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Is your business prepared for the next emergency? A free American Red Cross of Alaska program helps your workplace prepare for the unexpected.

The American Red Cross of Alaska works very hard to provide services to Alaskans in need-particularly those affected by disasters-and it is a pleasure to do my part in making our state a stronger, safer place to live. Equally exciting is our chapter's commitment to continually reexamine the ways in which our organization meets the needs of those we serve. During 2003, the American Red Cross of Alaska drew up plans to expand our current community disaster education outreach and begin focusing on how we can support the safety and preparedness efforts of our business community. As the organization that the American public looks toward in times of need, it is our responsibility to best prepare our communities for emergency situations before they happen. With this vision in mind, the American Red Cross of Alaska-in partnership with Conoco-Phillips Alaska Inc. and the Municipality of Anchorage-has developed Think AHEAD (Able to Handle Emergencies and Disasters), an innovative and proactive approach to emergency preparedness in the workplace.


It is unfortunate that so many members of management stick their head in the sand when urged to make time for workplace preparedness. Some task or project always seems to take priority over planning for what might never happen. Yet, I am amazed at the gravity of disaster-related workplace statistics. A staggering 25 percent of businesses that temporarily close after a natural disaster never have a chance to reopen their doors. According to a study by the Public Entity Risk Institute, of those small-businesses owners that are able to reopen, many spend significant amounts of their own monies to stay afloat for several years, then eventually close--permanently and penniless. Smaller scale disasters, such as fire, occur more often one business catches fire in the United States every five minutes, according to Chubb Insurance), but are no less forgiving. Ninety percent of businesses that catch fire suffer catastrophic losses, and 40 percent never reopen. Considering these statistics as they apply to the contiguous states, we, as Alaskans, must also take into account the delay in resources--both human and material--reaching us in the wake of any emergency, and the proportionate need for advanced planning.

I may be painting a rather bleak picture; however, success stories related to business preparedness are reassuring and inspiring. I recently spoke with a member of our business community working at a facility that caught fire. Several years ago the entire business would have been lost, but since backup copies of data are taken offsite on a regular basis, the operation has not been lost. Contemplating the long recovery process that lay before them, this business has since enrolled in the Think AHEAD program, choosing to alleviate the severity or possibly even the occurrence of another emergency. Another Think AHEAD business was able to identify some high-importance, low-cost preparedness actions, such as simply purchasing a manual credit card machine to use during a power outage. Considering that a large-scale event might result in power loss for several weeks, the significance of this type of insurance is clear.


Think AHEAD has been developed to be used exclusively by the business community, with respect for the time and resource constraints that are felt by professionals in all fields. The Think AHEAD mission is simple: provide useful tools, support and positive recognition to those businesses that take seriously the need and responsibility for emergency preparedness. A team of local safety professionals and response officials worked together to assemble a list of Alaska-specific suggestions geared toward encouraging worker safety, effectively writing emergency action and contingency plans, securing data, and mitigating the effects of various emergency situations. These suggestions are all contained on one interactive CDROM that provides step-by-step instruction toward increasing safety and lessening risk in the workplace.

Think AHEAD doesn't re-invent the wheel; excellent resources, such as those produced by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, exist. Instead, Think AHEAD seeks to maximize your potential for using these resources. In many a workplace, the individual tasked with writing an emergency plan or implementing a safety program is wearing several hats and has little or no formal experience in the safety field. Research takes time and yields overwhelming results, oftentimes leaving a plan writer with no clear starting point or direction. The AHEAD program sifts through the plethora of data and ideas and directs Alaska businesses to those that are specifically relevant and useful to our unique challenges. Occupational Safety and Health Administration compliance is also addressed in the AHEAD curriculum, which is meant to streamline, not multiply your preparedness efforts.


The Think AHEAD CD-ROM is completely free, thanks to generous sponsorship from ConocoPhillips and the Municipality of Anchorage. This sponsorship has not only allowed our chapter to develop the interactive checklists that can be used by emergency planners on-site and at their own pace, but also has made available an opportunity for supplemental program features. A free, monthly e-newsletter keeps member businesses abreast of industry trends, relevant resources and related events. Twice monthly, the American Red Cross of Alaska encourages the business community to attend brownbag lunch sessions that address planning concerns. Speakers from the emergency planning and safety fields provide professional guidance and answer questions, and facilitated roundtable discussions provide a forum for peer support and learning opportunities. A free Emergency Planning 101 course guides first-time planners through the process establishing a planning team, goals and budget. These supplementary program components make Think AHEAD a dynamic resource and afford the business community the opportunity to take full advantage of the pool of response and continuity expertise that exists in our community.

As an incentive for businesses that "think ahead," the American Red Cross of Alaska offers recognition for successful participation in this program. Since the Think AHEAD launch in December 2003, two businesses have received bronze level status--About Face Inc. and DOWL Engineers. ConocoPhillips and the Anchorage Daily News are our first gold level Think AHEAD businesses.

I sincerely hope that you will take a moment and visit our chapter Web site at or call 646-5400 and inquire about Think AHEAD. There has never been a better time to begin-or finish-workplace plans, and I am confident that any Alaska business will find Think AHEAD a valuable resource. The investment in preparedness is one that you cannot afford to miss-whether you consider the safety of your workers, protection of your property, or keeping doors open and operations running. Think AHEAD has taken the guesswork out of the planning process and I urge you to take advantage of this program today. I know that you will find Think AHEAD to be a worthwhile program that encourages our entire business community to hone the resiliency that is a hallmark of our great state.

Michael Smith has been with the American Red Cross since 1994, working in Florida, Oregon and Alaska. Prior to his work with the American Red Cross, he owned a small business for 13 years. Smith is the executive director of the Southcentral District of the American Red Cross of Alaska. magazine
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Title Annotation:Able to Handle Emergencies and Disasters program
Author:Smith, Michael
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Geographic Code:1U9AK
Date:May 1, 2004
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