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Disaster Planning Needs Teamwork Between Public and Private Sectors

July 31, 2008 — V.I. business community leaders learned Wednesday how they can partner with government agencies to help the territory bounce back from disasters.
In a seminar at the Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort, government officials explained how joint disaster preparedness planning between the territory's public and private sectors is critical in bringing relief to the territory. The briefings included discussions on shared planning and response to pandemics, hurricanes and other disaster-preparedness and emergency planning for businesses in the territory.
"We cannot do it alone," said Vivian I. Ebbessen-Fludd, commissioner of the V.I. Department of Health. Her department sponsored the summit to boost awareness of resources available to the business community and the need for businesses to apprise the government's disaster-response agencies of resources they have that could be used in an emergency.
Business leaders learned what resources are at the community's fingertips for a variety of emergencies, whether man-made or natural. The government leaders also asked the business community to partner with them in reporting and volunteering.
"For a nation to bounce back, both the public and private sector have to combine efforts," said Julio Gonzalez, protective security advisor with the Puerto Rico Office of Homeland Security.
Businesses were encouraged to file their disaster plans with the Department of Homeland Security as well as the other government organizations. A number of representatives of businesses at the conference indicated that they had already taken this step.
"Plans are good — shared plans are excellent," Gonzalez said. "Businesses should share their plan with the [V.I.] Department of Homeland Security and with the health department."
Businesses also were admonished to practice their plan. Businesses should have emergency drills, just like the fire drills practiced at schools, according to Sally Strackbein, a disaster-preparedness expert who spoke at the seminar. In the drill, the business should require a lower-level management employee to take the company's reins as if the first two or three levels of management were unavailable.
"They should have to take the ball and run with it," Strackbein said.
Strackbein, who came to the conference at the request of the health department, also briefed attendees on having a two-week personal emergency plan. The plan should discuss family communication in the event of a disaster, plans for food and cooking, health and hygiene and backing up records. The plan also recommends that neighbors talk about sharing resources.
Representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency asked companies to advise on their resources — whether they had available storage space or such resources as bottled water for sale.
FEMA personnel stressed that they do not want to take business away from local businesses. This is why it is important for local businesses to let FEMA know now what kinds of resources they have for disasters. For example, if the agency does not know that a business has water for sale, then FEMA will barge the water in, said Marie E. Gonzalez, natural hazards program manager for FEMA's Region 2.
In the case of pandemics, early reporting of illnesses to the health department is critical to controlling the disease. When several employees suddenly get ill with the same flu-like symptoms, employers should contact the health department.
"There is really no threshold for reporting," said Dr. Eugene Tull, territorial epidemiologist. Tull compared reporting illnesses to the department to the announcement heard in airports that says that if you notice anything suspicious, you should report it.
"It's a level of suspicion," Tull said. If the level of suspicion warrants it, he said, "call the Health Department, press zero for the operator and ask for me." He continued, "If you don't get a response, then ask for the commissioner's office and log a report."
Tull stressed that early detection through reporting from the community lets the health professionals intervene and bring illness rates back down to normal.
"If we are not doing our job, we have late detection, but only after they [illness rates] are starting to go up," Tull said. "When we try to apply intervention at that stage, we end up responding to an emergency and we have to mobilize all of our resources to deal with the problem. You are left with the challenge of being good citizens. If people start being sick at your workplace, call us."
In the spirit of public-private sector partnering, there was also a request for attendees to spread the word through the business community and to be on the lookout for warehouse space for medical supplies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is known as a Push Package. The package, which requires a fairly large space, is a repository of antibiotics, antidotes and vaccines used in health emergencies. Anyone with information about available warehouse space should contact Shantu N.R. Scatliffe, territorial strategic national stockpile coordinator, at 340-773-1311, ext. 3244.
Business leaders were provided with a number of websites for resources and training, including pandemicflu.gov, ready.gov and fema.gov.
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July 31, 2008 -- V.I. business community leaders learned Wednesday how they can partner with government agencies to help the territory bounce back from disasters.
In a seminar at the Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort, government officials explained how joint disaster preparedness planning between the territory's public and private sectors is critical in bringing relief to the territory. The briefings included discussions on shared planning and response to pandemics, hurricanes and other disaster-preparedness and emergency planning for businesses in the territory.
"We cannot do it alone," said Vivian I. Ebbessen-Fludd, commissioner of the V.I. Department of Health. Her department sponsored the summit to boost awareness of resources available to the business community and the need for businesses to apprise the government's disaster-response agencies of resources they have that could be used in an emergency.
Business leaders learned what resources are at the community's fingertips for a variety of emergencies, whether man-made or natural. The government leaders also asked the business community to partner with them in reporting and volunteering.
"For a nation to bounce back, both the public and private sector have to combine efforts," said Julio Gonzalez, protective security advisor with the Puerto Rico Office of Homeland Security.
Businesses were encouraged to file their disaster plans with the Department of Homeland Security as well as the other government organizations. A number of representatives of businesses at the conference indicated that they had already taken this step.
"Plans are good -- shared plans are excellent," Gonzalez said. "Businesses should share their plan with the [V.I.] Department of Homeland Security and with the health department."
Businesses also were admonished to practice their plan. Businesses should have emergency drills, just like the fire drills practiced at schools, according to Sally Strackbein, a disaster-preparedness expert who spoke at the seminar. In the drill, the business should require a lower-level management employee to take the company's reins as if the first two or three levels of management were unavailable.
"They should have to take the ball and run with it," Strackbein said.
Strackbein, who came to the conference at the request of the health department, also briefed attendees on having a two-week personal emergency plan. The plan should discuss family communication in the event of a disaster, plans for food and cooking, health and hygiene and backing up records. The plan also recommends that neighbors talk about sharing resources.
Representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency asked companies to advise on their resources -- whether they had available storage space or such resources as bottled water for sale.
FEMA personnel stressed that they do not want to take business away from local businesses. This is why it is important for local businesses to let FEMA know now what kinds of resources they have for disasters. For example, if the agency does not know that a business has water for sale, then FEMA will barge the water in, said Marie E. Gonzalez, natural hazards program manager for FEMA's Region 2.
In the case of pandemics, early reporting of illnesses to the health department is critical to controlling the disease. When several employees suddenly get ill with the same flu-like symptoms, employers should contact the health department.
"There is really no threshold for reporting," said Dr. Eugene Tull, territorial epidemiologist. Tull compared reporting illnesses to the department to the announcement heard in airports that says that if you notice anything suspicious, you should report it.
"It's a level of suspicion," Tull said. If the level of suspicion warrants it, he said, "call the Health Department, press zero for the operator and ask for me." He continued, "If you don't get a response, then ask for the commissioner's office and log a report."
Tull stressed that early detection through reporting from the community lets the health professionals intervene and bring illness rates back down to normal.
"If we are not doing our job, we have late detection, but only after they [illness rates] are starting to go up," Tull said. "When we try to apply intervention at that stage, we end up responding to an emergency and we have to mobilize all of our resources to deal with the problem. You are left with the challenge of being good citizens. If people start being sick at your workplace, call us."
In the spirit of public-private sector partnering, there was also a request for attendees to spread the word through the business community and to be on the lookout for warehouse space for medical supplies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is known as a Push Package. The package, which requires a fairly large space, is a repository of antibiotics, antidotes and vaccines used in health emergencies. Anyone with information about available warehouse space should contact Shantu N.R. Scatliffe, territorial strategic national stockpile coordinator, at 340-773-1311, ext. 3244.
Business leaders were provided with a number of websites for resources and training, including pandemicflu.gov, ready.gov and fema.gov.
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.