'We all let employees out at the same time and it was impossible to travel.'
By Rebecca Keister PBN Staff Writer
When remnants from Hurricane Irene slammed into New England in late August 2011, The Pastry Gourmet, with locations in Cumberland and North Kingstown, was among businesses that had substantial inventory losses with no refrigeration and no backup plans.
Then, when a storm dropped several inches of snow into the Greater Providence region late last January, the business again got caught up in its after-effects, said Julie Zito, whose family owns the company.
“We [local businesses] all let [employees] out at the same time and it was impossible to travel,” said Zito. “Only public entities knew [the storm was coming]. We weren’t part of this circle of information.”
Zito is one of the forces behind the R.I. Emergency Management Agency’s new program to assist small businesses in emergency preparedness to avoid such nightmares.
Fully funded by a grant from the Federal Economic Development Agency, the program is still in its development stage and being modeled, in part, after a similar program in Louisiana, which is one of only three states, along with New Jersey and Utah, that have such programs.
Zito is working with Alexander Ambrosius. Both are contract employees with the Rhode Island agency. Ambrosius just graduated with a master’s degree in homeland security from Salve Regina University in Newport.
“It surprised me that there haven’t been [programs] nationwide,” Ambrosius said. “[This will be] all the things that emergency management has been doing but never directed toward businesses. We want to see businesses able to sustain.”
Rhode Island’s program is focusing largely on establishing an online business directory – an undertaking with a magnitude that does not escape those involved.
Ideally, every business within the state eventually would be signed on. It would encompass only public-knowledge information and be easily accessible via the Internet.
“It’s the biggest part [of the plan],” Zito said. “We really want to know who the key contacts are. What are the products and goods? There are just so many elements to businesses.”