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Atlanta commuters, employers and schools are seeking to gain traction Thursday as icy conditions drag into Day Four. 

Some workers have literally camped out at work during the week, while others are making the best of it by teleworking and adapting their routines.  The situation over these past few days also has one state legislator convinced that more access to rail transit in Georgia could keep business moving forward in the face of seasonal weather and year-round traffic congestion issues.  

Speaking of transit, here's a rundown of current service from major metro region providers for Thursday:

  • MARTA reports rail service is online and about a dozen bus routes are running Thursday.
  • GRTA Xpress is running limited service into downtown, but notes the only departure point for afternoon service will go out of Civic Center Station.
  • Cobb County Transit reports local service is operational but express routes are limited for Thursday.

Thirty percent of your employees don’t show up for work one day. What would you do? Would you close for business? Try to make it with a skeleton staff? And how would these choices impact your bottom line? Now imagine that those same employees – or more – were unable to get to work for three days or longer.

It’s a scenario that most Georgia business owners don’t think will happen to them, and, hopefully, it won’t. But recent history indicates that we need to prepare. Most of us never imagined that North Georgia roads would look like rivers last September as a 500-year flood swept the state. But that’s exactly what happened.

Georgia is also susceptible to tornadoes, as we saw in March 2008 when one spiraled through downtown Atlanta and caused damage in 15 counties across the state. Ice storms can literally freeze northern portions of state, and Dr. Patrick O’Neal, chief of the Georgia Department of Community Health’s Emergency Preparedness and Response Division, expects one third of Georgians to contract H1N1 flu. My goal is not to cause panic, but to show businesses the importance of preparing for, weather-related emergencies, pandemic, and other unforeseen disasters today.

I believe many business owners approach continuity planning with the best of intentions. But it can fall to the bottom of the list among payroll, sales and day-to-day operations. Ready Georgia, the emergency preparedness campaign from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, also supported by the Georgia Department of Community Health Division of Public Health, can help. It offers a Ready Your Business guide to assist Georgia companies of any size with disaster planning. The guide can help planners identify key decision makers during a disaster, assess which disasters your organization is most vulnerable to, and determine essential business functions that must be maintained. It also helps organize important communication information, such as customer phone numbers, vendor email addresses and insurance provider contact information, in one location.

Working in conjunction with organizations like The Clean Air Campaign, can help businesses develop a comprehensive crisis plan to see them through a variety of situations. The Clean Air Campaign offers no-cost assistance to start or formalize a worksite telework program and can also help you apply for tax credits that cover the cost.

Business continuity plans that include telework programs can help protect our state’s economy, your business and the future of your employees. It’s time to move emergency preparedness to the top of the list, and get your business Ready.

Charley English is the director of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and the Office of Homeland Security. He oversees all state governmental actions designed to ensure mitigation and preparedness, appropriate response and timely recovery from natural and man-made hazards which may impact the state of Georgia.

The World Health Organization recently elevated the H1N1 epidemic to “pandemic” status, meaning the virus has spread across every continent and still presents significant risks to public health. Few people realize that nearly half of all the H1N1 cases being tracked are right here in the U.S. We’re focused on things like washing our hands more often, but as employers and individuals, are we prepared for what happens next?

The problem is we don’t yet know what will be asked of us.

It is precisely for situations like these – in the time before an event like a pandemic escalates further and creates a series of challenges that happen in rapid succession – that employers draft formal business continuity plans.

Increasingly, companies are finding that teleworking is an essential tool in preparing for, and recovering from, a catastrophic natural or man-made disaster. Whether it is “home-based” or “remote-office based,” teleworking moves the work to the employee, rather than moving the employee to the work, which, in the event of a pandemic, can help prevent the spread of health risks.

Situations like the current swine flu pandemic have happened before. During the SARS breakout of 2003, many Hong Kong and Montreal based firms opted for teleworking to conduct “business as usual,” thereby minimizing human contact while still working closely with customers. In fact, SARS was a catalyst for many businesses that are integrating teleworking into their business continuity plans as a means of “social distancing” while operating critical functions within the organization.

Implementation Steps for Disaster Preparedness
Every employer is unique in the needs and considerations that must go into planning, but the key to business continuity is emergency preparedness, which entails having a program in place that has been tested prior to the emergency and an advocate that can champion the program. Consider these issues:

  1. Gaining support from all levels of management. Management will need to know how telework would impact productivity and the bottom line.
  2. Knowing which employees could work from home or a remote location. Some jobs may not seem appropriate for teleworking at first, but in an emergency, all employees may need to work from home or another location.
  3. Locating alternative facilities where employees could work. If your building becomes inaccessible, all work may need to be performed from an alternate location.
  4. Determining equipment needs and resources. At a minimum, you need to determine the types of equipment necessary for employees to accomplish their work. This can vary for each employee or work unit.
  5. Developing remote access to office files. Teleworkers may need access to information and software to perform tasks. Some companies have back up files stored off-site, which can be accessed in an emergency.
  6. Training employees and managers on teleworking procedures. Businesses have found that employees with prior teleworking training are able to respond quicker and more effectively to unexpected circumstances.
  7. Establishing a teleworking pilot program and monitoring results. A well-rehearsed plan is important to ensure your business can respond to a crisis. A pilot program for select employees can help polish your emergency teleworking procedures.


Lessons Learned From Recent Disasters
Employers that have had to put their business continuity plans into motion offer this wisdom:

  1. The telecommunications infrastructure may be more robust than the roadway infrastructure.
  2. Investments in technology and back-up systems are the backbone of many recovery programs.
  3. Pre-planning and testing of the plan are the key to quick recovery.

Employers can learn more about what makes a solid business continuity plan when they attend The Clean Air Campaign’s next Lunch and Learn event on telework, the telework tax credit and the role of telework in business continuity planning on July 16.

Do you ever sit at work and listen to a co-worker sneeze, cough and sniffle his or her way through the day? Do you ever want to tap that person on the shoulder and say, “go home before you make us all sick!”?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that every year in the U.S., five to 20 percent of the population gets the flu. So how do you keep your business running with the cold and flu season in full swing?

An easy answer to keeping germs out of the workplace is a telework program. For all of those employees who think the world will end if they don’t show up; for all the loyal workers who don’t want to use a sick day; for employers who don’t want to allow one sick employee to infect the whole office, I have three friendly – and obvious – words of advice: Work. From. Home.

Stuart Brown, M.D., former director of the Georgia Division of Public Health, said that “someone coughing deposits germs on workplace surfaces – conference tables, the copy machine and telephones. So anything you can do to limit that helps reduce the risk of infection spreading to other employees.”

So here’s my recommendation to everyone suffering with a cold or the flu who still has manged to summon enough energy to be on the clock: Telework! Atlanta is one of the most wired cities – let’s try to make it one of the healthiest too.

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