GEMA’s English says Businesses need to prepare for the worst

By Guest Columnist CHARLEY ENGLISH, director of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and Homeland Security

Thirty percent of your employees don’t show up for work one day. What would you do? Would you close for business? Try to make it with a skeleton staff? And how would either of these choices impact your bottom line? Now imagine that those same employees – or more – were unable to get to work for three days or more.


It’s a scenario that most business owners don’t think will happen to them, and, if you are fortunate, it won’t. But it’s an understatement to say that when a tornado struck downtown Atlanta in March 2008 that people were a bit surprised. Most had never expected a tornado to follow a path down some of the city’s major thoroughfares. But that’s exactly what happened.

Recently I met with the members of Georgia’s Homeland Security Task Force. One of the topics was the potential impact of H1N1 virus on the state over the coming months. As you’ve likely seen in the news, Georgia recently suffered its first fatality from H1N1. The virus has remained with us through the summer, and officials with Georgia’s Public Health Department warned that with fall approaching, an increase in infection rates is expected.

My goal here is not to cause a panic – quite the opposite. While weather-related emergencies and pandemics can wreak havoc on both your personal and business life, you can mitigate the potential damage by being prepared.

Business continuity planning is one area where I believe most business owners have the best of intentions, but that quite often falls to the bottom of the list when payroll, sales and day-to-day operations take precedence. Whatever your reason, there’s never been a better time than now to get your business Ready. And don’t fall victim to some prevalent myths:

Myth #1: Disasters happen too infrequently to justify the costs and resources needed for planning.

Yes, large-scale disasters are rare, and many of us will complete our entire working lives without becoming personally involved in one. But think of continuity planning the same way you think of car, home and business insurance. You hope you never have to use it, but you’re very glad you have it when you need it. It’s an expensive mistake when you don’t. Reports estimate that the Atlanta tornado caused at least $500 million in damage.

Myth #2: Even if it happens, we’ll manage. We’re prepared “enough.”

It’s not surprising that many business owners think they are prepared, even if they aren’t. It’s a common theme across individuals and organizations. In fact, in a recent survey of Georgia residents, GEMA found that 79 percent of Georgians aren’t fully prepared to survive on their own for 72 hours after a large-scale emergency.

Business leaders need to know what it means to be prepared. It takes a comprehensive plan that is well communicated and understood by all employees.

Other considerations include identifying resources, assessing all types of hazards, verifying insurance coverage, securing networks and making sure that employees have access to Ready kits or emergency supplies that might be necessary during an emergency. With today’s available resources, business continuity planning can be quite simple, so there’s no reason not to take the necessary steps.

Myth #3: Only large businesses need a formal business continuity plan

The annual Business Continuity Survey conducted by AT&T reports that as company size increases, so does the likelihood that the business will have a plan: 88 percent of those with 500 or more employees have a business continuity plan, compared to 78 percent of those with 100 to 499 employees and 75 percent of those with fewer than 100 employees.

But disasters don’t discriminate. Small businesses are just as vulnerable to the path of a tornado, the winds of a hurricane, or even the bursting of a water pipe as a large business. Further, the impact will likely be more severe owing to the fact that they may not have the resources available as do larger companies.

Here at the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, we take emergency preparedness very seriously. Every day we work to protect our state and its residents from disasters, but we can’t do it alone.

September is National Preparedness Month, making it the perfect time to get your business prepared – for your bottom line, our state’s economy, and the future of your employees. Visit the Ready Georgia Web site ( for information and resources to get started.

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