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The Lingering Shadow of "That Day" – Business Preparedness Lessons from 9/11

For anyone alive eleven years ago, September 11 will always be a date on the calendar when you immediately remember where you were and what you were doing when all hell broke loose. You feel the chill and pang of sadness for those lost, as well as the anger at the evil unleashed.

History records many unforgettable days, but as the rawness of that day’s memories ebbs, the lessons learned continue to ripple in many ways. I don’t think there is any doubt that as a nation we are a far better prepared to face 21st century threats than we were 11 years ago, but in the discussion on safety and security, one of the often-overlooked aspects is the impact that day had on business.

Businesses open their doors and turn on their lights each day to serve many kinds of customers. Each of those enterprises—regardless of what they do or where they are located—face a risk that some type of emergency, either known (e.g., a power loss, fire, weather emergency, etc.) or completely unknown is possible. Whatever form it may take, that risk and how prepared business owners and operators are to address and overcome it can mean the difference between being “open for business” and being “closed” for good.

After 9/11 (as well as after Hurricane Katrina), private sector preparedness received a lot of attention. Katrina and the 9/11 terrorist attacks both disrupted hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses. As a result, hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost, and this impacted not just the pocketbooks of the newly unemployed and their families but the economies in which they lived, as well as nationwide. There are no magic spells that to prevent “bad days” from occurring, but what makes a difference on those days is summed up in the old Boy Scout motto: “Be Prepared.”

As we reflect on another 9/11 anniversary, we can honor those lost by remembering the lessons this country learned 11 years ago. Every business owner, operator, and employee needs to take the time to find out what to do if an emergency were to occur. We should be asking questions like:

  • Where are the emergency exits?
  • How do I contact employees during an emergency?
  • Which essentials should be stored at your office or at home to sustain each person for a minimum of 72 hours?
  • What information can and should be on a backup system at a secondary location?

Depending on your industry or line of work, there may be specific standards and best practices (which can be very detailed) for what your enterprise should do on a “bad day.” On those days, ignorance is no excuse; it will not save lives nor will it keep an enterprise operating during challenging times.

Business leaders of all types can operate on any good day, but it is how you handle the bad days that will ultimately reveal your enterprise’s resilience. There are a number of excellent resources available; here are two items fit well within any business’ budget—after all, they’re FREE!

Ready Business – Led by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Ready Business offers a series of easy to use tools, instructions and exercises to help businesses understand the fundamentals of private sector preparedness. For nearly a decade, Ready Business has been regularly refined to put the best insights and know-how to use so users can create custom plans to prepare their employees and operations for a multitude of risks.

Ready Rating Program – First started by the St. Louis branch of the American Red Cross, the Ready Rating Program provides similar preparedness tools as those in Ready Business, but it takes preparedness several steps further. By offering rating tools and better connecting users to their communities (and those working to be prepared in those areas), Ready Rating fosters like-minded partners and increased coordination in towns where this cooperation is especially essential in an emergency. Given the success of the St. Louis program, and recognizing the impact it could have for communities nationwide, the American Red Cross took the program national in 2010. It continues to grow in reach and impact every day.

Where you get your preparedness information is certainly important, but it’s not as important as the step you take to make sure you are truly prepared for the unexpected. If that step is not taken, it leaves you steps behind in recovering and ensuring the “Open for Business” sign is proudly displayed afterwards.

Among the many lingering shadows of “that day” is the resolve that how we prepare can make all the difference. Being realistic about risks and threats, large and small, known and unknown, is important. Being prepared gives you the calm and strength you need when it is needed most, and that’s a lesson worth living every day.

This piece was originally published on the National Chamber Foundation blog.

Rich Cooper blog primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More