Preparation pays off
Many homeowners are armed with a game plan in case an emergency situation arises.
The drill includes storing water and first-aid, organizing exit strategies, and maintaining a list of important items that can be packed up at a moment’s notice.
Businesses should be equally prepared – if not more so – as a disastrous situation could allow minimal time to execute a complex evacuation plan as well as steps to ensure the successful resumption of business once the crisis has passed.
Catastrophes in recent years such as Hurricane Katrina and, closer to home, the La Conchita Landslide and Zaca Fire, have served as a reality check for both residents and businesses and the trials they may face in the midst and aftermath of a disaster.
That’s why in February, the San Luis Obispo Economic Vitality Corp. and the Goleta Partnership for Preparedness – including the Goleta Chamber of Commerce, City of Goleta and Red Cross – began promoting Ready, Respond, Recover, a disaster preparation program specifically targeting the region’s business community.
An Easy Answer
Disaster preparation seminars were held both in San Luis Obispo and on the South Coast.
Kristen Amyx, president and chief executive officer of the Goleta Chamber of Commerce, said about 100 area businesses have signed up for the program.
“I carried this book home with me over the weekend,” Amyx said, referring to the “Ready, Respond, Recover” handbook.
Some tips from the program, and Amyx, include:
• Lock drawers with personal documents so they can’t be accessed by strangers after an office has been vacated.
• Keep a list with important contact information including employees; key suppliers and vendors; gas, heating and hazardous materials companies; local media; the police department; and the company benefits administration.
• Prioritize your most important business functions and in which order you plan to resume those functions. Then choose an employee to be in charge of each function.
• Have a set recovery location for employees to meet if the office is inaccessible.
• Keep vital records with you, such as bank account numbers.
• Have a standing order for computer equipment that is updated every six months.
• Partner with another company to share office space in case of an emergency.
The chamber’s Web site offers a simple tool kit with 13 forms to fill out to help businesses prepare for an emergency.
The Partnership for Preparedness soon will initiate a monthly meeting featuring guest speakers on various topics related to disaster preparation.
At the meeting, organizers also will review portions of the “Ready, Respond, Recover” notebooks with attendees, offer a question-and-answer session, and talk with businesses about their own disaster preparation efforts.
“We’re so fortunate that this was a near miss,” Amyx said. “It was not completely painless in Goleta because of the power outages but we didn’t have businesses closed because of actual fire damage.”
It’s the Law
As part of its injury and illness prevention program, the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or Cal/OSHA, requires employers to have a set of rules and regulations to address safety issues in the workplace, said Doug Large, senior partner and managing partner of Archbald & Spray in Santa Barbara, a law firm emphasizing employment and labor law for management.
These issues include the potential for an emergency or natural disaster, such as a fire or earthquake.
“Many [businesses] probably don’t because they are smaller and aren’t aware of it,” Large said.
But according to Cal/OSHA spokesperson Dean Fryer, “Any business operating in the state of California has to have some sort of mechanism in place to address emergency and hazards in the workplace.
“Employers should have – and if they don’t have it, should develop – what to do in case of a major emergency or natural disaster,” Fryer said. “For example, in an earthquake or fire, what is the evacuation plan and how do they account for all employees?”
Large suggested keeping track of which employees are trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and designating an authority figure for each floor of a building to ensure an evacuation plan is executed properly.
Large also addressed an issue that has likely crossed the minds of many employees in danger of missing work: do employees still get paid if unable to work because of an evacuation or inability to access the office because of a natural disaster?
The short answer is no. However, there are exceptions to the rule.
Large said employees are commonly divided into two categories: exempt and non-exempt workers.
Exempt workers are generally employees that are paid a salary for performing a particular job and thus are exempt from overtime pay.
Non-exempt workers are paid by the hour worked.
Exempt employees typically get paid for a full week if they have worked anytime during that week, and for a full day if they have worked during that day. Therefore, if they must leave the office in case of an emergency, they will likely still get paid for the remainder of that week.
Non-exempt employees, however, are only required to be paid for actual time worked.
Still, Large said an employer may allow them to use paid vacation, sick or personal days to make up for the lost time.
Some employees may also have the opportunity to work from home and thus, do their job despite being away from the office.
Large said these are general rules and do not necessarily apply to unionized workers.
The Bottom Line
Most importantly, in case of an emergency, a business should have a quick, easy-to-follow plan ready for any situation that may arise, said Michaels craft store Vice President of Loss Prevention and Safety Doug Marker.
The Michaels location at the Fairview Shopping Center in Goleta experienced temporary closures because of power outages related to the fire.
“We have an emergency plan that each store sets out based on the type of emergency, with the exact steps to take,” Marker told the Business Times in an interview from his Texas office. “I think the main thing is to have documented procedures for stores – a really quick guide with 10 or 11 tabs for flood, fire, earthquake, any type of situation – so the store manager knows what to do.”
During the outages, employees were instructed to get flashlights, walk around to make sure everyone was safe, and escort customers out of the store until power returned.
In case of a major disaster that affected one or multiple stores, Michaels has a command center operating out of the corporate office.
“The main thing is to be prepared and to have a crisis management guide so stores can follow it very quickly and stay safe,” he said.