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In preparation: essential steps

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Companies that offer disaster response products and services have plenty of tips.

“It’s very important to know the needs and channels of distribution of the destination. It’s also important to confirm provided goods are used properly,” says Teijin’s Yoshioka Nobuyuki. “For instance, we found common flu face masks were used to work on removing rubble instead of the dust respirators that should be used.”

“Have product available, and be financially sound so you can work with customers who need extended payment terms,” says Amit Kapoor of First Line Technology LLC. “Be flexible. Be willing to work on holidays. Have a backup plan. Always be available to your customers. Have a 24-hour hotline to troubleshoot. Make sure your outside sales team is familiar with how your customers will use your product.”

Kapoor also notes the importance of having paperwork and relationships in place. Register with federal and state agencies as a vendor, he advises. And have a remote backup system for computer files.

“We use cloud-based computing because during a disaster, you might have to travel off-site. If your office is in the disaster zone, your internal servers may go down. Your phone may go down. You need to have a backup plan. We have a backup for our backup plan so that we are available 24 hours. You might get a phone call at 3:30 in the morning. You need somebody who can communicate with the end user.”

Brookstone Emergency Services Inc. stores its computer files off-site and has redundancy in its operations with two satellite offices. After four years in business in California, the company opened an operation in Texas. In response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the company “moved into Louisiana and just never left,” Bill Angelo says. He also notes that relationship building is key.

“Get your product or service in front of responding agencies so they know it exists,” he says. “And continue to build those relationships.”

Brookstone maintains a set of forms that follow the framework of FEMA’s Incident Command System as part of its overall management philosophy.

ProPac Inc. has registered with governmental agencies, has a call list for employees and has a hurricane shelter with backup generator power. Richard King, who provides his cell phone number on the company’s voice mail system, cuts to the heart of the matter.

“Start preparing early,” he says. “Start making sure all the items you are going to need are identified ahead of time and the sources are in place to provide them. Preparation doesn’t begin once the storm is named. It begins years in advance to be able to mitigate any problems that might arise. It’s a 24/7 business 365 days a year. Just because an event hasn’t occurred doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared or think about it.”

Janice Kleinschmidt is a freelance writer and editor based in San Diego, Calif.

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