Photo credit: Business Resilience: Fire Adaption on Main Street USA

Editor’s Note: Community efforts to increase wildfire resilience often focus on homeowner action. But what about our business community?  The economic engines of our towns and cities can be particularly vulnerable to wildland fire if no preparedness work has occurred.  Across FAC Net, efforts to increase business resilience have been ongoing since the network began!  From business continuity workshops to hearing directly from businesses impacted by wildfire, network members, partners and others are helping to prepare the business community for wildland fire. 

Business Resilience in Practice

Working with businesses, resilience partners, and community members has taken many forms throughout the broader network. However, two major approaches emerged when examining how FAC Net members and partners are working with businesses. Together, we:

  1. Help businesses keep operating when wildfire occurs. These businesses are typically not fire-centered businesses and the focus is keeping the doors open during the impact.  Workshops seem to be the most common tool used to reach these businesses.
  2. Help businesses that are fire-based succeed when wildfire occurs. These businesses include mitigation specialists, fuel reduction contractors, landscapers, architects and more.  Tools used by members to reach these businesses were more varied and included educational series, contractor lists and even recreational maps.

These two unique approaches to working with businesses, with examples of communities working within each sphere, are provided below.

Helping Prepare Businesses to Operate Through Wildfire

The Island Park Sustainable Fire Community (IPSFC) hosted a business resilience workshop in May of 2019 to better prepare the community’s businesses for wildfire.  IPSFC has been working with private landowners and state and federal agencies since 2012 to promote a social and ecological landscape resilient to wildfire. While this has been done primarily through fuel reduction projects on private and public lands, the community recognized the need to include the business sector in disaster resiliency planning. The workshop objective was to provide tools for business owners to better live with wildland fire.  The agenda included presentations from FEMA (covering FEMA’s role with businesses before, during and after disaster), Idaho Office of Emergency Management, Fremont County Emergency Management (covering local planning efforts), and local insurance representatives (covering tools available through insurance coverage).  Key to all presentations was the need for individual business continuity plans; businesses, just like homeowners and residents, must prepare for wildland fire.

“Without Island Park’s businesses, the community could eventually fall apart or have a major change…”

~Liz Davy, District Ranger, Ashton/Island Park Ranger District

business resilience workshop Island Park

Island Park business resilience workshop, 2019. Photo courtesy of IPSFC

The Ashland Chamber of Commerce, together with Ashland Fire & Rescue, the City of Ashland, and others hosted a 2018 Smoke Preparedness Workshop for businesses.  Resources available on their website include a Business Resiliency Workbook for Smoke Preparedness, handouts, videos and more.  The strong partnerships in Ashland have helped the entire community, including its businesses, better prepare for wildland fire.

Helping Businesses Thrive in a Fire-Prone Environment

Ensuring businesses are prepared for wildfire doesn’t exclude preparing fire-related businesses.  The Okanogan Conservation District hosted a Fire Ready Contractor series in 2019 to make sure area businesses could not only survive a fire but could thrive in a fire-prone landscape.   This two-day course included how to start a fire mitigation business, navigating state and federal contracting, and preventing home ignitions for builders and landscapers.  The Conservation District worked with local partners such as the Economic Alliance of Okanogan County to advertise to potential attendees.

The Colorado State Forest Service provides an extensive list of contractors to help connect residents to forestry services.  Wildfire Adapted Partnership hosts this list to facilitate connections and enable local communities to access the resources they need to take action.  Business owners are invited to fill out a short (2-page) questionnaire to be placed on the list.  While some communities are hesitant to include a list of contractors or businesses on their website because they feel it implies an endorsement, those who do often include a very clear disclaimer that it is a service or reference list only—and not an endorsement or recommendation.  Keeping the list updated can be a challenge so making sure you have a clear “last updated” date is important!

Ashland Oregon Smoke Preparedness Workshop, 2018

Ashland Oregon Smoke Preparedness Workshop, 2018. Photo credit: Graham Lewis, Ashland Chamber of Commerce

Editor’s Note:  We intentionally didn’t focus on wildfire suppression contracting in this round-up.  If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, check out this great resource from Montana’s Procurement Technical Assistance Center.

By stepping back to look at the positive actions that support business fire resilience, we discovered a common thread of three themes that link together better outcomes:

  1. Communication is key. It is important to be able to clearly communicate the purpose of your engagement with businesses.  What are you trying to accomplish and what will participants learn?
  2. Messengers and partnerships matter. Your organization may not be the right messenger to talk to the business community.  A strong partnership with the Chamber of Commerce or Economic Alliance can help you reach businesses that you otherwise wouldn’t have a connection with.  Partnerships with organizations like FEMA and your local emergency management agency can help bring the right content to your community. Not everyone is an expert in business, business continuity planning, AND wildfire.  It definitely takes a team to build success.
  3. Any business can be impacted by wildfire, regardless of the sector. Whether your community is based around tourism, agriculture, the service sector, health-care or has a diverse economy, chances are a wildfire in your community will impact businesses you depend upon.  Whether it be the local grocery store or a key local employer, everyone benefits from a resilient business sector.

Additional Go-to Resources

  • If you are trying to get a business resilience program started in your community, Ready.Gov/Business has some fantastic resources for businesses, including a business resilience workshop design toolkit and a social media toolkit you can use for business preparedness outreach.
  • If you are a business looking to develop a continuity plan, the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety has developed the Open For Business-EZ Toolkit. Both print and mobile app options are available. Resources have been provided in both English and Spanish as well.
  • If you are looking for experts in the field to partner with you and your community, consider reaching out to your state’s Emergency Management Division or Department.  Washington provides comprehensive business continuity resources and Colorado has a fantastic business recovery and continuity guide.  Your local Small Business Development Center may also have excellent resources—check out Florida’s SBDC information on business resilience here.
  • If you want to stay updated on business resilience and continuity issues, Agility Recovery is a business that helps businesses stay open.  They also have a free monthly newsletter and blog focused on resilience and recovery. To subscribe to their newsletter, visit the Agility Recovery website and scroll down (Hint: it is on the bottom right)!
Ashland Oregon Smoke Preparedness Workshop

Ashland Oregon Smoke Preparedness Workshop, 2018. Photo credit: Graham Lewis, Ashland Chamber of Commerce

Looking Back

Did you know FAC Net has featured stories on our blog about business resilience before!? Here is a look back at a few of our favorites:

Small Business Planning for Wildfire (2014)

“Despite being the backbone of many local economies, many small businesses unfortunately lack the preparation for a natural disaster and are consequently limited in their ability to recover. A December 2012 study of 600 small businesses revealed that 74% of small businesses do not have a recovery plan, and 84% do not have natural disaster insurance. Failure to plan for short-term and long-term needs following a disaster impedes the likelihood that businesses can mobilize quickly enough to return to normal operations. The good news is that there are a growing number of free online resources and best practices to help small businesses better plan for and recover from wildfire disasters…” Read more…

Business Resilience in North Central Washington (2016)

Excerpts from Lessons Learned:

  • “Working in the business community also means supporting the business community. The CWSC hosts business resiliency workshops events at local businesses and works with local businesses to offer food/drinks/advertising in support of our efforts.  In 2015, 18 businesses supported a week of events during CWSC’s Wildfire Prep Week.  Though not all were able to attend workshops, they were engaged.
  • Agriculture-related businesses (orchards, packing sheds and cattle operations) have different needs than tourism-based businesses. The functions critical to their continued operation are different in significant ways and presentations should be tailored specifically to these sectors.
  • Small business in small towns is big business. Business continuity matters and should not be overlooked as part of a community’s work to live better with wildfire….” Read more…

Long-Term Recovery Planning: Where We Started (2017)

“Businesses that plan for power outages, smoke or road-related decreases in tourism, and unavailable employees are more prepared to re-open after a disaster. We learned that businesses can begin to develop their continuity plans by starting with worksheets and resources available through Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Our facilitator for this discussion, Tristan Allen from Washington Emergency Management Division (EMD), shared the following statistic from FEMA: ‘Forty percent of businesses do not reopen after a disaster, and another 25 percent fail within one year.’”  Read more…

When Wildfire Hits the Ranch: Lessons Learned from the Thomas Fire (2018)

“Just as quickly as the Thomas Fire swept through parts of our community, the questions started flooding my office: Should we prune our burned avocado trees? Can I graze my cattle on burned pastures, and if not, how can I increase my forage production for next season? How will the next rain and the sediments it transports impact our water quality?”  Read more…

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