I've been following the news accounts of the devastating tornadoes, floods and wildfires in different parts of the country, and I've been thankful that I live in Philadelphia, where we rarely see such natural disasters.
But having traveled extensively since my early days in the U.S. Navy, I've witnessed the wrath of hurricanes, monsoon rains, tropical storms, North Sea winter storms, fires, and other natural calamities.
I recall the terrible floods that afflicted Central Pennsylvania in 1972. After my first Navy tour of duty I attended a summer semester at Penn State University at the main campus in State College, PA. I remember being diverted all over the area by the Pennsylvania National Guard, as many roads and highways were washed out. We made it to Penn State, but it took some time, and we passed many damaged homes, cars, and businesses.
So it was with some interest that I took note of the beginning of the Atlantic Hurricane Season on June 1st. I also took note of the urging of the U.S. Small Business Administration's (SBA) urging of the public to develop an emergency plan before a natural -- or unnatural -- disaster hits your home and business.
"Every threat, from wind storms, flood and wildfires, to power outages and computer system failures, reminds us to be proactive when it comes to planning strategies to survive a disaster and recover quickly," said SBA Deputy Administrator Jovita Carranza. "The catastrophic events of the last few years demonstrate the need for preparedness at the individual level, to diminish the risk to life and property."
SBA reports that they stand ready to help communities recover in the aftermath of a disaster. According to the SBA, following the Gulf Coast Hurricanes of 2005, they approved more than $5 billion in disaster loans to 102,700 homeowners and renters. They also approved $1.6 billion in disaster loans to area businesses.
In the past two years the SBA has been in preparation to respond to major disasters by reengineering the Disaster Assistance program with a significant focus on customer service, direct accountability, and new technologies that have allowed the SBA to quadruple their processing ability. Last June, the SBA completed its Disaster Recovery Plan, which includes procedures to better handle future catastrophic disasters, and they have begun to testing the plan through simulations conducted with outside experts.
Planning and drilling through simulations is the Navy's tried-and-true system, and I know that it worked in my day and it continues to work for the Navy today. When a ship is at sea and a fire breaks out aboard, you don't call 911 for the fire department to come. The ship's crew is the fire department - and every other emergency response team -- so we planned, trained and held countless drills. When a disaster happens, every sailor, from the lowest ranking seaman to the admiral, knows his or her role in the disaster response and acts accordingly.
Disasters occur in all seasons, and in all places, so I'd like to pass on the SBA's disaster preparedness ideas for homes and businesses. Your home or business plan should include an evacuation route to an established meeting area. Ensure that all family members and employees know and understand your plan beforehand. (Often a disaster strikes without much warning). Keep your emergency telephone numbers handy. Business owners should designate a contact person to communicate with other employees, customers and vendors. Ask an out-of-state friend or family member to be your "post-disaster" point of contact. This person can be the person to call to provide information on your safety and whereabouts.
The SBA recommends that you have adequate insurance. Disaster preparedness begins with having, at the very least, enough insurance to rebuild your home or business. Homeowners and business owners should review their policies to see what is and what isn't covered. Businesses should consider "business interruption insurance," which helps cover operating coasts during the post-disaster shutdown period. Flood insurance is essential. (To find out more about the National Flood Insurance Program, go to www.floodsmart.gov).
The SBA recommends that you make copies of your important documents. It's a good idea to back up vital records and information saved on computer hard drives, and store that information at a distant offsite location. You can store your copies of documents and CDs in fire-proof safe deposit boxes offsite.
Remember that it is vital to protect your windows, doors and roofing. Install impact-resistant window and door systems, or simply install plywood shutters before a storm hits your area. Hire a professional to evaluate your roof to ensure that it can weather a major storm.
You should also have on hand a "Disaster Survival Kit," which consists of the following:
- Portable radio
- Extra batteries
- First aid kit
- Non-perishable packaged and canned food
- Bottled water
- Basic tool kit
- Plastic bags
- Disposable camera (to take photos of property damage after the disaster)
As I learned in the Navy and my many years coordinating security and safety programs for the Defense Department, it pays to have a disaster plan. It also pays for everyone to know the plan, and be able to act according to the plan, if and when a disaster happens to strike.
You can learn more about developing a disaster plan by visiting www.ready.gov