The sales director for the Marriott hotels in Oxford said at 10 a.m. the day snow and ice closed down much of the northern part of the state, the books were empty. Less than an hour later, as schools and businesses closed early after a winter storm blew through the area, there were no vacancies and the lobby was flooded as vehicles and travelers from all over the Southeast were left stranded on Interstate 20.
“It was really intense,” Surrett said. “People were sleeping on couches. I remember having one woman in our lobby just crying, begging to get a room.”
Surrett, on behalf of the Oxford Marriott, attended the first meeting of the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce’s Business Ready workshop on Wednesday to learn how to prepare for situations similar to the one she found herself in less than a month ago. Wednesday’s meeting, which also saw representatives from Calhoun County AmeriCorps Initiative, Lee Brass and the Boy Scouts of America among others, was the first of four classes in the workshop hosted by the chamber, the Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency and the Cleburne and Calhoun counties chapter of the American Red Cross to teach business leaders how to prepare for natural and man-made disasters.
“It’s awful important what you can learn, especially considering what we’ve witnessed these last couple years,” said Calhoun County Commission Chairman Tim Hodges, referring to tornadoes, flash floods and the most recent winter storms that have hit Calhoun County. “We just had a meltdown where we had people stuck at businesses, kids stuck at school. You kind of feel helpless.”
Wednesday’s class featured presentations from Tammy Bain, a public information officer with the County EMA, Amy Stone, general manager at the Quintard Mall, and Tracee Nix, the health and safety sales specialist with the American Red Cross of North and Mid Alabama. Topics ranged from dealing with an active shooter in a workplace to stockpiling tools in case of a power outage.
“Some of this stuff seems silly, but how many of you have flashlights in your office,” Stone asked during her presentation. “If you don’t have one, you need one. And your employees need one too.”
Bain said this year’s workshop is the second time the chamber and EMA have teamed up for a Business Ready class. Last year, participants attended just one four-hour session.
“The feedback we got from a lot of people was they would have liked more time to do hands-on things, work on their plans and get more feedback,” Bain said. “So that’s what we’re doing this year by having four sessions.”
The format works perfectly for Ken Barrett, the president of Washin Coin Laundry, which operates two locations in Anniston. Barrett said the two-hour classes spread out over the course of four months means he doesn’t have to worry about attending one long session, or missing too much work on consecutive days.
“It’s good to attend things like these because you think you’re prepared, then you sit down and look at all this on paper,” Barrett said. “It’s good to go through all of this, and look for other ways to help your employees, too.”
Bain said businesses that missed the first session can still register for the workshop by contacting the chamber or the EMA. The participants will need to complete the Business Ready preparedness plan before the next session on March 19 in order to complete the course and receive the chamber’s Business Ready certificate.
Interested participants should contact Bain at 256-435-0540.
Staff Writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.