secretary of the Treasury, in concurrence with the Secretary of State, and the Attorney General ... to be an act of terrorism."

According to Danaher, a small-business owner needs to be concerned "about several aspects of insurance coverage" to keep the business operative following an emergency. They are as follows:

* Business shutdown factors, such as the loss of a key supplier or customer;

* Records and data processing system concerns;

* Business continuation factors like workers’ compensation and loss of key employees; and

* Insurance matters such as policy exclusions, deductibles, waiting periods, co-insurance, and whether terrorist coverage is available and/or advisable.

Critical to any preparedness evaluation, either personal or business, is advice and counseling from the fire and police departments. Buttressing that fact to Expo attendees were emergency preparedness officers Capt. John North and Sgt. Joseph Watson, of the Alexandria Fire Department.

"I've been doing civilian awareness since November 2001," Watson said. "Now we are joining with the police department to add a continuity of operations for businesses."

North confirmed, "We've had six groups just recently that have scheduled or plan to schedule lectures on emergency preparedness. We are concentrating on getting out a lot of information and making a lot of contacts."

IN ANY EMERGENCY situation there is the need for an evacuation plan. That's were Shauna Brown, Rideshare coordinator, Alexandria Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, comes in.

"The first job of employers is to determine where employees live in proximity to one another. This can make an evacuation more efficient. If there is an order to evacuate, the most efficient and effective plan is to super-car or van-pool," she said.

"The city is part of Commuter Connections, which operates under the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. But, we also are encouraging employers to consider telecommuting. This would cut down on the number of vehicles on the road at all times," Brown insisted.

One of the most sought-after products at the Expo was the "Emergency Preparedness Tool Kit" of the American Red Cross. "It's a step-by-step guide on how to develop site-specific emergency responses and organize disaster supplies," explained Barbara Burns, Tool Kit project manager, National Capital Area Chapter.

The Tool Kit is actually a five-part manual, which explains the roles for key personnel in any business under an emergency alert situation. Those who preregistered for the Expo received a free Tool Kit.

The manual is divided into descriptions and instructions for the following jobs within a business: emergency response deputy, operations shutdown coordinator, emergency response director, first aid coordinator, and emergency communications coordinator.

"There has been a lot of interest in our kits," said Kellianne Sheridan, Alexandria Chapter of the American Red Cross. "We have tried to gear them to personal as well as business use." In addition to templates and checklists, the kits contain a compact emergency broadcast radio/flashlight and pouch to store important documents.

The free open house was sponsored by Alexandria-based Cavelier Business Communications, a full-service local telephone company. Other participants included Charles McCrory, Alexandria's emergency management coordinator, and Victoria Melvin, outreach worker and transitions coach, Alexandria Community Resilience.