On Sept. 11, attendees of the Atascocita Community Response Task Force (C.R.T.F.) meeting learned a wealth of information about how to best prepare for major disasters that annually threaten the Lake Houston area of East Texas. President Philippe Cras introduced two guest speakers who are experienced and professionally trained in preparing for disasters of every kind.
”Sue Phalen combines her industry experience and her training in marketing and sales to help small businesses. She is also a member of the SCORE Team (Service Group of Retired Executives) working on the Small Business Administration Disaster Resilience Initiative partnered with the Texas Division of Emergency Management. She has a B.S. in economics from the Wharton School of Business,” Cras said and pointed out she has been volunteering for SCORE in this kind of work for almost 15 years.
“Easter Wright currently serves as an economic development specialist for the U.S. Small Business Administration and previously held the position of business opportunity specialist. She is currently a 26-year staff member. Prior to coming to SBA, she served as support assistant to the U.S. Army Reserve for seven years. She has over 39 years of combined business and administrative experience and has an Associate of Arts degree in business management and a minor in office automation.”
Phalen described the challenge of disaster preparedness for small business and residents of the greater northeast Houston area.
“Texas is the number one state for physical disasters in the nation,” she said, noting most of those disasters occur in the east half of Texas and especially in the southeastern area.
“The majority of the disasters occur east of a line drawn along Interstate 35 across Texas and they are more frequent the further east and south you go from I-35,” Phalen said. She pointed to a color-coded map of Texas displayed on Zoom that clearly showed Lake Houston and its surrounding areas right in the middle of the most frequently hit part of Texas.
Wright explained that the reason this area is so threatened is due to its unique combination of physical, industrial and urban characteristics that result in it being vulnerable to everything from devastating hurricanes to industrial petrochemical disasters, wind and water pollution incidents, and the reality of hazardous materials constantly in motion including through pipelines, on board trains and ships, and in planes in and out of Houston Intercontinental Airport, all located on a long flat tidal plane that goes far inland at a very low elevation with major rivers flowing in from the north and west. All of these factors combined in one area make it high risk by any standard.
“Today we are talking about building disaster resilience for small businesses. I don’t know if you have ever heard of SCORE but we are a national organization and we work under the umbrella of the SBA. We were founded in 1964 and we have over 13,000 volunteers today in every state in the nation. Within Houston our chapter is the largest in the nation and we have 14 locations and 160 volunteers. We cover the disciplines of business and a vast array of industries. Our services are free and confidential and we do this by offering workshops and webinars of this nature as well as a very robust library of resources, templates and tools,” Phalen said.
The most important, most powerful tool is the SCORE Mentor, the volunteers. “They offer their services free of charge and they are dedicated to helping small businesses start, grow and thrive and also survive,” she said.
Wright outlined the impact of a typical disaster using a hypothetical hurricane as an example.
“One inch of flooding can cause $25,000 of damage. Statistics are that 40% of small businesses won’t reopen. One year later, 25% of the small businesses will close and three years later 75% of businesses without a continuity plan will fail,” she said. Wright emphasized the key to survival is the continuity plan and it is best to develop it or at least a solid framework of assumptions and requirements for it to work before any disaster occurs.
The rest of the presentation consisted of a detailed series of slides about how to organize and put together a disaster contingency plan, beginning with identifying the most likely kinds of disasters a business can expect, both natural and man-made. Not surprisingly, hurricanes topped the list of natural disasters as did floods, extreme droughts and sudden extreme weather. However, the risk of wildfire was also on the list for this area. The man-made disasters high on the list included “active shooters,” bioterrorism, chemical emergencies and cybersecurity threats, all near the top, ahead of explosions, hazardous materials incidents, and business fires. In addition, Phalen pointed out small businesses are also vulnerable to business chemical emergencies, mass attacks in crowded and public places, nuclear incidents, even miles away, and pandemics like COVID-19. They all need to be considered when building a disaster contingency plan.
Wright and Phalen together walked through the details of the three major elements of any contingency plan.
1. Plan: Have specific plans for disaster response when the disaster hits for operational requirements following the immediate disaster, for mitigating ongoing risk, and plans for redundancy.
2. Prepare: Plan for survival of 7-10 days, make sure insurance is in place; and keep copies of documents and photographs of everything relevant including contracts, contacts, equipment, certificates and licenses.
3. Protect: Backup office data storage and access to data.
Phalen closed the presentation by explaining how to declare and seek disaster assistance and loans. “That is what the SBA does,” she said. The website address for accessing the SBA and all of its services is sba.gov/funding-programs/disaster-assistance.
Monthly C.R.T.F. meetings will continue to be held in the meeting room at Rosewood Funeral Home in Atascocita on the second Friday of the month from 1-2 p.m. until further notice. Planned speakers are:
October: Samuel Pena- Houston Fire Department Chief
November: Frank Ciaccio- Houston Airport Systems Emergency Manager
December: METRO Emergency Manager
January: Tyler Parker-Chemical Emergency Manager
The public is welcome to attend, especially by Zoom teleconference. Details of the meetings, changes and Zoom access information are maintained on the webpage: crtf.org/calendar.