Business Emergency Operations Center aids in disaster recovery

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If — or when — the Pikes Peak region experiences another disastrous fire or flood, how would you be involved in the recovery? What could you do to help?

That’s something the Colorado Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Management would like businesses to think about.

After the 2012 Waldo Canyon wildfire, the 2013 Black Forest fire and flooding in 2013 that affected many Colorado locations, numerous businesses wanted to assist, but there was no central clearinghouse within the state’s emergency operations to find out the best way to help.

“We are now in the process of creating a Business Emergency Operations Center at the state level that will make those connections,” said Patricia Williams, executive director of the Colorado Emergency Preparedness Partnership.

The partnership, a nonprofit organization, and the Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Management are building an online platform that will make it easier for businesses to donate resources, as well as to find them when they are needed.

A website (colorado.gov/cobeoc) has been created to provide businesses information. It is up and running, though still in beta, and is being used to match up requests for emergency aid with resources in connection with the 416 wildfire near Durango.

The BEOC website provides resources and connects businesses to organizations such as Help Colorado Now, which facilitates financial contributions and in-kind donations of goods and services, and a variety of recovery resources, from the Colorado Mitigation and Recovery website to FEMA’s Public Assistance Grant Program.

The site also connects businesses and emergency managers through a database, called CO-ASSIST (Coloradans Available to Assist and Support Incidents Today).

It includes a preliminary damage assessment survey form where businesses can provide information to be shared among state and local agencies identifying appropriate disaster-relief programs. The assessment will help the state determine when relief services for businesses should be activated.

The BEOC will facilitate exchanges of information so business can make sound decisions related to operations, customer and employee safety, and communications.

Working together to rebuild

Previous disasters have taught emergency management administrators that when businesses, government, organizations and citizens work together, the result is faster recovery.

“We definitely rely on our private partners to help in rebuilding” after a disaster, said Micki Trost, strategic communications director for the Department of Public Safety Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Management. “They have key resources to help.”

The new platform will enable businesses to let emergency planners know what resources — from sandbags to IT services — they can contribute. The state then could purchase the sandbags or contract to get IT fixes up and running.

“They can choose to be a corporate donor or volunteer, or to contract their resources,” Trost said. “Whichever method they choose, we can make it work.”

Contributions during the 2012 and 2013 disasters were mostly done at the local level, Trost said. The statewide platform can help affected communities find contributions from large corporations, which could donate bulk items like bottled water, as well as small and medium-sized businesses that could help with specific needs.

“Every disaster is different, so needs are constantly changing,” Trost said. “That’s why we need to formalize the process through the Business Emergency Operations Center.”

The cloud-based database will allow local emergency managers to input their needs and match those to what private-sector partners have available.

“We hope to have it up and running by the first of September,” Trost said.

The division also has hired Robyn Knappe to formulate a strategic plan to engage businesses.

“We want this to be an outlet to contribute to recovery,” Knappe said. “When people utilize the vendors on the site, it helps build their businesses and puts money back into the economy.”

PRIVATE SECTOR SUBCOMMITTEE

The Colorado Emergency Preparedness Partnership runs a private sector subcommittee that reports to the Homeland Security and All-Hazards Senior Advisory Committee, a 21-member group established in 2012 that is chaired by the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Safety. Members of the subcommittee, which has been meeting for three years, represent companies that do business throughout Colorado.

“We work on issues such as re-entry — how to get back into buildings after a flood or fire to keep businesses running,” Williams said. “Nothing like this exists at the local level right now. The state is going to provide this service for local governments to use as well.”

About two years ago, the subcommittee started researching what other states were doing to involve and support businesses and looked into business emergency operations centers.

“We worked to give [Homeland Security] possible solutions, and they agreed to do it,” Williams said.

When the platform is fully built out, it will be much more robust than the current fledgling database and include training and outreach to businesses.

“We are trying to work into the state’s training and education five-year plan,” Williams said. “Business had not been part of that in the past.”

The role of CEPP

The Colorado Emergency Preparedness Partnership was created in 2008, just prior to the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Its purpose was to connect the public and private sectors and ensure the business community was aware of planning efforts surrounding the convention.

After the convention, the partnership continued to promote joint emergency planning among the public, private and philanthropic sectors.

Most states have created public-private partnerships to help them do emergency planning, Williams said. Colorado’s CEPP is supported by private-sector companies, philanthropy and federal grants.

“I work with state and local emergency managers to figure out what the critical gaps are in planning and host trainings and workshops to close those gaps,” she said.

The Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association is represented on the board of CEPP.

“The state is really trying to bring the business community into preparedness and response,” said Carole Walker, executive director of the association. “Broadening that coalition of businesses being engaged in preparedness, response and recovery will make a huge difference in the ability of communities to recover, and in the cost of recovery. That’s why we’re so supportive of these efforts.”