Business Disaster Preparation and Action Outline

Joe Ulatoski wrote up this Vashon specific Introduction to Business Preparedness in fall 2011;


50292-hi-dumpsteroohOne of the fundamentals of any disaster preparedness plan is the recognition that a disaster can very adversely impact you, your family, your business and your community.

Because there are so many differences between businesses on Vashon, no one document can address specific circumstances that might be faced by each. Therefore the following is basically a generic outline of what a business might do and how it might react in response to a set of circumstances. The listed actions are based on an earthquake scenario because if a business is prepared for a major earthquake which impacts the region, and happens without warning, anything of a lesser magnitude can be addressed on a declining scale of response activities.

Because of the wide range of potential disasters, it is recommended that each business:

  1. Think broadly--Do not focus on any one scenario.
  2. Do disaster related planning now while not under stress.
  3. Plan for catastrophic events that could last a while--Because of its isolation and the probability that ferry service will be interrupted, plans based on10 days before some sort of normal service is restored are recommended for Vashon
  4. Conduct a vulnerability analysis to determine where the business stands right now.


List possible emergencies from aspects of business and community caused by:

  • Structure Fires
  • Wild fires
  • Water leakage
  • Electrical problems
  • Flooding
  • Windstorm
  • Snow Storm
  • Hazardous materials spill
  • Volcano eruption/fallout
  • Earthquakes

Consider types of damage that could occur including:

  • Loss of access to facility
  • Loss of electric power
  • Ruptured gas lines
  • Water Damage
  • Smoke Damage
  • Structural Damage
  • Air or water contamination
  • Fire
  • Explosion
  • Building collapse
  • Trapped and/or injured people
  • Chemical release


Before a disaster

  1. Analyze vulnerabilities from three inter-related aspects: 1) Personal and Personnel, 2) Structural and 3) Business.
  2. Use a planning factor of 10 days isolation in the aftermath of a disaster.
  3. Do not plan on first responders (police and fire) being immediately available to assist you in a major disaster.
  4. Consider how you and your employees will be impacted should a disaster occur during both business hours and non-business hours. Be certain your employees are instructed in safety procedures both for themselves and customers.
  5. Check for Hazards in the business place. Look for materials blocking doors and windows should you need to exit the workplace in an emergency. Also look for objects that could fall on you, your employees or customers. Wherever possible, clear exits and fasten down items that could endanger anyone.
  6. Know where shutoffs for electricity, water and gas for your business are located and how to turn them off if necessary. If in a shared building, know where these items are for the building as well.
  7. Identify safe places indoors and outdoors and ensure employees know and are briefed on proper actions. Indoors-under sturdy desks, counters or tables; against inside walls away from windows, mirrors, pictures or where heavy items could fall over. Outdoors--In the open, away from buildings, trees, telephone and electric lines, overpasses, under bridges or elevated expressways. Also instruct employees what to do if driving or trapped.
  8. Educate/train self and employees in minor first aid, search and rescue and firefighting.
  9. Have disaster supplies on hand. Consider stockpiling supplies needed to care for yourself and employees, should they live off-island. (See attached list)
  10. Have an emergency communications plan for self and employees.
  11. Know the adjacent businesses and how damage to them or their facilities could affect you and work with them to develop a plan to assist each other. Include identification of resources of mutual or neighborhood value and work to establish a centralized point for reporting status immediately following a disaster.
  12. Check disaster insurance coverage. Determine what documentation needs to be available to verify losses and what should be done with damaged materials/ structure.
  13. Maintain off-site backup copies of important records--deeds, agreements, payroll, accounts payable/receivable.
  14. Know how vendors, suppliers, banks and customers will function/respond in the aftermath of a disaster and how it will affect your business.
  15. Obtain briefings by insurance companies,the SBA, FEMA and other organizations that can provide post-disaster recovery assistance so that affected businesses can more rapidly and completely recover from the disaster.
  16. Research and develop a Continuity Of Operations Plan (COOP) that will enable your business to continue and/or resume operations as soon as possible after a disaster occurs.

During a disaster--

Indoors--Drop to the ground, take cover under previously identified tables, desks or counters and hold on until shaking stops, or, move to an interior wall or a corner and drop. Move away from heavy objects which could fall and glass, such as windows or mirrors, that could shatter. Go outside only when shaking stops and move to safe area.

Outdoors--Stay there. Move away from buildings, trees, telephone and electric lines, overpasses, bridges or elevated expressways.

In Vehicle--If moving stop as quickly as safety permits, stay in vehicle. Avoid stopping near or on or under buildings, trees, on overpasses or bridges or under utility wires.

If Trapped--Do not light a match. Do not move about or kick up dust. Cover your mouth and nose with a handkerchief or clothing. If possible, tap on a pipe or wall so rescuers can locate you--Use a whistle if possible, Shout only as a last resort.

In the immediate aftermath of a disaster--

  1. Expect Aftershocks and guide your actions based on this possibility. Aftershocks can cause more damage to already weakened structures.
  2. Make a quick inspection of your immediate area for dangers that could cause injury or further damage.
  3. If qualified, render help to injured or trapped employees or customers. If not, get qualified help as top priority.
  4. If no major damage is apparent, and check for possible previously unnoticed internal damage to your place of business being especially alert for gas leaks, electrical system damage or water leaks and structural damage. If needed, turn off gas, water, and/or electricity. If in a multi-occupant building, notify other occupants of danger and action taken.
  5. Even if available, do not use tap water until assured it is safe. Do not use toilets until assured sewer system is still functioning.
  6. Be especially careful when opening cabinets or storage rooms/areas since contents may have shifted and create dangerous situations.
  7. Carefully check on neighboring businesses for injured or trapped people and/or visible damage that could affect you. If possible, do not do so by yourself and let someone, who will not be with you, know what you are doing.
  8. If other businesses are in the same building, during your check be alert for damage that could impact your space or business.
  9. Stay away from other damaged areas unless your presence has been specifically requested by authorities or you have skills that are needed in the prevailing circumstances.
  10. If a member of a Business Neighborhood Emergency Response Organization, report your status and needs, if any, to the designated reporting point.
  11. Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline or other flammable liquids as soon as possible. Leave the area if you smell gas or fumes from other chemicals and notify neighboring businesses and emergency responders as soon as possible.
  12. Listen to radio (VoV AM 1650) to get up-to-date information regarding the extent of the disaster on Vashon and related significant information.
  13. Do not use the telephone, even if working, unless there is an emergency.
  14. If your home and family do not require your presence and you cannot do anything more that is urgently required at your business volunteer your services to help the community response effort.
  15. When the immediate crisis has passed, notify insurance carriers of the situation, prepare required paperwork.
  16. Proceed to implement your COOP plan as soon as possible.

*The information contained in the forgoing is primarily based on FEMA documents for Disaster Preparation and Response activities. Steps have been reorganized to address actions to be taken in general sequence by business on Vashon.



A BNERO is an informal voluntary organization of businesses in a specific area or or downtown cluster who join together to prepare for and help each other in a systematic manner should a catastrophic disaster strike Vashon.


In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, BNEROs are an absolutely critical part of the damage assessment and response system on the Island. By promptly checking on the well-being of businesses in their immediate vicinity or in a designated area in an organized and systematic manner, they help ensure that injuries to individuals and significant damage to property are promptly reported to authorities. This enables scarce skilled resources to be focused where help is most needed on an expedited basis.


In preparation for a disaster, a BNERO:

  1. Helps educate and encourage businesses in designated blocs or areas to prepare for disasters by developing plans, stockpiling sufficient critical supplies such as water, food and other essentials necessary to enable them to be self-sufficient for up to 10 days or until normal logistics functions can be restored;
  2. Surveys the designated area to identify potential problems and challenges and identifies locally available resources and skills available to help address those challenges until more qualified responders can provide assistance;
  3. Facilitates identification of leaders who then develop procedures to ensure every business will be checked by designated individuals in the aftermath of a disaster and who will be responsible for submitting business needs for assistance and subsequent status reports to designated authorities.

Immediately after a disaster a BERO:

  1. Ensures every business in a designated area is quickly and methodically checked to determine if anyone has been injured or is missing and, if help is needed, requests such help on an expedited basis.
  2. Surveys the neighborhood to determine the extent of damage and if dangers to businesses such as downed power lines, broken gas lines, blocked roads etc., exist, ensures appropriate warnings are issued to other businesses and pertinent information is reported to designated authorities so that appropriate response actions can be undertaken.
  3. Utilizes locally available skills and resources to assist businesses in need of help until skilled assistance arrives or acts in accordance with instructions provided by designated authorities.
  4. 4Prepares, if help has been requested, to provide guides or other assistance to lead skilled responders to the businesses or properties where assistance is required.
  5. If given businesses are designated as critical to disaster response activities, arranges for periodic status reports to a local or central point of contact, as directed.