RAND Corp. — They may have been small in magnitude, but recent earthquakes that have rattled floorboards in Santa Monica and beyond have also served as needed reminders that a large-scale disaster could happen any time.

With just 14 percent of Americans prepared for such an event — and many local businesses without plans to cope should their operations be disrupted because of a crisis — Santa Monica officials are urging business owners to take steps that could make all the difference should the Big One hit.

These can be things as simple as maintaining an easily accessible list of vital contact information, keeping a week’s stash of food and supplies on hand, or drawing up a disaster plan with neighbors.

At a seminar on Wednesday, representatives from City Hall, the Red Cross and RAND Corp. discussed the importance of being prepared, emphasizing that planning ahead is key to making it through a crisis in one piece.

Having been inside the Pentagon when a plane hit the building on Sept. 11, 2001, Michael Rich, executive vice president of RAND, told the audience that he knows first-hand the importance of disaster preparedness. Even though disasters are unlikely, he said, advances planning is well worth it.

“I can tell you that there is no worse feeling than being in the midst of a crisis and feeling that you could have prepared better,” he said.

Steps RAND has taken to prepare include training employees in CPR and first aid, assembling an emergency response team capable of assisting the injured before public safety professionals arrive, and holding disaster response simulations of earthquakes, workplace shootings and whether events.

He said company leaders should take responsibility for emergency preparedness.

“I think it’s essential to have a strong and visible commitment from the top of the organization to prepare for a crisis or emergency,” he said.

While ensuring the maximum level of safety in the event of a disaster is the goal, Paul Weinberg, City Hall’s emergency services coordinator, said the ability to bounce back after a crisis is also a business necessity.

Forty-three percent of companies that experience a crisis and have no emergency plan never re-open, according to a City Hall guide to emergency readiness distributed at the event.

“If you can’t get your business up and running … within a month, you’re not likely to recover from that disaster,” said John Pacheco, executive director of the Red Cross in Santa Monica.

For those who are reluctant to invest in making preparations for a crisis, Weinberg said adequate precautions don’t have to be prohibitively expensive. Some of the most important steps are simply taking the time to talk with others about disaster plans and becoming educated about some of the no-cost practices that can make a difference.

For example, after an earthquake hits, don’t waste time trying to reach a loved one on a cell phone. The towers will likely be jammed with calls and you won’t get through. Send a text message instead.

“We understand that there are huge economic and logistical challenges” when it comes to disaster preparation, Weinberg said. “But there are some low-cost, low-lying fruits out there.”


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