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Businesses tackle disasters

Terry Hagerty (Contributing Writer/Photographer)

It’s a startling statistic – 80% of businesses affected by major disruptions either never reopen, or close within 18 months. Area business owners were equipped with tools to counteract those alarming statistics during a Disaster Preparedness Workshop held Sept. 28 at the Bastrop Convention Center.

Business owners attended the Disaster Preparedness Workshop to learn ways to prepare for disasters.The half-day seminar helped business owners get a start on developing an emergency action plan for their business – whether confronting floods, wildfires or other emergencies. Among the main topics participants studied were why preparedness is important; identifying risks and developing an emergency action plan for disasters; and focusing on business continuity.

The workshop was sponsored by the Bastrop, Elgin and Smithville chambers of commerce, the Bastrop Economic Development Corporation, the Small Business Development Center Network (Texas State University), and Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative.

Former Bastrop County Judge Ronnie C. McDonald, who helped guide the County through the devastating 2011 Complex Fires, gave the keynote address. McDonald is currently the Executive Director of Community Relations for the Texas A&M Forest Service and AgriLife Extension. Also speaking were Bill Thompson, a Certified Business Advisor III with Texas State University’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC); Deirdre Pattillo, project manager at the Small Business Development Center Network at UTSA. Rex Steele and Kathy Corbin, SBDC business advisors, also offered support.

Bill Thompson with the Small Business Development Center urges business owners to be ready before disaster strikes.

McDonald advised workshop participants, “Your business will benefit from connectivity” with other business owners, “And not just in emergencies, but every day. You deal with crises by building relationships,” he added.

Thompson, who lived in Jarrell during the destructive 1997 tornado, urged workshop participants to “prepare for disaster before it hits.” He said that the TSU’s Small Business Development Center offers free advice for business owners. “Let me look at your (business) financials” to aid in disaster preparedness, Thompson offered. “We want to work with you.”

Pattillo said disaster preparedness allows business owners to be “in control of responses” versus “reacting to disasters.” She also urged business owners to consider “Who you might be able to call on” in the community for assistance – and, “Invite specific people, ask for their advice.” Audience member Georgina Ngozi, who is Executive Director of the Museum & Visitor Center of the Bastrop County Historical Society, recommended “engaging volunteers” for help. “We would not be the quality organization we are” without volunteers, Ngozi said. Pattillo said that was an excellent recommendation.

Some very specific business action plans for emergencies were part of the presentation. A slide titled, “What Can You Do?” gave six bullet points for flood preparedness: Know your environment; Review flood safety and preparedness; Develop an evacuation plan; Contact local authorities; Assess your insurance needs; Assemble a disaster-supplies kit.

Deirdre Pattillo is a project manager at the SBDC Network at UTSA.

A slide, “Data Security Mantra,” urged business owners to safeguard and “re-locate” your data; and know how to recover that data. Some of that data will likely include customer and contact information; accounting/tax data; insurance papers; leases and contracts; and equipment lists with model and serial numbers.

Recommendations for preparing/securing property for floods included: Stock sandbags and plastic sheeting; Move property to higher ground; Tie down or secure outside furniture; Install sewer backflow valves; Protect electrical and HVAC equipment.

Workshop participants were also asked to fill out a Vulnerability Analysis Chart for their businesses. The chart included filling in (on a scale of 1-5) the type of potential emergencies that could strike one’s business/community. Suggestions included hurricanes and flooding; power outages and wind damage; and technology losses and supply shortages. Respondents then marked the “human, business/property impacts” of each emergency, and internal and external resources to use for planning.

Lee Harle, owner of Bastrop River Company, has to be prepared for future flooding.A panel of local business owners that spoke after the lunch break gave an insightful view of how they were affected by recent Bastrop County emergencies, and their recommendations for preparing businesses for disasters. David Glenn, owner of Scream Hollow (Wicked Halloween Park) in Smithville, recommended that business owners “pull thumb-drives out and make (multiple) copies” regularly of crucial business information. Lee Harle, owner of Bastrop River Company in The Crossing, said he had scouted the Colorado “upriver” during the Halloween flood of 2015, and saw the enormity of flooding the Colorado was capable of. The river rose to 37 feet during that flood, coming out of its banks downtown and in many other places. “I know I’m going to see 40 feet, and maybe 50 feet,” Harle predicted of future flooding. With his business positioned on a hill fronting the Colorado near downtown, Harle fortunately escaped the Halloween Flood. Harle said he found the Disaster-Preparedness Workshop a great benefit: “It has really caused me to evaluate the risks that my business could potentially face, and re-evaluate what the term ‘disaster’ really means,” Harle said.