After a disaster, business owners may be restricted from returning to their property depending on the nature and scale of the disaster. The local government may need to limit access for safety reasons related to the disaster’s impact on the community. In the process, these businesses may lose their inventory, employees, and their customer base. After a hurricane wrecked havoc on the island of Galveston, Texas in 2008, business owners were not allowed to enter the community for 12 days, which allowed salty flood waters up to 12 feet to sit and further destroy facilities and inventory.
To respond to this issue, communities have developed a tiered system of community and business re-entry following a wide-scale evacuation to allow for the safe, orderly return of community members. Without a business re-entry plan, the local economic recovery engine will be severely hampered at a time when the community needs this engine to be available.
EDOs have played a role in establishing a tiered system of business re-entry to facilitate priority businesses gaining early access to their facilities. It essentially works as a credentialing program as ID cards or passes are issued for individuals and businesses. Local law enforcement officials allow access when the appropriate ‘tier’ is activated.
Many communities have established a tiered business re-entry system to give the following re-entry priority:
- Tier 1: The first tier is commonly reserved exclusively for re-entry of agencies/groups involved in emergency response. This tier includes search and rescue personnel, emergency healthcare staff, utilities and infrastructure repair personnel, damage assessment teams, and pre-designated government staff.
- Tier 2: The second tier is limited re-entry for other important groups to assist in disaster response and community recovery. This includes relief workers, healthcare agencies and suppliers, insurance agents, business operators such as important food and building material retailers, fuel distributors and stations, debris management, financial institutions, and select businesses with unique circumstances (fragile inventory, hazardous waste, large workforce, global distribution, etc.)
- Tier 3: The third tier allows open access for all remaining residents and business operators (not allowed under tier 2) that can prove they live, own, rent, or lease in the restricted area. This tier also includes licensed contractors, other repair service providers, and family and friends who re-enter with an eligible resident.
The several examples of tiered re-entry plan below accommodate business re-entry needs:
- Jefferson Parish’s Re-entry Program – Jefferson Parish after Hurricane Katrina established the JumpStart Jefferson Business Continuity System — a website where businesses can register their information, are assigned to a tier, and receive an authorization placard for their vehicle to re-enter the parish after a major evacuation. The program automatically recognizes and sends certain applications, like hospitals and other critical infrastructure, to the parish administrator to be reviewed for inclusion in tier one.
- The City of Palmetto’s Re-Entry Program – The city of Palmetto, Florida outlines their re-entry program in the event of an evacuation. They provide detailed instructions and information on how businesses or residents can return to their properties following a major incident. There is also a copy of the county’s re-entry program and process.