The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, above, co-sponsored a business disaster resilience symposium last week at The Moorings. (Photo: CDEMA FACEBOOK)

About 50 professionals representing businesses across the territory learned about disaster preparedness at the Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Symposium on May 15.

The free symposium, sponsored by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, aimed to provide local businesses with the means to better prepare themselves for the immediate aftermaths of catastrophic events.

“[In terms of] disaster management, we’ve always seen the private sector as probably the donor,” said Andria Grosvenor, CDEMA’s planning and business development manager, adding, “But now we’re saying whilst there’s a role for that, that’s not the main role. Engaging the private sector is about building resilience — building resilience in the companies [so] that the companies continue to have their doors open immediately after an emergency.”

Focusing on private-sector resilience could help economies in disaster-prone areas recover faster, the CDEMA official explained.

How to prepare

The Department of Disaster Management and the BVI Chamber of Commerce and Hotel Association organised the event, which touched on topics including resilient construction practices, emergency plans and business continuity procedures, according to Sheniah Armstrong, the DDM’s planning and preparedness manager.

“[After Irma] it was really employees finding their way through the rubble to come and assemble and find each other and find a meeting point, and that was pretty much how we were able to make contact as a community, as businesses,” Ms. Armstrong said during one session. “How do we prevent that in the future? … Let’s just put in our plan or discussion with our staff that within X number of hours or days of the all-clear being issued, this is our designated meeting space.”

Such practices and others — like establishing phone trees and employee assistance policies — would help businesses reopen faster and help people get paid and access what they need more quickly, the DDM official explained.

“There’s a wealth of information through DDM,” said symposium attendee Janet Oliver, the executive director of the Charter Yacht Society. “There’s a support network in place for people to mitigate the effects of disasters. … This really shared a lot of what is available here in the BVI.”

Free advice

Ms. Grosvenor, a native of Barbados, praised DDM and the BVICCHA for organising the symposium for free.

“This session that is now being done here right now by the DDM, in terms of the information that is being shared with them to walk through that business continuity planning process — that’s thousands of dollars that the DDM is giving away for free,” she said. “That process people pay thousands of dollars for private consultants to do for their companies.”