GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - To help businesses network and prepare for emergency situations, the American Red Cross hosted the Prepare Colorado Conference Wednesday, Oct. 10, at the Grand Vista Hotel in Grand Junction. There, local officials along with businessmen and women learned about disaster preparedness and networking opportunities.
"You want to have something in place, a broad plan for the 'what if?'" Aaron Brumbaugh, a security officer for the Mesa County Public Library, said.
The library was used as a place of refuge for evacuees when White Hall burned down in September 2011, Brumbaugh noted. The blaze forced nearby residents out of their homes as well.
The Red Cross ended up bringing relief supplies intended for firefighters to evacuees at the library, local Red Cross Executive Director Eric Myers said. This kind of cohesion between emergency management, local businesses and other organizations is a main goal of the Red Cross's Ready Rating program.
The Ready Rating program works with businesses and organizations to develop disaster-readiness plans for natural disasters - like hurricanes, earthquakes and floods - and local issues, like power outages and burst pipes.
"You don't find out if you are (prepared) until you need to be," Red Cross Business Preparedness Manager Troy Staples said.
Staples presented the Red Cross Ready Rating program Wednesday, starting with the online portion to be completed by businesses, including tips on evacuation plans and emergency equipment. The Red Cross also makes building visits to conduct hazard assessments.
The program offers additional information regarding personal disaster preparation like evacuation procedures and fire safety, Staples said. The program also offers mobile apps which deliver up-to-date information on disasters and relief efforts nationwide.
Why are such programs important? Staples referenced a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) statistic that 80 percent of businesses not up and running within a month after a disaster rarely start back up at all.
Another aspect of Wednesday's conference included a presentation on the Colorado Emergency Preparedness Partnership (CEPP) program called Connect Colorado.
According to CEPP Executive Director John Mencer, Connect Colorado is an online registry which allows businesses and organizations - such as schools and churches - to list their available manpower, equipment and facilities in an online database. That information can be integral to local emergency response, and may be accessed by public safety and emergency management teams during relief efforts.
"This is an opportunity where we, as a community, can support each other," Mencer said.
CEPP started in 2008 when businesses used the program to interface with law enforcement during the Democratic National Convention, Mencer said, when protests got out of hand. More recently, the database was used to alert businesses and their commuting employees to road closures and traffic delays in Denver during the Presidential debates Oct. 3. The system can also be used during wildfire and other types of emergency alerts.
The network can list anything from restaurants to building capacities and consulting experts, Mencer added. Businesses, which provide their services during disaster-relief efforts, are eligible to be reimbursed for their contributions through disaster relief funds.
For more information on CEPP or to register your business or organization with the Connect Colorado registry, visit thecepp.org. Information on the Red Cross's Ready Rating program is available at redcrossreadyrating.org.