hail Colorado

The severe storm in the early hours of Wednesday left behind hail damage to vehicles and structures in El Paso County — and a reminder that we should be preparing for events that can strike without warning.

The role of businesses in preparedness, response and recovery is crucial, and the state of Colorado is trying to make it easier for business owners to get involved.

Businesses are in a great position to help communities recover from disasters, said Micki Trost, strategic communications director at the Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Management. The division is part of the Colorado Department of Public Safety.

The division is working with the Colorado Emergency Preparedness Partnership (CEPP), a nonprofit organization that helps the state do joint emergency planning, to create the Business Emergency Operations Center, an online platform that will facilitate communications and operational coordination between the private sector and the state during a disaster, emergency of planned special event.

The center’s website will provide critical, current information businesses need to make decisions about employee safety and business continuity; communicate resource requests to the business network and facilitate deployment of available business resources that affected communities and other businesses need; and help the state prioritize restoration after an event.

Businesses can provide key resources during and after disasters, from heavy equipment, trucks and volunteers to crates of bottled water. Through the website, businesses can arrange to contract with the state to provide these assets or can agree to donate them.

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That’s just the final step in a process that begins with preparedness, said Patricia Williams, executive director of the Colorado Emergency Preparedness Partnership.

Before joining the partnership in 2015, Williams worked with the Denver Office of Emergency Management.

“One of the gaps I recognized while I was there was the fact that in our business community, some folks have money and people to do preparedness work and others don’t,” she said. “There is no standardization or real requirements across the state for them to do so unless the company has requirements. The closest we come is the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requirement that if you have 10 or more employees, you’re required to have an emergency action plan.”

Businesses have to know what to do in case of fire, working with chemicals and other hazards — “there are a lot of things they tell us to do, but nobody tells us how to do it,” Williams said. “If you don’t have established procedures ahead of time, you’re making it up on the fly.”

The Business Emergency Operations Center is just getting started and will officially launch in September with a database that allows businesses to interact with state government on response and recovery needs.

It also provides information about how to get information such as weather forecasts, road closures and other consequences of disaster events.

Eventually, the site will be much more — a central source for businesses regarding all aspects of planning, preparedness, response and recovery to disasters.

“It’s going to be a pretty robust program, with training and outreach to businesses,” Williams said.

In the meantime, training, workshops, education and resources are available through CEPP to help business and communities raise emergency preparedness levels. 

For example, in 2017, CEPP conducted several trainings and speaking engagements on how to prepare organizations for disasters. This year, the organization is continuing to conduct free preparedness programs around the state.

This month, CEPP is presenting workshops on chemical safety in Arapahoe and Doubles counties and the city of Aurora.

CEPP leads the Colorado Preparedness Coalition, composed of representatives of state and federal safety and emergency management organizations who meet monthly to plan quarterly preparedness trainings.

CEPP also leads a private sector subcommittee that reports to the state’s Homeland Security Advisory Committee and meets quarterly to work on private sector issues of concern such as credentialing, information sharing and re-entry programs for businesses.

The subcommittee is composed of representatives of businesses including Safeway, Target, Walmart, McKesson, Comcast, CenturyLink, AT&T, XCEL and several trade organizations.

The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment is another resource for planning and training employees to respond to events such as active shooter and mass shooting incidents, biological and chemical threats, epidemics, natural disasters and severe weather.

The Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Management website also contains a wealth of information, including an electronic version of the State Emergency Response Guide. The guide offers quick reference procedures for handling an emergency situation in the workplace and is a useful planning tool.

Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association, said her organization supports the establishment of the Business Emergency Operations Center.

“When individual businesses are prepared and training their employees, there’s a trickle-down effect,” Walker said. “Everyone wants to be prepared.”

Learn more about the Business Emergency Operations Center in the June 15 edition of the Business Journal.