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Agencies warn businesses to also prepare for storm season

It's the time of year when the thoughts of bay area residents turn to batteries and bottled water.

Hurricane season begins in three weeks, and with it comes incessant urging for residents to prepare.

While individual preparedness receives the bulk of the attention, businesses also need to have a disaster plan, emergency management experts say.

Local business owners and managers will have two opportunities to learn more about preparing for hurricanes and other disasters this month. 2-2-1 Tampa Bay will host a disaster recovery conference on May 15 in Largo, and Pinellas County will hold its disaster preparedness workshop on May 22 in St. Petersburg.

Tom Iovino, a Pinellas County spokesman and hurricane preparedness specialist, said planning should happen now.

"The worst time to plan for a hurricane is when it's right off the coast," he said. "Then you're in panic mode and you have very limited options."

Iovino said area businesses will play a vital role in recovery after a major disaster and that they need to prepare for the worst.

"Publix and Wal-Mart can get things to Pinellas County a lot faster than the government can. Getting businesses back up on their feet and running is really critical so they can start supplying citizens' needs," he said.

Iovino emphasized that businesses need to not only plan to protect their facilities, but also make sure they address the needs of their employees.

"Any business plan should start with employees knowing their own personal plan," he said, adding that employees worried about their home and family won't focus on work.

Both conferences will feature speakers addressing issues such as disaster preparedness and planning, records management, economic development, and disaster relief.

The 2-1-1 Tampa Bay conference will also address issues specifically related to getting businesses up and running after a disaster.

The Pinellas County workshop is open to Pinellas County businesses of all sizes while the 2-1-1 Tampa Bay conference will focus primarily on small businesses and is open to owners and managers from all around the Tampa Bay area.

Geri Costello, the community relations manager for 2-1-1 Tampa Bay, said their conference has generated a lot of interest, and business leaders from as far away as Hernando County will attend.

"We have oodles and oodles of people coming to this," she said.

The Federal Communications Commission designated 2-1-1 as the national number to access health and human services information in 2000. The program came to the Tampa Bay area in 2001.

In addition to serving as a resource connecting area residents to needed services on a day-to-day basis, 2-1-1 will also serve as a clearinghouse for information in the event of a disaster. Residents will be able to call the number to find out where to go for food, water and shelter, or find out where volunteers are needed.

2-1-1 Tampa Bay utilizes a Web based system that allows them to operate remotely from any location, and Costello said that makes their network extremely flexible and reliable in the event of a disaster.

Grant Petersen, the board chairman of Tampa Bay 211, said he hopes the conference will help small businesses evaluate their plans and also develop partnerships with other businesses to assist each other in the event of a disaster and ensure their products and services survive.

"Networking in disaster recovery is critical, especially since it is estimated that 25 percent of businesses never recover after a disaster."

For information and tips on hurricane preparedness, visit the Pinellas County Economic Development site at pced.org/hurricane.

>>IF YOU GO

2-1-1 Tampa Bay Disaster Recovery Conference

Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Largo Cultural Center, 105 Central Park Drive.

Cost: $65 per person

DisasterRecoveryCall211.com

Pinellas County Disaster Preparedness Workshop

May 22 from 8:30 a.m. to noon

Radisson Hotel, 12600 Roosevelt Blvd., St. Petersburg

Cost: Free

pced.org/hurricane/

Agencies warn businesses to also prepare for storm season 05/10/08 [Last modified: Saturday, May 10, 2008 4:33am]
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