Category: Business Contingency Planning

How do you answer when . . .?



Do you have an answer when people ask, “Why are you involved in Emergency Preparedness?”

If you’re like me, you’ve been asked that question many times, in a variety of ways.

Common questions – do they sound familiar?

  • What’s so great about emergency response?
  • How do you even know where to start?
  • What if your family really isn’t interested?

Frequent put-downs – tough to come up with an answer!

And then there are some people who don’t even pose a question, but come up with a comment designed to shut the whole conversation down.

  • I don’t believe in scaring people.
  • Nobody has that kind of money.
  • Nothing bad is going to happen here.

The best answer? Facts!

The trick I’ve found is to have at hand a few facts to counter the emotions in these comments! And since Joe and I are planning to be at a big emergency preparedness community fair this weekend, I decided I needed a few updated facts.

I am sharing them below as the Emergency Preparedness Fact Sheet, with this month’s date. Obviously the fact sheet can get out of date mighty quickly!

I hope you will find these facts useful in casual conversations. You can use them to answer a question like one of those above. You can use them to start a substantive discussion at work or with a group you belong to. (Your neighbors may not agree with everything!) Share them with the press.  Customize, add, subtract.  But use the fact sheet contents when you can, and let us know how it works!

Emergency Preparedness Fact Sheet – October, 2018

Why I stay involved . . .

  • More disasters: Weather-related disasters are increasing, quadrupling since 1970 to almost 400 per year. Hurricane Harvey was called the 3rd 500-year flood in 3 years. Hurricane Michael is strongest to hit Panhandle of Florida in recorded history.;;
  • Higher costs: The cost of disasters continues to go up. With three devastating hurricanes, extreme wildfires, hail, flooding, tornadoes and drought, the U.S. tallied a record high bill last year (2017) for weather-related disasters: $306 billion. . CBS News, Jan. 8, 2018
  • Fewer deaths: The number of deaths caused by natural disasters is falling:
    • Cities invest in safety measures, advanced warning systems, better buildings.
    • Response organizations deliver food, water, sanitation, and medicine more quickly.
    • People have access to social media, GPS, television, radio to warn them to get out of the way or get prepared for impending disaster.
  • Delayed response: However, in a widespread emergency, governments and aid organizations cannot always help communities immediately.  A new emphasis has arisen to promote “community resilience.”
  • Public apathy: Study after study says that Americans recognize the threat of natural disasters, but fewer than half of them have done anything to prepare. Statistics for small business preparedness are similar.
  • Limited citizen engagement: Since 1993 CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) training has educated volunteers in basic disaster response skills such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization and disaster medical operations. Nationwide, in over 2,700 communities, more than 600,000 people have gone through the FEMA program. That’s 600,000 in a population of 325 million = 1 CERT grad for every 500+ neighbors!
  • Community organizations: Some local governments also create and support neighborhood preparedness groups, often based on CERT and operating under the office or department of Emergency Management. Examples are LA’s Ready Your LA Neighborhood (RYLAN) and Hawaii’s Hazards Awareness and Resilience Program (HHARP).
  • Filling the gap: In most cities, when CERT graduates finish their training, they continue to train with other CERTs but go back into their neighborhoods without tools to help involve their neighbors. Emergency Plan Guide resources are meant to fill that gap:
    1. regularly publishes articles and reports on various aspects of preparedness. The authors assume subscribers to the regular weekly Advisories have an interest in building more resilient neighborhoods, so most Advisories are designed for group leaders to share in a formal group (church, homeowners’ association, business, school) or informally.
    2. The Neighborhood Disaster Survival Series adds a new tool for building more resilient communities. Each book provides a thorough, step-by-step program, again based on CERT principles, to help community leaders and their neighbors understand vulnerabilities of their particular type of community and work together in a more organized fashion to prepare for and respond to emergencies. The goal of each book is to help a group develop a PLAN for PREPAREDNESS that will have some staying power; the small business book is also designed to keep a business out of legal trouble.

What “facts” or emotions keep YOU involved? Are you able to get other people engaged by describing your own feelings or concerns? What “arguments” have worked best for you in getting others to take action?

Let us know in the comments!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team


Will Your Business Survive a Disaster? What About the Employees?


Updated 2018, after Hurricane Florence. Note: this Advisory touches on a number of very significant issues that all employees and their employers need to be aware of. Everyone is urged to talk directly to their employer to get specific answers to the questions raised. Different states have different rules; different industries may have different requirements. Will your business survive a disaster? Know more about what to expect!

A second update, from 2020. Business closures as a result of the pandemic are not likely to reflect all the general guidelines described in this article. Still, it’s worth knowing questions to ask.

If you evacuate, and your work shuts down, will it survive?

evacuate ahead of storm

When Hurricane Irma threatened Florida and Georgia just about a year ago, over 7 million people were under mandatory evacuation. This year, as Hurricane Florence approached the Carolinas, officials ordered over a million people to pack up and leave.  As I write this Advisory today (September 27, 2018) thousands more people in South Carolina are closing up and getting out to avoid historic flooding.

Most if not all of the businesses that employed all those evacuating people were closed; some are still closed.

Questions to consider:

Survival Question 1 – How long will it take to get the building back up and functioning?

If the business is damaged by winds, flood, contamination, fire, or even if it was not physically damaged, how long will it be before it can be re-opened?

  • Getting electricity and other utilities back up is only the first step — and that may take days or even weeks as we have seen.
  • Repairs to roads, bridges, etc. may be required before repair crews, equipment and supplies can reach individual business or residential communities.
  • Construction supplies and crews will be in short supply, which means you will have to get in line — and their prices will go up.

Survival Question 2 – Once the building is up, what about the employees?

  • Some employees may be unable to return to work because their homes have been damaged.
  • Some employees may be unable to return to work because roads are still closed.
  • Family issues (injury, child care, medical, etc.) may keep employees at home.
  • Some employees will have run out of money and will not have been able to wait for the business to reopen.

Survival Question 3 – Even though the business is now ready to re-open, what about customers and suppliers?

  • Your regular customers may not have returned from having been evacuated.
  • Some may still be struggling with their own disasters and not want or be able to use your services.
  • Your regular vendors may still be struggling, too — and you may not be able to get your usual deliveries of supplies.
  • The entire economy may be depressed. (The tourist economy of Puerto Rico has not recovered after Hurricane Maria.)

Where will the money come from to make survival and rebuilding possible?

Timing is everything. If you can’t get the doors re-opened within 10 days, your business has little chance of surviving. In fact, about 40% of companies hit by natural disasters never do re-open.

And for small businesses, the chances of going under are even greater because not only is the workplace damaged or destroyed, but local customers have been hit by the storm, too.

OK, those are statistics. But stick with the scenario a bit longer.

Big storm hits – and thankfully you get through unharmed. Your family is shaken, but safe and back together. Unfortunately, your workplace was flooded and needs some major repairs. So now, the real emergency begins, because . . .

Income Question #1 – Will employees get paid during the evacuation and the re-building process?

If you are an employee, here’s what you need to know first about getting paid during and after a disaster.

  1. Are you paid on an hourly basis and eligible for overtime? Or are you “exempt” from overtime?
  2. How long is the business likely to be down?
  3. Can you work from home?
  4. Does your employer have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that will help?
  5. Do you have a personal retirement plan – 401(k) – that you could borrow from?

As you can imagine, answers to these questions may vary company by company, and state by state. Here we are publishing general guidelines.

Income Question #2 – What does the Federal Government require of your employer?

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (, employers must pay covered non-exempt employees (hourly workers) for hours worked, and overtime to those workers who work more than 40 hours in one week. So, if you work, expect to get paid.

If you DON’T work because a disaster shuts down the business, don’t expect to get paid.

If you are a salaried employee, and the business is shut down for less than a week, you will probably get paid for that time. However, your employer may deduct those days from your leave bank. If the business is closed for a full workweek, your employer isn’t required to pay you.

If the workplace is completely destroyed from the disaster, you may be eligible for unemployment while you look for work or the company is being re-built.

If the company re-opens, but you can’t make it back to work because your own home has been damaged, or someone in your family has been injured, your absence is considered “a personal day” and it will likely be counted against your leave bank or deducted from your salary.

Your employer may have set up an Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) that in addition to referrals and counseling might provide short-term financial help – perhaps advancement on future wages. Note my use of the word “might” in that sentence . . .

Income Question #3 – Does your employer have the resources to hold things together?

If your employer has planned for emergencies, and made sure the company has the right insurances, funds may be available to keep the business and employees going while the business regains its footing. Applicable insurances may be property, flood, business interruption, added expense, etc.

For example, insurance coverage may allow for essential operations to be moved to a temporary location. There, office or other equipment can be rented so the company can provide regular or at least a skeleton service. Employees may have to be put up in a hotel. New temporary employees may have to be hired. Or, a few key employees may be called upon to work from home if they can get upgraded broadband, etc.

These additional expenses can add up quickly and many may have to be paid in cash, so this will require advance planning.

What’s the best answer?

Of course, you can’t predict a disaster, but the more you and your company prepare, the better the chances you’ll make it through the disaster and get back up and running before it’s too late.

So, even if emergency planning isn’t part of your official job description, you are advised to find out what planning your employer has done. It’s very possible that you could help improve whatever plan exists.

We have resources right here at Emergency Plan Guide.

  • Use the search bar to find specific topics.
  • Click on Business Planning in the Build Your Survival Skills section of the sidebar to page through some of the recent Advisories specifically for business owners and employees.
  • Consider getting and sharing a copy of Emergency Preparedness for Small Business. Like this Advisory, it asks a lot of pertinent questions, and has many, many resources in its Appendix.

Even if the business ultimately survives a disaster, the people who worked there may experience their own, personal disaster. Smart planning may help everyone involved.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. In the midst of a disaster, employment issues can quickly develop. We are not legal or licensed insurance experts. If this Advisory has raised any questions about termination, discrimination, wage or hourly pay, insurance benefits, etc., please consult with a qualified adviser for answers that fit your individual situation.

“Wholistic” Approach to Emergency Preparedness


Emergency Planning requires wholistic approach

At any given moment, take a look to your left. Then to your right. If disaster hits right now, one of those people is going to be your “first responder!”

Given what you see, what are your chances???

“We are all in this together.”

Here at Emergency Plan Guide you’ll see our wholistic approach again and again: “We are all it this together.” That’s why we extend our concern beyond individuals to the groups they find themselves in.

In our new book, Emergency Preparedness for Small Business , we point out the many groups connected to a business. Here’s an abbreviated look at some of them, and how they fit into the “wholistic” approach.

Every business community plays a role in YOUR business’s ability to survive a disaster, . . . and needs to be included in your “wholistic” emergency preparedness plan.

Your relationship with each of these groups can impact your brand and your reputation. Your community relationships impact your employees’ skill levels and quality of life. And your communities play a role in your ability to respond to emergencies.

If you’re a business owner or an employee, are you including these communities in your wholistic planning? 

What follows are excerpts from Chapter 3 in the book. (More communities are identified there.)

-The physical location

If you are in a business or industrial location your primary official contacts are likely the city government and local fire department. They will be concerned about providing immediate response to the threat of toxic chemicals, fire, flood, etc.

Other nearby businesses will have the same concerns – and will compete for the same official resources.

If your business is located near (or in) a residential area, nearby residents may have additional concerns about safety and security, including the company being prone to looting or other potential lawless activity.

-Employees and their family members

Communications with staff and family members are absolutely critical.

You probably already have an Emergency Contact form for employees. Does it have contact info for ALL family members plus an out-of-area contact? Do you know about special skills employees may bring to the emergency response table?

-First Responders, hospitals and other health care resources

How close are you to fire and rescue installations, hospitals, emergency care facilities? Under normal conditions, how long does it take them to respond to an alarm in your neighborhood?

Within your organization, what medically trained people are available, and what first aid and medical supplies do you have on hand for them to use?


Have you met with representatives of your different utility companies? What is their ability to respond to disruptions? Who in your organization should be trained on utility protocols?

-Telecommunications Companies

What level and type of services do you receive for voice, data, internet, video and restoration services in an emergency?

-Local, State and National Governments

What kind of resources can be mobilized at the local city level to deal with a crisis? The county or state level? How/when could you receive assistance from a National Guard deployment? FEMA?


Keeping the various stakeholders (board of directors, financial advisors, etc.) apprised of business conditions is an important management commitment. All stakeholder groups will have questions and will likely demand updates as to the company’s status in an emergency.

-Suppliers and business partners

What contingency plans do your suppliers have in case they run into problems?


How will you support customers – local, long-distance, international – if the business is interrupted? How will customers be contacted in an emergency?

-Social Media

We have seen repeatedly how “news” of emergencies spreads dramatically via smartphones. Keeping the company’s messaging consistent to prevent rumors and speculation is a primary requirement in an emergency. Do you have protocols set up?

OK. These aren’t all the “communities” associated with a business. One of the reasons they all need to be considered?

Neighboring business communities may have conflicting interests in a disaster.

Bear in mind that the interests of these different groups can vary greatly.

Most will likely be sympathetic to your emergency situation and even helpful in the recovery process. Others may jump at the opportunity to take advantage of your problems. Still others might feel you were negligent in not taking reasonable or sufficient precautions to protect them from your problem – not to mention protecting your own employees, visitors, etc.

As always, thinking your situation through before an emergency hits will help you anticipate everything that could go wrong – and help you start setting priorities for building the processes and the relationships within the community that will make your response easier and more effective.

You might want to take another, closer look at Emergency Preparedness for Small Business. You can see the entire Table of Contents at Amazon.  

Virginia and Joe
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. We’re not lawyers but we have had enough business experience to be able to warn our readers of some of the legal dangers of not having a business emergency plan. We include those warnings in Chapter 8 in the Book.






Disaster Survival Series adds 4th title for Small Business


Now available:

Emergency Preparedness for Small Business

The book that closes the gap in disaster survival between a business and its family communities.

4th book in series

The series expands: Emergency Preparedness for Small Business

No longer do small businesses have to put their business, their lives and their employees’ lives — and livelihood — at high risk in a catastrophic event. Emergency Preparedness for Small Business makes writing a simple Business Continuity Plan manageable and even easy. And we know that having that up-to-date, workable Plan improves the odds of business survival by an order of magnitude.

The foundation already exists.

This fourth book in the Neighborhood Disaster Survival Guide series has one unique purpose — to get business owners and leaders of their workforce community to adopt the widely acclaimed FEMA Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) process as an already-existing foundation for their Plan. CERT is provided free by over 2,500 cities and counties across the U.S. as well as on the FEMA website.

Authors Nicols and Krueger are themselves CERT graduates, and in the book have combined their years of working with business with their years of developing and leading a neighborhood emergency response team.

The first three books in the series were devoted to fulfilling the promise of CERT, giving individual members a way to leverage their training by reaching out and connecting neighbors and even whole neighborhoods.

This book extends CERT basics to the business community.

There’s no longer any excuse.

Joe Krueger says, “Whether you’re at home or at work, there’s no excuse for simply rolling the dice in an emergency. In fact, at work that attitude could be grounds for a lawsuit!”

Now businesses as well as neighborhoods have a simple roadmap for preparing for the natural disasters that threaten, as well as the even-more-frequent man-made ones. Each book presents options and real-life examples, offers step-by-step guidelines and adds references to dozens of other resources. There’s an occasional legal warning, too.

The message to all:

Disasters have surged 400% over the past 20 years – and they are bigger, often overwhelming official First Responders. It’s up to citizens to know what to expect and how to react, because they become the real “first responders!”

All 4 books are available as ebook or paperback at Amazon. Here are direct links:

  1. Emergency Preparedness for Apartment Communities
  2. Emergency Preparedness for Mobilehome Communities
  3. Emergency Preparedness for Homeowner Communities
  4. Emergency Preparedness for Small Business

When the disaster hits, it’s too late for preparing or for training.  Take the first step now.

Can you trust your fire extinguisher?


Comparing fire extinguishers

Comparing fire extinguishers. How long will they last? Are they rechargeable?

Your CERT investment

How are you using your CERT training? (Check all that apply.)

  • I’m adding more and better gear to my green CERT bag.
  • I’m working on immediate family members to develop better “situational awareness.” Not always with much success.
  • When the subject comes up, I encourage neighbors and co-workers to take the training.
  • I have joined a neighborhood emergency response group.
  • I have decided to START a neighborhood emergency response group.

As you may have gathered by now, Joe and I don’t think getting CERT training is enough. Oh, yes, it’s valuable.

But “saving” it just for yourself or your family is like getting a double barreled shotgun and only ever using one barrel. Or getting bunk beds and only ever sleeping in one. Or getting . . . well, you can come up with another example of letting half of a really good thing go to waste!

In this case, it’s wasting all the good information that will help OTHER PEOPLE save themselves in a disaster.

Because that’s our philosophy, we’re always thrilled when we hear from people that they have made a successful effort to share good information.

A Better Return on Investment

Two weeks ago I heard from an Emergency Plan Guide Advisory reader that her mobilehome park was having a big Disaster Team meeting with several speakers. She reported that over 70 people had already signed up! Why? . . . free pizza, salad and beverages provided by Park Management!

Naturally that news made me want to share the meeting that we held last week in our community. We didn’t get 70, but almost that many people. And what made it different was the sponsorship of our local hardware store.

Plan a successful emergency response team meeting

Over the years I’ve written up “lesson plans” for neighborhood meetings and events. So here’s another one that perhaps you can use to “spread the word” in your own community. If the woman in the picture actually buys a fire extinguisher, we may have saved a home — or even a neighboring home!

All the meeting ideas presented in the Meeting Idea Books follow the same format:

  • Title
  • Objective
  • Procedure
  • Materials Needed
  • Comment

Title: We can call this one: “Building a Stronger Community.”

Objective: To encourage people to pick up a few everyday tools and equipment appropriate for day-to-day repairs AND emergencies.

Procedure: Joe and I approached the manager of our local Orchard Supply Hardware (OSH) about putting on a special “pilot” program for our community. We wanted to get people to the store to buy some important emergency preparedness items.

After a tour of the store, and a number of discussions with OSH and our team leaders, we agreed on the following format:

  • We would promote a “show and tell” meeting at our clubhouse.
  • The store would send a sales person to our meeting along with a number of examples of emergency equipment – fire extinguishers, multi-tools, lanterns and flashlights, smoke alarms, pre-built emergency kits, etc.
  • Members of our neighborhood team would also bring and demonstrate emergency items they own – pet container and pet survival kit, headlamps, various bottled water supplies, etc.
  • Nothing would be for sale. Rather, all attendees would receive a one-time DISCOUNT COUPON. All they had to do is take it to the store, shop from their list, and get the discount at the counter.
  • We’d have a door prize and refreshments.

Materials needed: The store selected (with our input) all the items they wanted to show, and brought them complete with price tags. Our team members brought their own things, some of which were not available at OSH. All we needed to create from scratch were the various promotional items for the meeting – flyers, newsletter article, email announcement – and the discount coupon. For the meeting itself we needed several tables for display, cups and napkins for the refreshments, plus two microphones (one for the M/C, one for the person doing the demonstration).

Comment: Our goal was to host a “community meeting” and not a commercial for the store. We made sure all advertising emphasized our Emergency Response Group. And having a mix of OSH and team speakers and show and tell items kept everything well balanced.

As much as I thought this meeting might be “ho hum,” (How many times can you talk about fire extinguishers?!) we got more than the usual number of thank you notes! We kept the speakers on track. And afterwards people crowded around the tables to pick up and examine ALL the articles, including those fire extinguishers and packets of water!

We haven’t heard yet about sales success, but I did send the store some ideas for follow-up meetings plus bullet points for a press release.

All in all, the meeting did what I hoped it would do – reach out to some new neighbors, introduce some new emergency preparedness ideas, and above all, demonstrate that we are a community and as a community – the more we all know, the safer we all will be!

If you are trying to come up with an idea for a meeting in your neighborhood or perhaps at work, try a variation on this one.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. We have held similar events in the past. At one meeting some years ago, The Home Depot and Costco both came and took orders that they delivered a week later.

P.P.S. Fire extinguishers were the hot item at that earlier meeting, too!

More hurricanes, and Harvey isn’t even over yet


Flooding from rain

New hurricane season started June 1.

Recent headlines announce the start of a new hurricane season, with between 10 and 16 named hurricanes to look forward to. There’s apparently a new threat, too – “superstorms” that fall outside the regular categories!

So, have you moved recently? Or are you planning some travel?

Or maybe right now you are sitting in an area that could be threatened by the winds, storm surge or flooding from a hurricane? (Hurricanes don’t just hit coastal areas. They can create flooding for hundreds of miles inland.)

At Emergency Plan Guide we’ve written about hurricanes before, of course. (Remember the “Hurricane Headscratcher” that we put out last year?) But even if you think you’re an “expert,” it can’t hurt to refresh your understanding of some smart things to do to prepare.

Here are two excellent references, new to this Advisory:

  1. For families: .  Note particularly the comments about signing up for local alerts and getting familiar with local evacuation zones and routes.
  2. For business: This 4-page checklist was written in 2013 so the statistics may not be up to date, but the recommendations are worth considering, particularly those that have to do with shutting your business down before the storm hits.

And to get back to Harvey, where there are still lessons to be learned . . .

Hurricane season reminds me of Harvey, so I went back to see what has happened in Texas since the storm hit there last year. (August-September, 2017)

The following list is about Texas, but it could apply to most every community affected or threatened by a natural disaster. (In fact, there are some striking similarities between what people in Houston experienced and what is going on right now in Hawaii.)

As you read, think about the threats your community could face and how it might fare . .

1- Insurance. Most homes in Harvey’s path didn’t have flood insurance. Since the storm, applications for flood insurance have increased, as you might expect. What you might not have expected is that the vast majority of new policies (quoted as 70% by one agent) are for homes outside the mapped flood hazard area. People are recognizing that planning around the concept of the “100 year flood” isn’t adequate.

2- Name. Harvey was so destructive (51 inches of rain in certain parts of Texas) that its name has been retired from the list of potential names for future storms.

3- Help from the Government. Texas has requested and received millions in aid for rebuilding. At the same time, the state requested “flexibility” in deciding how the funds should be used. This has alarmed advocates for housing and for disadvantaged communities because the list of projects submitted along with the requests was heavily weighted toward large-scale infrastructure.

4- Homeless. The problems haven’t ended for people displaced by the storm. Of course, some homeowners have started rebuilding. But other people whose homes were damaged have been notified they need to elevate the homes before they can move back in. Naturally, many can’t afford what can be considered major renovation. And the FEMA vouchers that were allowing homeowners to stay in hotels have now run out.

5- More homeless. People who were renting when the flood hit have suffered even more. If they had no insurance, they may have lost most of their personal property. Those who hadn’t found new apartments and had been staying in hotels found their vouchers ended even sooner than homeowners.

6- Still more homeless. I don’t even want to mention the FEMA trailers sitting empty months after the storm . . .

More results you may never have even considered.

7- Jails. Flooded courthouses slowed the wheels of justice, causing jails to become overcrowded. According to one jail insider, “The situation is so dire that the county lock-up may soon have to begin turning away arrestees.” (I was unable to find out if that actually happened.)

8- Animals. The water that inundated the area also caused displacement of animals. Alligators from the wild and also from parks floated free and appeared in flooded neighborhoods. Fire ants, driven from their underground homes, clustered into “floating islands” to protect their queens until waters receded and they were able to build new nests in new locations.

9- Disease. Medical professionals continue to monitor the impacts of the air pollution, contaminated water and mold caused by the flooding, mostly from the superfund sites in the region. Researchers predict long-term health and emotional health problems.

Yes, 2017’s hurricane season was “the most costly and disruptive on record” in the U.S. So maybe this year won’t be so bad?!

You can hope.

In the meanwhile, this one storm alone reminds us how Americans have become so dependent on modern conveniences – power, hospitals and medical services, transportation, communications – that when these get interrupted or destroyed, the results can be disastrous.

Time to take another look at how well YOU are prepared for an emergency.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Many of our Advisories are meant to be shared. This is one. In particular, share the links to the two sets of checklists for families and for business. Just one good idea could save both money and anguish — not to mention lives.

No Valid Excuse for Negligence


Lawsuit for negligence

If you are prepared for emergencies at home, and have a survival kit at work and at least one in the car – Congratulations!

(I don’t think you’d be reading this if you didn’t have at least some of those kits!)

Now, if you are a business owner, manager, or business board member, I don’t make the same preparedness assumptions. In fact, my assumption based on national statistics is that you are NOT prepared for a workplace emergency!

Today, having no plan might be considered negligence!

The word for the unprepared business owner is — Watch out!

Joe and I just finished putting finishing touches on the fourth book of our Disaster Survival Guide Series. This book is aimed at owners and employees in small businesses (or larger ones, for that matter).

One thing that pops out of is that the list of threats for family preparedness is nowhere near as long as the list of threats for business. Our list of threats for families has something like 59 items on it. Our current list of threats for businesses has reached 83!

And as I added a couple more items to the business list, I knew I wanted to get some information out to you today. It can’t wait until the book is published!

This Advisory isn’t the whole story, of course, but I hope it will at least start you thinking about the . . .

You run the risk of being sued for not having a plan.

One thing we have found out about small business owners — they know their businesses better than anyone. They also are often short on money and time and suspicious of “experts” telling them what to do.

These may be some of the reasons that many new businesses delay getting valuable accounting and legal advice. And they postpone planning for emergencies, too. For new businesses, perhaps that’s understandable. But what we know is that the majority of even mature small businesses postpone planning for emergencies!

If an emergency DOES hit, even a new or an established company that survives the disaster could be destroyed by a lawsuit brought after the fact.

Some examples of legal risks associated with preparedness.

You’ll recognize these examples of not-so-rare situations where owners could be sued. Picture yourself . . .

  • You know that an ex-employee has threatened retaliation, but you don’t warn current employees or make any changes to the way people can get into your building. The ex-employee shows up and shoots 3 people before killing himself.
  • It’s common knowledge that the back-up generators for your business are essential – but unreliable. When disaster hits, all equipment shuts down, and a number of employees and customers are injured.
  • Your emergency plan recognizes the risk of flooding at your location, but doesn’t include plans for how to keep dangerous chemicals from contaminating the neighborhood. Hurricane Harvey hits with historic levels of rain and the neighborhood is inundated with contamination from your plant.

All three of these “examples” are taken from actual news reports. I found others describing similar circumstances. (See the P.S. for the outcomes.)

Here’s the negligence argument that applies in all these cases.

“Employers can be considered negligent if they do not take reasonable steps to eliminate or diminish known or reasonably foreseeable risks that could cause harm.”

From our standpoint, this definition has three key concepts:

  1. The employer is liable. As the owner of the business, you are that employer. Senior managers and Board Members could be caught up in this, too.
  2. To protect the company, you need to be aware of known or reasonably foreseeable risks. And,
  3. You must have taken reasonable steps to eliminate or diminish those risks.

Ask yourself: Does your company have an emergency plan? Even with a plan, how well are you positioned right now to protect your business from lawsuits that involve preparedness?

Our book is designed to give you sources to help you determine your potential vulnerabilities and thereby help you avoid them. You can wait to get a copy as soon as it come out (maybe next month?) but I couldn’t wait until then to share some of this vital information with you.

And you shouldn’t wait, either, to make a commitment to emergency preparedness for your business. You can start right now by reviewing a couple of our earlier Advisories.

As always, seek qualified legal advice for your particular questions. We are NOT licensed legal professionals.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. In the three legal “examples” above, each business lost the lawsuit brought against it.

UPDATE as of JULY, 2018 — the book is now available at Amazon. Here’s the direct link: Emergency Preparedness for Small Business.


Property Managers Responsibility for Emergency Preparedness


Neighbors getting answers

Neighbors getting important safety answers.

How does your Property Management Company Stack Up When it Comes to Emergency Preparedness?

Do you live in an apartment complex, a mobilehome park, a condo complex, a retirement community, a gated community, or any kind of community with a Home Owners’ Association?

Does your community have a property manager hired by the owner or by the Association?

Or maybe you yourself are a property owner, doing your own managing?

No matter the exact ownership circumstances, it is important to

Include a property manager in your emergency preparedness planning!

Two important outcomes are possible.

  1. You could uncover that you have been making unfounded assumptions about the role and capabilities of the manager to protect residents in an emergency.
  2. Your investigation and follow-up discussions may allow you to improve emergency response for all your neighbors1

Emergency Plan Guide is not a professional property management company, of course, but we have owned rental property, lived under property managers and served on various boards and homeowners’ associations making decisions about most of the topics that follow.

And of course we do not know where you live as you are reading this, so we can’t know the regulations that apply in your state and city.

Still, we understand basic management responsibilities and can pose general questions that EVERY one should be able to answer!

Disaster survival questions for tenants, owners and managers.

Personal experiences give us a place to get started with questions. If you have ever lived in a property with a property manager, consider these:

  1. When you moved in, did you get a list of emergency procedures for the building or for the community? For example, did you receive a map showing the buildings and/or homes (including their addresses), location of fire extinguishers or hydrants, list of local emergency contacts including who to call after-hours, information about evacuation routes, etc.?
  2. Is there any specific info on disaster planning for people with disabilities? Older people with mobility challenges? How about planning for pets?
  3. Has that emergency information been updated regularly?
  4. Do you know where to find the most recent copy of emergency procedures?
  5. Has the community ever practiced an emergency drill or evacuation?
  6. Do you know the location of all the exits from the property? If they are habitually kept locked, do you know who would open them in an emergency?
  7. If you are on the second floor, or higher, do you have an emergency ladder? Are you allowed to practice evacuating?

Multi-story buildings have particular emergency preparedness issues. If you haven’t lived in a multi-story building, you surely know someone who does. Be sure they are asking questions like these . . .

  1. Have you been told/shown where all the stairs are? Do stairs lead up to the roof as well as down to the street? Are doors in stairwells locked?
  2. Do you know where fire alarms and fire extinguishers are located in or outside the building? (We assume you have a fire extinguisher inside your own dwelling.)
  3. Do you know what happens when the fire alarm goes off? For example, what does the elevator do? What happens to interior doors, if anything?
  4. Do you know what happens when power goes out? Again, what happens to elevators, doors, gates?
  5. Are all dwelling units on all floors protected with a sprinkler system?

The 22017 Grenfell Tower fire in London – in which 71 people died — raised the question of sprinklers. And more recently a fire in the Trump Tower in New York – in which 1 person died and 6 firefighters were injured – revealed that its upper floors (exclusive residential apartments) also did not have sprinklers. Moreover, the apartment where the one victim died did not have a working smoke alarm.

Every property manager should be able to answer these questions:

  1. Who makes the decision that there is an emergency? If the manager isn’t available, who makes it?
  2. How are residents alerted or notified about a weather emergency? Can they be notified if power is out?
  3. After a disaster, does the management company maintain a website where updates could be obtained?
  4. What procedures are in place for ongoing communications if the emergency lasts for hours or days? (For ex., a widespread health emergency requiring closure of the pool and clubhouse.)
  5. How would the community fare in a longer-term emergency? What about rent payments, trash collection, security? What about management personnel?
  6. Does the management company store any kind of emergency supplies? How are they rotated, inspected, etc.? Who has a key? How would supplies be distributed?

How to use these emergency preparedness questions.

  • As someone concerned with emergency planning, you can use this list to be sure you haven’t made any assumptions about your community that turn out to be incorrect. In some cases you may be able to come up with alternatives to what look like problems.
  • As a member of a community preparedness group, you can use this list to suggest improvements to your neighbors and to your management company.
  • As a member of an HOA Board, you can use this list to help your group identify and hire the best possible management company for your property!

Again, every community is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all management standard. But property managers play an important role in emergency planning and, in particular, in responding to an emergency. Whether they are prepared or not, people will turn to them for answers.

You may be able to reassure residents and management alike by making sure common questions get answered well before a disaster happens.

Follow through with your own property manager, and share with others who live in communities with managers. This is essential info.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Addendum: It seems that most property management contracts do NOT include requirements for protecting residents. (I conducted an informal survey online with a group of professionals and received a couple dozen responses.) Nevertheless, as more attention is paid to disaster prevention and emergency response planning, the concept of a “standard of care” needs to be considered. In this case, if most professional management companies in your area are incorporating emergency preparedness education and practices into their services – or at least adding in a budget line item for it — the few that ignore it will stand out as not being up to standard. This could have a legal impact. Certainly, it should have an impact on the company’s ability to win business.

Walkie-Talkies – A Few of My Favorite Things




As I’m typing this Advisory, there’s a Cobra MicroTalk lying on the shelf beside the computer. When I get into the car, I note the little Motorola tucked into the door pocket. In the garage, we have a couple Uniden models clipped to one of the shelves.

You’d think we like walkie-talkies, wouldn’t you?!

Yes, we do!

We use walkie-talkies all the time!

  • When we head to one of the big box stores, we grab a couple of walkie-talkies. There’s no way we can stay together while shopping.
  • One person being dropped off at the entrance while the other finds a parking place? Let’s find each other later using our walkie-talkies.
  • At the fair, when the kids head for the rides, one of the adults is looking for the nearest restroom. Everybody having a walkie-talkie makes it easy to stay in touch.

And our families use walkie- talkies, too!

  • The little granddaughters play hide and seek throughout the house, walkie talkies in hand.
  • The big grandkids take them with as they head up the mountain and split off for different ski-trails.

Of course, here at Emergency Plan Guide we’ve written often about how all members of our neighborhood emergency response group have walkie-talkies. In the event of a widespread power outage or emergency, when cell towers are down and landlines disrupted, we’ll be able to communicate with each other about the condition of the neighborhood and our neighbors.

If you haven’t seriously considered adding walkie-talkies to your supply of emergency gear, it’s worth taking the time to do it now. Here are some basics about the technology to get the process started.

What exactly IS a walkie-talkie, anyway?

The word itself pretty much describes the gadget. With it you can walk around and talk to someone at a distance. That “walkability” distinguished the early walkie-talkies from telephones, which allowed for communication but were tethered to a wire.

A more accurate description might be something like “hand-held, portable radio that can transmit and receive.”

Walkie-talkies came into widespread use during WWII and have been used ever since.

What makes them so popular?

They are simple, light weight and easy to use. No dialing, no ringing, no waiting for the call to “go through.”  Just push the button and talk. Works every time.

One handset connects directly to another via radio waves – or to several handsets, as long as they are set to the same frequency. They’re perfect for letting a group know all at once what to do or expect next.

How do they work?

The technology itself doesn’t seem to have changed much from the earliest models. Here are the basics for lower-priced models.

The handsets are powered by batteries. They each contain a transmitter/receiver and built-in antenna. There’s a loudspeaker that allows you to hear and that can convert into a microphone when you want to speak.

The whole listen-speak action is controlled by a button on the side of the set. When you “push to talk” (PTT) everyone else on your frequency can hear you. Only one person can talk at a time on the frequency; everyone on that frequency can hear what is being said.

How far do they reach?

Simple walkie-talkies have limited power and a range of at most a couple of miles in any direction. More power and more sophisticated circuitry can give a walkie-talkie a range of 25 to 30 miles. The distance the signal can reach depends greatly on whatever gets in the way – hills, buildings, trees, etc.

When you’re buying walkie-talkies you want to decide how far you need to send your signal. No use overpaying for capacity you don’t want or can’t take advantage of.

Are there any restrictions on using walkie-talkies?

Walkie-talkies are built to work on specific radio frequencies. Certain frequencies are assigned to First Responders, some are set aside for corporate use, and others are designated for public use. Within the public category, there are low-watt FRS (Family Radio Service) and higher-watt GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) frequencies available.

These public walkie-talkies have from 8 to 25 or more frequencies so you can switch to a different frequency (or channel) if a channel is too busy or you want more privacy.

How much do they cost?

Walkie-talkies come in pairs. Prices range from less than $20/pair to over $100/pair, depending on the features you want.

What features should I look for?

Your shopping list will probably include a consideration for . . .

  • How much power (FRS is limited to 0.5 watt; GMRS goes up to 5 watts)
  • How many batteries and what size
  • How many channels
  • How sturdy
  • Water resistant or water proof?
  • Features to filter out interference
  • Privacy features
  • Add-on features: flashlight, ear buds, tone signals, etc.

As always, the more features you want, the more the price goes up. Again, consider who will be using the radios and for what purpose.

Where do I get walkie-talkies?

Sporting goods stores, electronics shops, and toy stores may carry a model or two. And of course they are available online. Our Emergency Plan Guide Review of Walkie-Talkies goes into all these features in more detail. If you’re seriously considering a purchase, head over to the Review NOW to see which models we’ve selected as good examples of what’s available.

If you’re still wondering . . .

. . .if having some walkie-talkies makes sense for you, consider a few more non-emergency situations where people use walkie-talkies effectively and happily.

  • Keeping track of other hikers in your group when you’re deep in the mountains and far from any cell service
  • Deciding when it’s time for the other tubes in your rafting party to pull over for lunch
  • Tracking the kids as they explore the cruise ship
  • Meeting up with a colleague at a convention
  • Letting your spouse know when to turn the water on again in the house after you think you’ve got that outside drain unplugged

We find a way to use these handy gadgets on a regular basis. Using them regularly makes sure they’ll be ready in a real emergency.

We recommend walkie-talkies for just about everybody.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. In the picture above, the little Motorola on the left didn’t work for some of our senior emergency team members; they had to remember too many button sequences to change channels, adjust volume, etc.. As you might expect, our grandchildren have no problems with this model. . .!


Cyber Threats Right Here At Home


Last updated 5-16-2019

Smart home

Smart devices make your home more comfortable . . .

A look back to January 2018 in The Costco Connection shows “some of the smart tech you may want to invest in over the coming months.” The image above suggests 10 different smart technologies – lighting, windows, temperature, door locks, etc.

Note that I said “Costco.” This wasn’t Wired or Popular Science, which you might expect to have articles about the very latest in high-tech gadgetry. No, we’re talking mainstream — in 2018!

Moving forward to 2019, a search for the list of the top smart devices you’d want to have “right here at home” included these members of the IoT (the Internet of Things). How many of them do you have?

  • Smart Speaker
  • Security Camera
  • Light Bulb
  • Smart Thermostat
  • Smart Smoke/Carbon Monoxide Detector
  • Smart Home Hub

While their powerful features open the door to cyber threats.

Consider if all the personal information described in the next few sentences were available to casual hackers, the government, or criminals?

  • Smart phones – Shoot 4k video so you can play it back on your TV; recognize your fingerprint as password; track your blood alcohol level; track where you’ve driven and find your car; diagnose why it’s not starting. (Is your phone synced to your home computer so all this info is transferring?)
  • Smart watches – Receive text, email and tweets from friends; capture your fitness info; give you directions or track your run via GPS; lock, unlock, and start your car.
  • Smart homes – Respond to voice or touch commands to adjust air and water temperature, lights, locks and cameras; “learn” family habits and schedules; report on current traffic conditions along your route to work; read and adjust solar panels; start the laundry. (Are all the devices interconnected?)
  • Smart TVs – Connect to social media platforms; follow voice and gesture commands; display photos and videos from your phone.

Even if you don’t understand exactly where the threats lie, or will lie, you can recognize the threat.

How do these vulnerabilities come about?

A recent Advisory reviewed home and business security systems – all of which were internet connected — and in doing that research I read many, many advertisements and reviews. Not one had anything to say about security. But when I dug into broader background on the Internet of Things, I got a whole load of warnings.

  • Like every other product, IoT products are hurried to market to beat the competition. (Think Apple.) They don’t have time to spend on developing sophisticated layers of security that interact with every other device’s layers of security.
  • Device manufacturers may be as interested in selling information about you and how you use the product as in selling the product in the first place. So, the price their device ridiculously low. And they conveniently overlook certain aspects of security. (Remember the TVs that were capturing info about their viewers’ choices? And the “Talking Barbies” that stored and transmitted what the children said to their dolls? And very recently, the scandal of Amazon’s Alexa picking up on conversations in one home and sending them to another?)
  • Many IoT products are complex, combining software, hardware and services often provided by more than one supplier. Not infrequently, one or more of the suppliers sells out or even goes out of business somewhere along the line. A broken link in the chain is a hacker’s opportunity.
  • And IoT users – that is, us consumers – are not following smart security practices!

So what can we do to protect ourselves from these cyber threats?

Seven recommendations for your personal IoT devices as of May 2019.

1-Enable security features on all smart devices.
Not sure if there ARE security features? If the device connects to your home network, there had better be usernames and passwords that you can change from the default! In fact, the instructions should remind you to make those changes. Remember that default usernames and password combinations are published online and thus easily available to hackers. (The book mentioned at the end of this article has a suggestion for memorable passwords that won’t be hackable!)

2-Use strong passwords.
Are your children using the devices? Don’t give them an easy password so they can operate the thing. A simple password makes it easier for every hacker to break into the device!

3-Check for and reconnect or remove dead devices.
Some IoT devices are treated by the family or employees as toys, and after a while they lose interest in them. These neglected devices are precisely the ones that may provide an opening for a hacker. Take a regular inventory and clean up your IoT.

4-Schedule battery replacement.
Many of these devices operate using battery power. Batteries die – and when they do, you could cause a security risk. (Door lock won’t open? Fire alarm won’t go off?) Check all devices regularly until you know just how long their batteries will last, and then build a schedule for ongoing maintenance – with dates and numbers and types of batteries required.

5-Update firmware (operating systems) and apps.
If you find the updates on your phone or computer to be a nuisance, imagine having an entire collection of devices with apps that need updating! But it’s through updates that holes are stopped up and vulnerabilities are fixed. Watch for updates and apply them. (Not sure exactly how you’ll be notified of updates? Find out, so you don’t miss out.)

6-Be sure updates and/or network communications are encrypted.
You don’t want strangers listening in on your baby monitor, measuring your blood pressure or noting the hours when the house is empty! If your smart device sends unencrypted info across your home network and the internet, you are vulnerable.

7-Are any ports left open?
Some devices – particularly hubs or routers – need open ports to allow connections to the internet. The more ports that are open, the more vulnerable you may be to hackers. By and large, your firewall software will allow or block connections based on the profile you’ve set up. If you haven’t set up firewall software, do it. (If you aren’t sure how to find out about the status of your ports, you can get additional software to check on them.)

A next step for non-tekkies.

If you’re interested in getting a lot more familiar with IoT and IoT Security, plan on either spending a lot more time online or spending some money on one or more of the books available via Amazon or other book stores. Most of these books seem to be directed to IT professionals and have professional prices.

But here’s a fantastic book written by an expert, for ordinary internet users, in a clever and captivating way. In fact, I just finished reading it myself and HAD to put it up here!

The Sherlock Holmes Handbook for the Digital Age: Elementary Cyber Security

As a writer myself, I appreciate a story — hard to manage, sometimes, when the topic is technology. Author Alan Pearce puts you right in Sherlock Holmes’ living room in telling this story of”cyber threats right here at home” to his friend Dr. Watson.

Sherlock Holmes goes into the IoT and then takes Watson on a journey into the dark web. If you read this book you won’t become an instant cyber-security expert, but you will be a lot more savvy – and a lot more wary!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. This is the kind of information that everyone should be aware of. Please forward this Advisory to friends and family and share with your neighborhood group. If just a few people take a few actions they will be safer than they were before.

Intruder! Do we need a security system?

Security Camera catching thief

Home and Business Security Options

Have you seen the ads showing a package thief caught in the act? Or the ad that shows the “escaping teenager” on the roof, caught because she set off an alarm when she opened her window? All these ads are designed to make you realize you need a security system! But while the ads are compelling, they really don’t tell the whole story behind the available technology.

In fact, they don’t make it at all clear where a simple self-contained security camera leaves off and where a comprehensive monitored security system begins.

If you’re a new business owner, or someone newly concerned about security and safety, take a look at the questions and answers below. They’ll help you come up with a shopping list customized for your personal needs.

Disclaimer: security equipment and commercial security “packages” change regularly, so as you shop, be sure you are comparing current offers. This year, many of these items are being featured as special deals, so watch for them!

Questions to ask about security

The first version of this article appeared in Emergency Plan Guide nearly four years ago. In the time since, some things have changed dramatically! The “classic” security camera set up shown in the image below – camera connected to DVR connected to monitor — still exists, of course. But in many cases, wires have been replaced by wireless connections. And now you can get the images sent right to your cell phone or tablet in addition to your computer monitor.

That’s not all that has changed. As you review the following questions, consider what you really need for your location and your circumstances. As you might expect, the more features you want, the more expensive the system.

Security Camera Buyer's Guide

“Do I want wired or wireless?”

Wires are reliable as long as they aren’t damaged or cut. In fact, they may be more reliable than wireless, which can  suffer in extreme weather or because of electronic interference.

And of course, wireless systems can be hacked! (None of the most popular wireless systems has been shown to have flaws, but all can be hacked by a determined pro. Most likely, people wanting to break into your home aren’t hackers — they are thieves! They’ll look for the easiest targets. Make sure you follow all best cyber practices — changing defaults, using unique passwords, updating everything whenever there’s an update. Your system will be too hard to break for that average thief.)

So, whether you choose a wired system or a wireless may depend, then, on your location or your security level requirements. Think it through. Oh, and if components are wireless, they still need to be powered, so you’ll have to consider when and how to replace batteries or install back-up batteries.

“Should I manage the system myself, or have it professionally monitored?”

Basic systems are set up to alert you by phone of activity or of a breach. Activity could be as simple as someone approaching the front door. You could, of course, miss the alert if your phone isn’t operating or isn’t nearby.

A monitored system reacts to a broader set of activities, and when it detects a breach, it reaches out to alert the monitoring company, which then alerts you and/or others, including perhaps police or fire.

Whereas a basic system is pretty much one purchase and a DIY install, a monitored system could involve service personnel to guide you through the installation. Once the threat of COVID is gone, they may actually do the installation for you. This may include installing a number of connectors, monitors and cameras and tying the system in to your home for business computer network. Naturally, you might have to pay for that personal installation service.

You will have to pay for monthly monitoring, as well. Some services wrap the cost of the equipment into the cost of monitoring. Others charge for the equipment up front, so their monitoring fees are much lower.

Costs vary widely. Equipment costs for a home system start as low as $100 for a single camera but are more likely to be twice or three times that much. (Even a simple business location will likely be more expensive in part because there are more rooms and more spaces to monitor.) Monthly monitoring costs may add as little as $10/month but most monitoring companies fees seem to be in the $39 –$59/month range for home services. Some companies even offer “advanced” monitoring that connects directly to police and first responders, saves your video, etc. (Watch for “sign-up specials” you can take advantage of!) Some companies require a contract; others don’t.

“Do I need indoor or outdoor security?” 

Outdoor “barrel” or “bullet” security cameras (as shown in the illustration above) have a hood that protects them from the weather. “Dome” style cameras, with a curved face, are most popular indoors, and can also be weatherproof for outdoor use. (They have an advantage in that you can’t tell which direction the camera is pointing. You’ll often see them in casinos or in other public places.)

The latest models of doorbell security cameras are smaller, best described as a simple box with a small camera lens – not too dissimilar to the camera in your smart phone.

A complete system may have a variety of camera types. The main thing to remember: while an outdoor camera can be used indoors, the reverse is not necessarily true.

“Do I want an alarm only, or do I want to see video?”

The simplest video systems run continuously, without interruption. If something happens, it is caught on the tape. (You’ve surely seen videos showing convenience store robberies, or scenes from street cameras.) When the tape is filled up, it is stored for a given period of time and then written over.

A continuous video creates hours’ worth of images that are difficult to search through if you need footage for insurance or crime purposes.

So, you probably want a motion-activated system for your home or business, something that you can set to complement known traffic patterns. Movement or a change in condition (window being opened, for example) sets off an alarm that can go to your smart phone or computer, or, as already described, to a monitoring service. Movement can also start a camera that takes still photos or video that you can view on a computer screen in your office or send to your smart phone.

 “What quality picture can I expect?”

The question really is, how much detail do you actually need? Do you need to be able to recognize faces on a 6 x 12 foot front porch? Or read license plates 30 yards away in the company parking lot? Think about how far away the object will be and the horizontal distance you want to cover.

The more detail you want, the higher the price of the equipment you’ll need. In many cases, however, you do NOT necessarily need the highest quality.

Having cameras with varifocal lenses will allow you to set the same camera for different uses. Some versions are P/T/Z – can be panned, tilted and zoomed remotely, for utmost flexibility.

“What about nighttime views?”

Most cameras have the infrared night vision built in, and automatically switch from day to night mode. Some cameras are paired with separate, motion-activated spotlights to provide the amount of light necessary for filming.

 “Do I hear and can I speak to the person being filmed?”

The porch camera ads on TV show the homeowner telling the intruder to get lost. (Or you hear a friendly dad’s voice acknowledging the arrival of the kids.) Being able to hear and speak to the person who has activated the alarm are again additional features. They will cost more and require more bandwidth in the system.

LEGAL CAUTION: The above paragraph describes SPEAKING to another person via your security system. RECORDING a person without his or her knowledge is a whole different thing!  In fact, Federal Wiretap Laws specifically prohibit recording unless at least one person in the conversation knows recording is taking place. (In California where we live, both parties must be aware of the taping.) So before you invest in a camera with audio recording capabilities, make sure you know the law in your state. You probably don’t want this capability!

OK, so much for the basic choices. Now . . .

“What additional features might I want?”

Some monitored home security systems offer more than just the surveillance and intrusion features we’ve discussed so far.  Options could include:

  • Panic buttons – Press to call for help if you are threatened in your home. Silent alert goes to monitoring service and to police.
  • Life support systems – Press to call for medical help. This is the so-called “life alert.”
  • Fire and CO alarms — These can be added to the system to alert residents and also the monitoring company in an emergency of this type.

And the final important question . . .

“What kind of customer support will I get – and what will it cost?”

Are you buying from a third-party distributor or the manufacturer? The amount or quality of support will vary dramatically. Before you buy, make sure you will have access to full documentation, at least, and check on the terms of the guarantee.

If you decide on a monitored service, you’ll want to know even more details before you sign on the dotted line. For example . . .

  • Will the company set an appointment and come to my home/office to do the installation, or am I responsible for installing the equipment?
  • Do I pay extra if they do the installation and set up?
  • Must I buy all the equipment from the monitoring company? What if I already have some cameras I want to use?
  • How do I get repairs if the equipment stops working?
  • What sort of contract is required? (How many months?)
  • Is there a fee to discontinue the service?

So now, if you’re ready to shop . . .!

Three examples of basic security camera systems

I picked these three best-selling models because they had consistently good reviews while demonstrating the variety of features discussed above. As you can see, prices vary. Click on the images or links for full details and to get exact prices at Amazon.

Reolink, A straightforward yet complete wired set-up with extra high-quality camera and continuous video. Note that when you get to Amazon to shop, you will find a number of “packages” containing this basic component.

Reolink 4K Security Camera System H.265, 4pcs 8MP Person/Vehicle Detection Smart Wired Outdoor PoE IP Cameras, 8MP 8-Channel NVR with 2TB HDD for 24/7 Recording, RLK8-820D4-A

Simplisafe – popular wireless home security system that “understands” Alexa and Google Assistant. No contract required (although professional monitoring is available). (I have to admit that I can’t resist the Simplisafe ad where Robbert says “Entrez vous!” to the pizza delivery guy.) Again, many individual components and different packages.

SimpliSafe 9 Piece Wireless Home Security System w/HD Camera – Optional 24/7 Professional Monitoring – No Contract – Compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant

Ring Doorbell Pro uses existing doorbell wiring. Ring continues to get a lot of chatter on our local neighborhood Nextdoor website. People seem very pleased with their improved security. And prices have come down since we last looked. Remember that this is truly a doorbell, and not a whole house system.

Here’s the basic Pro version to get you started on your shopping.

Ring Video Doorbell Pro – Upgraded, with added security features and a sleek design (existing doorbell wiring required)

If you have experience with any of these systems, or with a different system, please let us know so we can continue to update this guide!

Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Preliminary Findings


Remember this?

Business Survival Survey

A little over a week ago we put out a short survey. Its purpose was simple. Knowing that survival statistics are bad for businesses with no emergency plan, we wanted to . . .

Alert readers to potential weaknesses at THEIR places of business.

A first round of answers has come in, and they have encouraged us to widen the reach of the survey before coming up with a final report.

In the meanwhile, though, we want to share some preliminary findings because they are compelling. (We’re not sharing everything in detail because we don’t want any responders to be able to identify themselves in the answers!)

Here are three questions whose answers were particularly dramatic.

“Do we have a plan?”

Around 25% of our readers say their company has no plan – a lot better than averages that you’ll see below. More unsettling, though, was the 30% of our readers who admitted that THEY DON’T KNOW IF THERE’S A PLAN OR NOT!

Clearly, these businesses are the most vulnerable to being shut down by a disaster — and never re-opening. Those statistics are well established:

  • Nationwide’s 2016 poll of 300 small businesses found that most small-business owners (68 percent) still don’t have a written disaster recovery plan, That’s better than the 75% from two years earlier, but still shockingly high!
  • And the long-standing statistics from FEMA remain the same: 40% of small businesses without plans that are forced to close due to a disaster – never reopen!

Of course, just having a plan doesn’t guarantee you’ll get through unscathed. But it certainly will improve your chances of at least getting through alive!

Action item: If your business has no continuity plan, see if you can uncover the reasons why not. (Tread delicately.)

“Do we know what to do in an emergency?”

As you can imagine, employees at companies with no plan, or where the plan hasn’t been practiced, WILL NOT KNOW WHAT TO DO IN AN EMERGENCY.

In our small survey, over 70% of the companies leave people totally to their own devices when it comes to responding to an emergency!

If your company falls into this category, you personally may have some idea of what you’d do first, and what others should be doing. (I feel confident in saying this because you’ve been thinking and reading about emergency preparedness for a while, via Emergency Plan Guide.)

But what about the rest of the people? Would they be able to help, or would they hinder? Would you be able to direct any activity? What about new hires, or temporary employees? What about visitors?

You can imagine the chaos – and the possibility of further danger or damage!

“Does the business have a plan for communicating with our families?”

So far, this has been the piece of the plan that most businesses overlook altogether. In our survey, nearly 90% of people said there was NO PLAN FOR CONTACTING FAMILIES.

Over the years at Emergency Plan Guide we’ve reported about what happens when employees are separated from their families. In Katrina, police officers abandoned their posts. In one shocking incident in Japan, 128 elderly people were abandoned by medical staff at a hospital. Just recently in Florida, four city employees decided to stay at home from work to be with their families and pets – and they were fired!

And we’ve seen what’s been happening in Puerto Rico over the past 10 days, when families have been totally cut off.

Whether you are required or expected stay at work may be written into your contract. You can’t be forced to stay, of course, but your employer is free to fire you if you don’t follow that contract.

In any case, being able to let your family know you’re O.K., and knowing THEY are O.K., would allow you to make a better decision about your next step. A good disaster plan includes preparations for facilitating these emergency communications for employees.

What’s next?

Thanks to our friends who took the survey, we have already been encouraged to follow up on some specific threads, with more Advisories. We have a book in the planning stages, too. It will be specifically for small businesses.

In the meanwhile, we need more data to make our survey more reliable.

We’ll be reaching out to more people to get more data, and you can help!  First, if you didn’t take the survey last week, feel free to take it now! (Statistics from SurveyMonkey showed that sure enough, the average time to finish the survey was less than 2 minutes!) Here’s the direct link to the survey:

Second, forward this message to people you care about! Encourage them to participate in the survey and to sign up to get ongoing Advisories, like you do.

(You will see the “ad” for the survey on the home page: )

For all of us, the best time to think about responding to a disaster is BEFORE it happens.

Thanks – and stay tuned for more!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team


More Lessons from Harvey


Hurricane, downed power lines


And now from Irma and Maria . . .

[Note: Please consider using this Advisory as the agenda for a meeting of your neighborhood emergency response team, and include this information in a neighborhood or church newsletter. Share it online. This is information we ALL need to consider!]

The last couple of weeks have been so full of stories about and from hurricane victims that I hesitate to add to the outpouring. But I feel I can’t just sit back and wait for things to settle down. So, here is a continuation of my earlier Advisory on Lessons from Harvey – The First Week.

This Advisory adds observations from Irma and Maria, too.

1. Still the most likely emergency: no power

Texas update: A week after Harvey, I checked the Entergy Texas website. The recurring language (my italics!):

“Power has been restored to all customers in the area impacted by Hurricane Harvey except for customers served by flood damaged equipment, areas that are still flooded, and areas impacted by [specific] substation outages.”

Even as late as last week – nearly 4 weeks after the storm struck —  4,000 were still without power.

Florida update: The outages in Florida from Hurricane Irma were even more widespread. At its height, the power outages affected “62% of the state’s 10.5 million households.”  News reports from five days ago (9-17-2017) say that about 20,000 homes are still dark.

Puerto Rico update: “Puerto Rico’s entire power grid was knocked offline during the storm and the island is facing months without power.”

You have got to be asking yourself,  “How would we fare without power?”

First, it’s important to realize that as an ordinary resident, even after the rain is gone YOU CAN’T FIX YOUR OWN POWER PROBLEMS. That’s why utility teams came to Florida from as far as California to help! These teams have to . . .

  • De-energize dangerous fallen power lines, remove trees from lines, put up new poles, etc. The image above is typical of the mess to be cleared up.
  • Inspect and repair or replace meters that have been flooded.
  • Wait for YOU to get repairs made to your house – repairs that pass inspections — before they can turn the power back on.

All this takes days and days, if not weeks.

Last week, we looked at how to choose battery-operated lanterns for emergency lighting. If you haven’t got your emergency lighting in place yet, head there now. Shelves will be empty if you wait until something happens.

Turning to a generator for longer-term power needs is a completely different decision. We’ve studied this option a number of times, and our neighborhood emergency team purchased a generator some years ago. Questions we had to answer:

  • What would be the limited PURPOSE of the generator? It can’t run everything in a home or office.
  • What size is best? Where would a generator be kept? (Remember in Texas that the back-up generators for the chemical plant were themselves destroyed by the flood.)
  • How much fuel would it need, and where would fuel be stored?

Get professional assistance before making this decision. Here’s an Advisory from earlier this year, with more background information.

And another Advisory focusing on preparing for a power outage in a business setting.

2. Hidden water problems?

Whenever a disaster involves water, there are additional concerns besides simply having enough water for survivors to drink.

Health care professionals are watching in the aftermath of Harvey and Irma for longer-term health issues including . . .

  • Pollution from sewage. Every image we see of people wading through flood water should make you cringe! These people may be coming directly into contact with sewage. Even the entire water system may have been contaminated. Diseases from sewage pollution can result in death.
  • Chemical pollution. In Texas we all got a powerful lesson about the dangers associated with oil and chemical pollution of water supplies. These dangers are usually not immediate, but could emerge as cancer years after the incident.
  • Mold. Again, when flood water finally withdraws, mold can grow. It’s the danger of mold that prompts people to throw out not just furniture but entire floors and walls, or to abandon their home altogether.
  • Mosquitoes. Standing water after the flood is a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes and thus increases the chance of viruses like Zika and West Nile and fevers like dengue and chikungunya. Patrol your property and neighborhood and get rid of standing water.

Emergency preparations thus include not just supplies of clean water but also knowledge to help you identify a potential health problem related to polluted water.

3. What about rebuilding after the power comes back on?

Do you have enough money to rebuild your home if it is destroyed by floods? Probably not. That’s where insurance comes in.

Check out this lengthy Advisory about flood insurance.

If there is any chance that you could be hit by heavy rains, flooding or storm surge, you should be asking:

  • What does my Homeowner’s Insurance cover?
  • Do I have to live in a flood plain to get flood insurance?
  • Where do I get flood insurance?
  • Does the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) have maximum limits? (Hint: YES)
  • What is covered by NFIP?
  • What isn’t covered?

Whether or not your flood insurance is adequate, given what we’ve seen lately, or whether you should even get insurance, depends on YOUR answers to the questions above.

Note: There’s a lot in the news lately about the flood insurance program being CUT BACK. I’ll try to keep you up to date.

If you have questions about flood insurance for your home, start with the Advisory mentioned above and then talk to your insurance agent.

4. How will businesses fare?

Even if you’re not a business owner, the impact of a huge storm on the local economy will impact you, too.

According to Scott Teel, Senior Director of Communications for Agility Recover Solutions, in most cases it takes a business about 14 days to recover from a natural disaster. FEMA ads some more, and very sobering, statistics: about 40 percent of small businesses will never reopen after a disaster.

It’s not hard to imagine why. Fourteen days is a long time . . .

First, there’s the flood or the rain that causes the business to shut down, sometimes even a couple of days before the storm actually hits. Then the storm hits; over the three-five days of these recent hurricanes we’ve seen restaurants flooded, fishing boats tossed and destroyed, hotels torn apart.

Even if the building itself isn’t damaged, any business that requires electricity to operate or accepts payment via credit card – like that restaurant, a bank, a gas station, you name it! – will lose revenue during a power outage.

During the shut-down, the business will likely lose employees unless it has funds to pay them for this down time. It will likely lose customers, who are forced to look elsewhere for suppliers to keep their own enterprises going.

What can a business do to protect itself?

  1. Some businesses have a disaster plan that gives owners and employees an understanding of what it will take to carry on essential functions. Naturally, these folks have a better chance of making it through.
  2. Other companies’ plans go so far as to maintain arrangements for the company to move to an alternate location to carry on these essential functions. (As you can imagine, these plans can become pricey.)
  3. Some businesses carry special Business Continuation Insurance that will help, although too great a delay in getting payments can still mean the demise of the business.

If your company doesn’t yet have a disaster plan, you can get started building one using our Guide to a Simple Business Continuation Plan. Request your free copy here.

OK, that’s enough for now.

Our first look at recent disasters talked about immediate issues – having enough water, supplies, and an evacuation kit. This second look brings up some of the longer-term issues that may arise: power outages, health concerns, insurances.

It all goes to reinforce what we have learned at Emergency Plan Guide – when the emergency hits, it’s too late to do any planning or preparing!

Do what you can now to prepare. Whatever you do will serve you better than having done nothing.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Again, thanks for sharing.



Safety Checklist for New Employees


Safety Is Your Responsibility

Where's the nearest fire extinguisher?
Will a new employee be able to answer this question?

Are you a business owner? in charge of emergency response at your work? an employee of any sort?

If you’ve been there a while, you should be able to check off every item on the Safety Checklist below. There are only 12 items.

A new employee, however, will have to make an effort to figure out all the answers. And if an emergency hits before he or she has done so, your business may be in jeopardy!

12-point safety checklist

Download the full-sized safety checklist here.

Share it with new employees and, for that matter, with ALL employees.

More In-Depth Info on Employee Safety

Some Advisories with more details for workplace preparedness:

If you want a more thorough discussion of how to build a Simple Business Contingency Plan – get a copy of our book, Emergency Preparedness for Small Business.

Suggested Next Steps for the Company

You can put this checklist to work in just about any workplace – office, factory, hotel, retail operation – wherever your business is located. Of course, you may prefer to use it as a sample and make your own, more customized version.

Either way, here are 3 suggestions for how to proceed:

  1. Share this article and the safety checklist with management. See what items they can check off; are there any items no one has thought of, or knows the answer to? Be sure you understand which items might have some liability connected to them.
  2. Decide on a plan for sharing the checklist (or a customized version) with all current employees. Turn it into a team effort, or a competition — whatever works to engage people and get them more aware of safety and their surroundings!
  3. Add the safety checklist to your on-boarding process for new employees. Obviously, they will need a helpful partner to be able to get through the list. I think they’ll find it to be a comforting exercise and one that will impress upon them the company’s commitment to preparedness and to safety.

Disclaimer from

This handy checklist is not meant to be a full assessment of employee or workplace preparedness. Rather, it is meant as a simple, easy tool to create more awareness among people who are working together.

If the checklist starts a conversation about what’s missing, consider it a bonus. And then, put together a plan to fill those gaps!

We are committed to a continuing conversation about being ready for emergencies. As always, the more the people around us know, the better off we ALL will be!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Reliable Sources for Disaster Preparedness


Car in flood

Keeping up with the latest — whether political news, phone technology, business trends or emergency preparedness — takes some effort.

It’s made easier when I find reliable sources that I can return to again and again. It’s made even easier when people take the time to send me the good stuff!

So today I’m sharing some preparedness and disaster recovery tips that I have recently received from favorite sources. Thanks to you all! (Please follow the links in each paragraph to get more on that topic.)

1-For Business Owners from Business Owners

Focus on Crisis Communications

I attended another  online webinar this morning, hosted by Agility Recovery:  Today’s webinar was on Building a Crisis Communications Plan for business. I’ll be drafting a full Advisory based on my notes, but if you know you need this part of your plan, go grab this earlier version of their worksheet right now –– and watch for my upcoming, updated  Advisory on this topic!

In the meanwhile, get to know this business preparedness and recovery service. I’ve found everything they do to be first rate. Over the past several years I’ve shared a number of things from their resource library. At their website, you’ll find:

  • Tips: Their “52-week Disaster Recovery” series.
  • Checklists: One of the best: Checklist for Power Outages and Back-up Generators. (Read the whole Advisory before you request the checklist. The questions in the Advisory are critical!
  • Case studies. There’s likely to be a story about a business similar to yours since Agility has responded to thousands of emergencies. I was particularly captured by the story of Western Financial Group’s 2015 flooding and recovery.

I really can recommend Agility Recovery as a “reliable resource.”

2-For Homeowners from a Homeowner

Focus on Flooding – Wells and Septic Tank Systems

I live in one of the most well-planned communities in the country. (Some neighbors complain that it’s overly planned. That’s another story for another day.) In any case, all utilities here are underground; I had to look up images of “telephone poles” for my recent Advisory about power lines because I couldn’t just look out the window and see one!

As a kid, though, we lived a lot further out in the country, and we managed our own well and septic tank. We even strung our own phone and electric lines (probably without a permit).

So when I got an email this month from one of our readers, I was interested!  Jim McKinley –   — offers smart money management advice.

The resource he sent for us is about preparing your family and home for a flood – in particular, preparing to protect your water supply and sewage treatment system. And the link takes you to a pdf published by the Canadian Province of Saskatchewan. The general info is likely to be review for most Emergency Plan Guide readers, but I found these aspects of the article to be particularly valuable:

  • Protecting your wellhead
  • Decommissioning well pits
  • Coping with groundwater flooding (lots of info on setting up drains)
  • Pumping out a septic tank or holding tank BEFORE flooding
  • Managing the soil of your private wastewater system AFTER a flood

You may not live in Saskatchewan, of course. And the property where I grew up, and maybe where you live, has long since been “connected to the city system.”

But it’s likely that someone you know lives further “off the grid” than you do. Or maybe you know someone whose vacation home has wells and/or a private wastewater system. Share this link!

3-Finally, for anyone whose car has been caught in a flood.

From time to time over the years I’ve watched with concern and even horror as water crept up through the floorboards. But my cars have never been fully flooded.  How about you?

Once in North Carolina I rented a car for the day. We noted right away that something was amiss, and as the day warmed up – and we got farther and farther away from the rental shop – it became clear that the car had a real problem! It had been flooded!

Peeeee-yewwww! The smell was awful! Talk about car body odor!

If a car has been flooded, it’s usually considered a total loss by the insurance company. And it will be completely replaced. But, if you don’t have the right insurance, or the car wasn’t totaled, then you may find yourself trying to save it.

Once again, our friend Jim has directed us to an excellent online resource:

And I’ll add to this article, part of which deals with eliminating odors. Yes, have and use plenty of baking soda. But in addition, consider this under-$10 specialty product:

This “sponge” doesn’t attempt to overpower the odor with another smell; it absorbs all odor.

If only we had had one of these in that rental car!

OK, that’s three tips for today. Maybe only one applies directly to you. But perhaps you have been inspired to think about other tips that you might share here. We welcome your suggestions!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Got an idea for a tip or for a full Advisory?  For a family, for a group, for a business? Just let me know and we’ll figure out how to get it published!  You can write to me directly at