Amy Stone, the manager of Quintard Mall, was curious what kind of plans, if any, the business leaders gathered Friday morning at the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce had in case of disaster.
“What do you do when there’s a flood?” Stone asked. “What about a fire? Do you know your firefighters? Your fire chief? What about thunderstorms?”
Stone was asking representatives from a diverse cross-section of county businesses including hotel managers, hospital staff, city councilmen and small business owners who were in attendance at Business Ready, a joint seminar hosted by the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, County Emergency Management Agency and Jacksonville State University’s Small Business Development Center.
Stone said the idea for the seminar came together gradually after the April 27 tornadoes.
“Every time we talked, discussion on disaster preparedness for businesses came up,” Stone said. “We realized that we’ve got to do something. Every business needs to be prepared for this.”
The three-hour session covered the gamut from what to do in a simple power outage to how to handle a terrorist situation. It included presentations by Stone, County EMA information officer Tammy Bain and Small Business Development Center account executive Amy Anderson.
Jonathan Gaddy, director of the Calhoun County EMA, said it’s important now more than ever for businesses to take responsibility and have a plan of action in case of an emergency.
“You look at history when we first had Civil Defense in the '50s, you’d just have civil defenders sitting by radios and waiting for information on severe weather,” Gaddy said. “We take things for granted now. We no longer have to wait, we all have smartphones, TVs and radios — it’s a personal responsibility now.”
And a responsibility to the community, as well, Stone said.
“You need to know how to reach not only your employees and customers, but your neighbors too,” Stone said. “It’s important to know your community.”
Marvin Thompson Jr., general manager of Courtyard by Marriott in Oxford, said he attended because a recent fire scare at the hotel put staff in a position to revise their emergency plans. The most valuable advice he said he took away was who to turn to before a disaster strikes.
“Of course I knew the police department and fire department are there to protect you,” Thompson said. “But I didn’t know they would come out for free, inspect things for you. That’s good to know.”
Roger and Jeff Hansek, the vice-president and director of marketing, respectively, of Signature In-Home Care of Oxford, said attending the seminar was a way to assure their customers they were doing everything possible to better serve them.
“Our clients are very vulnerable in situations like that,” Jeff said. “We want to do as much as we can for them, and be prepared as possible.”
“You never know what’s going to happen,” Roger said. “We’re just hoping to get something valuable out of this. You can always learn new things.”
Piedmont City Councilman and retired police officer Terry Kiser said he attended the seminar as something of a refresher course — something he said should be common practice for businesses and residents.
“All of us can always learn something new,” Kiser said. “Seminars like this are just great for the community.”
Stone said in the business world, the default mode for owners and managers is to be as competitive as possible. But in disaster and emergency situations, it’s far more important to be a good neighbor.
“If one business goes away it affects the whole community,” Stone said. “If something impacts your business, eventually it’s going to impact my business.”
Stone said he hopes the seminar will become an annual session coinciding with the state’s disaster preparedness week.
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.