The Northwest Arkansas Community College in conjunction with Wal-Mart hosted a national forum titled “Fostering Cooperation with Local, State, Regional, and Federal Public/Private Sector Initiatives” on November 3 and 4 in Bentonville, AR. Business leaders along with Federal, state, and local emergency management officials came together to discuss the critical role that the private sector can play in helping communities rebuild their economies and recover more quickly after disasters.
Currently, more than 27 states are pursuing the development of a business emergency operations center and finding other innovative ways to support businesses in preparing for or recovering from disasters. In addition many private sector members, such as Wal-Mart and Lowes, have their own emergency operations centers. The idea of a business EOC (BEOC) is to facilitate coordination of business and volunteer organizations with the public sector and to engage businesses to provide services or resources during emergencies.
Pennsylvania does not currently have a BEOC, but Chester County EMA is exploring options on how to better incorporate the private sector into its operations. Some of the current projects we are working on include reaching out to the private sector to obtain what type of resources or services they could provide during an emergency along with creating channels in which we can better share accurate information so that businesses can make more informed decisions.
Various states gave presentations on best practices for implementing a business EOC and the systems they utilize to conduct operations. The common theme seemed to be that the public sector must reach out and build relationships with the private sector prior to an event or emergency. It was said multiple times that during an emergency is not the time to be exchanging business cards. Another point was that government has resources, but the private sector has a whole lot more. Building those relationships now will give the public sector better access to a much larger assortment of resources and services. One other area that was stressed over and over was that of information sharing and communication between the private and public sector. Having clear channels of communication and accurate information flow will better serve all parties involved. The goal is getting businesses back to business after a disaster so that life can begin to resume on a normal level.
Last year FEMA created a Private Sector Division to better serve and build the coordination between the public and private sector. Representatives from that division, along with FEMA Administrator Fugate, gave presentations on FEMA efforts that are engaging and working with the private sector. Administrator Fugate made some great statements, but this one seemed to sum up what this forum was all about: “emergency management community, at all levels, must focus on how they can support local businesses, from retailers to restaurants to banks, to reopen as quickly as possible after a disaster, so that disaster survivors can access their services and employers can keep revenue and jobs in that community.”