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Five Keys for Businesses, Residents in Disaster Preparation

After the Alameda Fire last year destroyed or damaged many homes and businesses, the Ashland, Ore., Chamber of Commerce went about deploying an online preparedness toolkit to help develop a more resilient community.

Six people wearing facemasks standing outside talking.
After last year’s Alameda Fire that destroyed or damaged more than 200 businesses and 2,500 homes from Ashland, Ore., to the outskirts of Medford, many residents and business owners were left wishing they had planned just a little more to prepare for such a disaster.

The Ashland Chamber of Commerce has launched an online tool kit to help residents and businesses become better prepared for not only wildfires but any hazard. The toolkit offers preparedness steps that could improve the outcomes of individuals or businesses and lead to a more resilient community.

“Ashland had a significant flood as well, so whatever kind of natural disaster, or even through the pandemic, we learned through conversations with business owners they wish they had been more prepared,” said Katharine Cato of the Ashland Chamber of Commerce and also a member of the task force that developed the toolkit.

Through those conversations, the task force came up with five key preparedness steps that include links to resources.

Businesses are often so busy with the day-to-day operation of running things that they don’t get around to preparing for an eventual disaster. Doing just a little can go a long way, Cato said, and she hopes that residents and businesses at least do one of these five things:

  • Prepare the essentials: If you had 10 minutes to evacuate, what would you grab?
  • Inventory personal property: Are you fully aware of everything you own?
  • Know evacuation routes: Do you know your evacuation zone (Ashland has 10) at home and at work?
  • Understand your insurance: Does your commercial insurance cover your business assets?
  • Store important documents: Are they stored securely? Do you have backups?

A common theme heard from business owners who went through the Alameda Fire last year was that they were really not aware of what their insurance covered. “Right out of the gate, my first instinct would be to better understand how their insurance policy works,” said Greg White, owner of Reinholdt & O’Harra Insurance and co-chair of the task force. “A lot of them didn’t understand how loss of business income works.”

White said many residents evacuated the fire without grabbing any items, thinking they’d be able to return. In many cases, everything was gone when they did get back. “They weren’t prepared for the total loss and they really regret not knowing what they should have grabbed,” White said. “They had a few minutes and could have grabbed some stuff.”

Cato said it’s hard to have clarity of thought when a disaster hits, and some preparedness can make a big difference. Preparing essentials helps the resident and business owner get a head start.

“Preparing the essentials is really creating an action plan and what you can do now, before an emergency, to increase your resilience,” she said. “Also, we’ve made a huge effort here of creating a go-kit, kind of a mixture of all of the top five things, whether you’re a business or a resident.”

Preparing for a disaster or creating some resiliency can seem overwhelming to residents and business owners, but taking small steps — doing something to get started — is important. “We researched a lot of different things online and it could be a little overwhelming, so we wanted to distill it down to an easy-to-use format and the top five things,” Cato said.