County seeks business help in planning for emergencies |

County seeks business help in planning for emergencies

John Seelmeyer

Businesses in northern Nevada have a lot at stake if disaster strikes a substantial number of them, after all, will fail in the aftermath and Washoe County’s top preparedness official wants to increase business participation in planning for an emergency.

A preliminary discussion of the subject drew about 75 business people to a meeting last month, and a follow-up is scheduled for April.

The goals are three-fold, says Aaron Kenneston, Washoe County’s emergency manager.

First, preparedness officials in the region want to assist business in planning for a disaster everything from floods and wildfires to a terror attack.

Second, they want private-sector input to ensure that emergency management efforts adequately address the needs of business owners and managers.

And third, preparedness officials want to learn more about the private sector resources that might be available during a disaster and its aftermath.

Kenneston acknowledges that organizers’ efforts are rowing upstream. With the exception of an effort that links the Associated General Contractors’ Nevada chapter with local emergency planners, there’s not a strong track record of cooperation between preparedness programs and businesses in the region.

“I refuse to believe that we can’t do better,” he says. “It’s the right thing to do, and we can do it in our region.”

But the AGC program one in which contractors stand ready to provide heavy equipment and skilled operators at the call of emergency officials has been so successful that county officials see hopes for deeper ties between government and business executives.

Businesses have plenty at stake.

The Association of Small Business Development Centers found 43 percent of businesses that experience a disaster and don’t have an emergency plan never reopen. Of those that do reopen, less than a third are still operating two years later.

If nothing else, Kenneston hopes business leaders will develop phone trees or e-mail distribution programs to quickly inform business owners and managers of a potential threat such as a flood.

A free workshop is scheduled from 10 a.m. until noon on April 30 to begin development of a private-public partnership for emergency preparedness. (The registration deadline is April 21; contact Cathy Ludwig at 337-5859 or email

Kenneston hopes the private-sector effort can be developed as a subcommittee of an existing business organization, and he’s floated the possibility past the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada. Both groups helped bring the initial planning session together.

“EDAWN supports Washoe County in its efforts to help businesses prepare for a regional disaster which is critical to keeping companies up and running during a crisis and not have our economy shut down for any period of time,” said Chuck Alvey, president and chief executive officer for EDAWN.

Doug Kurkul, chief executive officer of the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce, noted the organization also has worked with federal agencies in recent months to increase awareness among businesses of the need for earthquake preparedness.

Next month’s organizational workshop will be followed by a June exercise in which business leaders and emergency planners walk and talk their way through a mock disaster.