DHS pushes 'Ready Business' campaign

There’s a long way to go in convincing companies to prepare for disasters, department chief says.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff called on businesses to invest in preparing their companies and employees for emergencies like the hurricanes that ripped through the Gulf Coast region this year.

The department, along with the Advertising Council, announced new public service advertisements targeted at small to medium-size businesses. The "Ready" campaign for businesses was initiated last year, but Chertoff said Monday "we're not there yet" in convincing businesses to prepare for a terrorist attack or natural disaster.

The Ad Council reported a recent survey that found 92 percent of business executives believe it is "very important or somewhat important" for business to invest in preparedness, but only 39 percent have done so. Chertoff said the new nationwide advertisements aim to close that gap. Companies said a lack of time, resources and funding prevented them from preparing.

"Small businesses form the backbone of our nation's economy, and their emergency preparedness is crucial to keeping our nation secure," said Chertoff. "A commitment to planning today can protect a business and give it a better chance for survival in the event of a natural disaster, terrorist attack or other emergency." Small businesses represent more than 99 percent of all employers and 97 percent of all U.S. exporters, according to the Small Business Administration.

Chertoff cited an example of what small business could do in the wake of the recent Hurricane Wilma in Florida. He said the state had prepared to supply enough fuel to its citizens following the hurricane, but that gas stations could not pump gasoline because of power outages. He said gas stations must invest in generators to "save lives and restore communities."

The campaign also encourages company executives to create an evacuation plan; consider fire safety; plan with employees; consider employees with special needs; and protect business investments with insurance policies and secure facilities.

The secretary said he wanted the advertisements to build on recent momentum, pointing out that traffic on the department's Web site, www.ready.gov, doubled in September.

Since 2004, the department's Ready Business campaign has received more than $11 million in donated media time and advertising space and 6.8 million hits on the related Web site.

The secretary on Monday also appealed to citizens to prepare for catastrophic events, saying families must have enough food, water, medicine and supplies for 72 hours following an emergency. "Even under the best circumstances, the government is not going to be able to take care of everybody instantaneously," he said.

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