New effort to get businesses ready for the big one


Citing statistics that fewer than half of businesses that suffer major disasters reopen their doors, volunteers are teaming up to help ensure that island businesses are prepared for emergencies of all kinds.

“It could be surviving an ice storm like we had a two or three years ago or it could be that big earthquake,” said Debi Richards, a VashonBePrepared board member who is leading the effort.

Beginning next month, VashonBePrepared, in collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce, will offer a series of free workshops to teach business owners what steps they can take now to better weather a future emergency and open their doors more quickly after an event.

“They can be in the core of downtown or they can be a one-person business working out of their home,” Richards said. “The feeling of VashonBePrepared is that every single business is important to the success and ability of Vashon to stay together in a disaster.”

The workshops will be largely led by Shelby Edwards, an experienced crisis management and disaster preparedness consultant who recently moved to the island.

Edwards served for two decades in the U.S. Army Reserves before entering the corporate world, where she’s been in charge of business continuity and crisis management for PEMCO and Nike. She led Nike’s response to Hurricane Sandy in 2012 before stepping down to do consulting.

Edwards, in an interview, said studies have shown that in areas that suffer disasters such as earthquakes or major storms, fewer than half the businesses that were open before the event are in business a year later.

“You see that playing out in every big event,” she said.

If small businesses think ahead now, Edwards said, they’ll be more prepared should disaster strike. For instance, many business owners don’t keep an employee contact list in a different location or know how to maintain electronic backups of important information. Some aren’t aware of all their insurance options, and knowing the requirements for FEMA assistance could help merchants access emergency funds more quickly.

While much of disaster preparedness in the Northwest focuses on the region’s high risk for a major earthquake, Edwards said preparing for such a quake will also prepare businesses for smaller disasters, such as a fires, floods or snowstorms.

“We’ll talk about really basic things that really make a difference,” she said.

Two years ago, when Richards headed the Chamber of Commerce, she began a well-received effort to form BNEROs, or Business Neighborhood Emergency Response Organizations on Vashon. Similar to VashonBePrepared’s NEROs, many businesses owners in the BNEROs made plans to check on one another in an emergency and began to examine their own emergency plans.

The upcoming workshop series is a continuation of that effort, Richards said. VashonBePrepared and Chamber volunteers will soon begin reaching out to local businesses, going door-to-door to discuss the importance of preparedness and promote the workshops.

“This is something that I feel really passionately about,” Richards said. “I feel that it’s not just the success of our businesses but the continuity of our community relies on the businesses being able to recover from a disaster.”

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