WASHINGTON, Sept. 23 (UPI) -- In an effort to educate private business owners about the role they play in making America safe, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the public service advertising group the Ad Council, Thursday launched its "Ready for Business" campaign.
The campaign seeks to engage individuals and small business to prepare for attacks and disasters, especially during September, National Preparedness Month.
U.S. small businesses account for 99 percent of companies with employees and provide 45 percent of the nation's payroll, which is why the Department of Homeland Security places such a heavy emphasis on the inclusion of small businesses in their efforts to secure the nation from terrorist attacks.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge stressed the team approach to preparedness.
"Preparedness requires everyone's help to secure our country," he explained at the Ready for Business launch. "Homeland security is about the integration of the entire country around the shared goal of protecting our nation. The private sector is critical to national security," Ridge said.
9/11 Commission Vice-Chair Lee Hamilton said that private businesses, as a vital part of the U.S. infrastructure, need to cooperate. "Private-sector preparedness is not a luxury, it is essential," he said.
Hamilton expressed concern about how some small businesses do not see a need to plan for serious disasters. "Our response to terror must not be left to chance -- we can prepare now," he said. A regularly practiced plan for evacuation, adequate communication capabilities and a continuity of cooperation were promoted as must-haves for small business.
Ridge said that to prepare for the uncontrollable, people should "get a kit, make a plan and be informed." He encouraged small businesses as well as families interested in following his advice to visit the campaign's Web site, www.ready.gov, which offers tools and plans in order to help people avoid the potential consequences of not being prepared.
In short, being ready for emergencies is "not an expense, it's an investment," Ridge said.
Ad Council President, Peggy Conlon, said that companies can ensure the survival of their businesses by having a plan in place that would save company assets and the lives of their employees.
In one example of effective planning, Charles Brown spoke about his experience as president of Charlotte State Bank in Port Charlotte, Fla., during Hurricane Charlie. Because of efficient disaster planning, the bank was able to reopen the day after the hurricane ransacked Port Charlotte.
The plan was vital to employees who were preoccupied by their situation; some had lost their homes. "The plan helped us to focus our when our minds didn't want to," Brown explained. A plan that included recovery teams and tangible steps people could take to protect their selves and the business lessened anxiety and set the bank apart as "an island of normalcy in a disastrous community," Brown said.
The Washington-based association of CEOs, the Business Roundtable, applauded the Ready Business initiative as "an important recognition of the public-private partnership that is needed to protect America and to help with recovery from disasters."
The Roundtable said it had worked with the government agency, as well as other business groups, in developing the materials aimed at helping companies better prepare for a disaster or terrorist attack.
"The private sector owns more than 85 percent of the nation's critical infrastructure, and business preparedness is essential to response and recovery," said John J. Castellani, president of the Roundtable.
"Companies of all sizes should benefit from best practices and suggestions that will help us in our common goal of protecting our employees, our customers, our facilities and our communities."
The Roundtable created a "crisis communications toolkit" for member companies following the 9/11 attacks, and has also shared the toolkit with other business organizations. The group is also working on another toolkit addressing business continuity, evacuations and crisis response.
"While Roundtable companies continue to undertake steps to improve preparedness, we are committed to working with the smaller companies that are part of our supply chain," Castellani said. "Helping these companies improve their preparedness for a disaster or an attack is essential for keeping our nation's economic engine running following an incident."