The key to surviving and recovering from a disaster is to avoid what one emergency manager calls the "Titanic Syndrome."
Before Titanic sank in the Atlantic Ocean in April 1912, one person exclaimed: "God himself could not sink this ship."
No lifeboat drills were conducted, iceberg warnings were ignored, and calls for help delayed. Those mistakes all contributed to the Titanic tragedy, and they can plague modern emergency responders in both the public and private sector, said Ken Kraudy, emergency management coordinator for Sandy.
Kraudy spoke to a room full of business owners and community leaders Thursday at the first Business Preparedness Conference in Salt Lake City.
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who opened the conference, said Utah has avoided a major catastrophe. "We've had floods. We've had fires. Now we've got evacuees," he said.
There is no how-to manual for responding to a major disaster, but the government is learning. Businesses need to be learning, too, he said.
Kraudy was one of six presentations from which attendees could learn how to prepare for the worst. "We are always vulnerable," Kraudy said.
Leaders need to get any "Titanic" ideas out of their heads and get motivated to prepare. "Today, decide what you're going to do, and do the best you can," he said.
For example, it may not be possible to buy satellite phones for each company employee, but an emergency contact system can be a head start, Kraudy said. Training exercises also are critical to success in riding out a disaster, he said.
In Sandy a few weeks ago, the city ran a scenario with Alta View Hospital and South Towne Center in which a bomber was planning to take out the mall. The exercise taught all involved how their partnership with one another functions. Each entity has shared with the others a list of the services it can and can't provide.
Sandy, for example, has five fire stations. If there are five small fires resulting from a disaster, the fire department can handle them. But if an earthquake causes 35 fires, the city has to prioritize, Kraudy said.
Companies need to have a disaster plan, which involves encouraging employees to be self-reliant. Companies can have Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, training, which will teach employees disaster skills and how to work with emergency responders.
Each business should build a relationship with the public sector and be aware of local resources, like the Utah Association of Contingency Planners, which helps coordinate government and business emergency plans. A three-day supply of food is the minimum people should have, but two weeks is much better, he said.
The Greater Salt Lake Area chapter of the American Red Cross sells disaster and first-aid kits for families or employees. Items can be purchased online at www.utahredcross.org or at the chapter's bookstore. One of the items is a disaster tube, which can be stored under a desk. It contains a water pouch, dust mask, whistle, light stick and a hook-and-loop tab to attach it to the underside of a desk.