In April 2011, Lee County businesses were hit hard by tornadoes. Four major agricultural businesses were destroyed, along with a Lowe’s Home Improvement Store. A month later, Lowe’s began rebuilding the store that was lost.
Wendy Vanderroest, loss prevention manager at Lowe’s, told members of the Lee Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) that the company’s disaster preparation prevented loss of life, though the large store was filled with shoppers on a Saturday afternoon. Vanderrost was a speaker at a recent disaster recovery workshop hosted by LEPC.
Lowe’s employees were trained to seek shelter in a safe area at the back of the store, so those in the store that day suffered only minor injuries, Vanderroest said. The store manager saw tools flying off the store shelves as employees ushered everyone to safety.
Members of the LEPC want to make sure that Lee County businesses are prepared for other disasters that come their way. In January, 17 committee members went through training in Sanford to offer the Ready Business program.
Trainers for the program were Rachel Monteverdi, a family and consumer sciences agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension in Franklin County, and Kami Baggett, an extension specialist for the Industrial Extension Service.
“I think that what Lee County is doing is right on,” Monteverdi said. “They want to create a community and culture of being disaster prepared. Businesses can’t afford to have a disaster wipe them out.”
Monteverdi and Baggett were among a group of professionals who were trained to teach the Ready Business program a year ago. N.C. Cooperative Extension partnered with the Industrial Extension Service and the Small Business and Technology Development Centers to offer two workshops for 43 individuals a year ago. Since then, the trainers have collaborated to offer workshops to business leaders around the state.
Ready Business, a training effort of the Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN), walks businesses through the steps of writing a disaster recovery plan. To become disaster prepared, businesses must plan to stay in business, talk with employees about the disaster plan and protect their business investment.
Research shows that 40 to 60 percent of all businesses that close after a disaster will ultimately fail. Ready Business helps businesses plan to stay in business in the event of a disaster.
The LEPC first talked with Cooperative Extension last summer about offering the training. Committee members said they would like to be trained to offer “lunch and learn” sessions to other businesses in the community.
The two Ready Business trainers provided the group with the information and tools they need to offer the workshop in their community. Businesses that attend the training will come away with the beginning of a disaster recovery plan, knowing how to protect employees, back up critical records, communicate with employees following a disaster and find a new business location in the event theirs is destroyed.
Though Lowe’s came through the disaster without injuries, there were still lessons learned, Vanderroest told the trainees. All store managers now know how to operate the back-up generator, which had to be turned off after the tornado. The store also keeps more bottled water on hand for emergencies. And employees learned the importance security to protect store inventory from theft and looting after a major disaster.
Other Ready Business workshops already have been offered around the state. To find out about workshops or trainers near you, contact Mike Yoder, email@example.com with N.C. Cooperative Extension, or your local county extension office by visiting www.ces.ncsu.edu/local-county-center.
–Written by Natalie Hampton, 919.513.3128 or firstname.lastname@example.org