Although hurricane season begins June 1, small and midsized businesses are never too early to plan for disaster. That was the sentiment from Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District Capt. Ron Martin at Charley's Boathouse Grill last Thursday morning.
Speaking to Greater Fort Myers Beach Area Chamber of Commerce business members, Martin offered key statistics and laid out a plan of action in case of emergency. Such planning should not just be centered on hurricane season, according to the Beach district's fire marshal.
"Disaster planning is a generalized guideline for preparedness to prepare your businesses and employees for an all-hazard environment from hurricanes to tornados to power outages to God-forbid a terrorist attack or something along those lines," he said.
Capt. Ron Martin of the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District speak about the importance of disaster planning at the Greater Fort Myers Beach Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting at Charley’s Boathouse Grill last Thursday morning.
Martin is completing his Master degree in Homeland Security and Emergency Management. His studies have stated small to midsize businesses to do not fair well during and after a disaster and provided statistics to bolster his concerns.
"According to the institute for business and home safety, 25 percent of all small businesses never recover from a disaster. Twenty-five percent who reopened two years post disaster were working with a 42-percent smaller staff and significantly reduced revenue streams," he said. "The chief source of business failure in the post-disaster and recovery phase is critical loss of data."
Small businesses are the fiber of Fort Myers Beach and make up 90 percent of business on the island. Martin made a plea to the chamber business community to join the fire district in becoming stewards for disaster preparedness.
"Small- and medium-size business owners are really the drivers for job creation and economic prosperity. It is very important to get these business owners engaged in a discussion on taking steps to prepare themselves and their business as well as their employees," said Martin. "We learned in (Hurricane) Katrina and 9-11 that the sooner employees have a plan and recover, the sooner your doors open up for business."
Small businesses are critical in a community's recovery process. The steps in disaster management include preparedness (develop a plan, assess risk, identify key stakeholders); mitigation (address the risk, exercise emergency action plan, communicate); response (actions to take once event is over); and recovery (ongoing process after event to reestablish normalcy).
"Once the immediate life threats are addressed, we need you folks to start restoring business. It is vitally important for you to open quickly after a disaster for the community's mental health and for the victims affected," said Martin. "Routine is important for human beings."
The fire marshal stated 10 days is the benchmark after a disaster.
"If a small- to medium-size business does not open their doors 10 days after an event occurs, most do not open their doors ever again," said Martin. "Seventy-five percent that do not have continuity plans fail three years after a disaster."
The most common reason for not reopening post-disaster is loss of data, including tax records, human resource records, vendor records, contracts and employee contact information.
"Most small businesses say they do not have the time to back up their data. When you lose that data, unfortunately you are affecting your business to the point that you may not reopen again," said Martin. "So, make time for it."
Next to data, employees were listed as the most valuable business asset.
"Your employees know your business and customers better than you do," he said. "Involve them in planning for an emergency."
Martin also urged the chamber business members to establish first aid stations and an employee safety program. The Beach Fire District provides free CPR classes when enough community members call and express a need. Call 590-4200 to learn more.
"Teach people to take care of themselves, and they will take better care of themselves," he said. "When a disaster strikes, emergency responders are victims too. That's why it is necessary to make plans. You need to be self-sufficient for up to 72 hours. It's not that we don't want to help you; we may not be able to help you.
"Remember lack of planning will lead to failure," Martin said.