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Simple Preparedness Practices Can Help Local Businesses Survive Disasters

Imagine waking up one morning and hearing on the news that there was a fire in the building where your business is located. That's exactly what happened in 2003 to Cynthia Leonard, owner of Sir Speedy in Providence. Leonard and her staff rushed to their office in downtown Providence to find that there was no electricity, no telephone, no computers, and a thick smoky toxic smell in the office.

"We had thought of other unexpected business interruptions such as a robbery or the start of a fire," said Leonard. "But we didn't have a plan for the aftermath of a fire, and honestly, we had not even given the scenario a thought. This situation literally stopped our business in its tracks. I tried to find my insurance agent's phone number, but my office was pitch black. I only had the small light on my key chain to find my way. We had definitely fallen victim to the 'it will never happen to me' syndrome."

Eight years later, Leonard returned to work after a long holiday weekend to discover that a burst water heater on the next floor had flooded and destroyed a brand new piece of equipment responsible for producing 60% of the company's print work. The water had also soaked completed print jobs and pallets of blank paper. There was standing water throughout the office space and there was a horrible smell in the office.

Fast forward to 2012. Leonard now has her insurance agent's phone number and her bank and other vital information stored in her phone. She has a copy of her insurance policies, leases, and equipment maintenance agreements at her home and at her office. She takes photos of any damages so that she can substantiate any insurance claims she has to file. Most importantly, she now uses a cloud-based storage and retrieval service for all the data and information stored on office computers. The system has been in place for the last two years, and on a daily basis, it automatically backs up every computer.

"Situations like the one Cynthia faced are all too common," said Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency (RIEMA) Executive Director Theresa C. Murray. "All businesses need to be ready to deal with emergencies and to get their business reopened as soon as possible. Unfortunately, a disaster or unexpected event can cripple a business that is caught unprepared."

But now, Rhode Island businesses have a resource to help. RIEMA's Business Emergency Operations Center (RIBEOC) started in March, and is designed to provide training, guidance, technical assistance, and resources for the State. RIBEOC can help business owners create continuity plans that address some human resource issues like telecommuting, early dismissal due to forecasted bad weather, or cyber security prevention techniques. In addition, best practices utilized by other states can be used as a model for business preparedness in Rhode Island. Individual success stories can benefit other businesses, regardless of their size.

On October 31, RIBEOC will host its first Business Continuity Conference. The conference is free and all business owners are encouraged to attend. The keynote speaker is Donna Childs, the former senior executive of the world's leading reinsurance company. Childs dealt with major disasters around the world on a daily basis, and lived in Manhattan during the terrorist attacks of September 11.

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