James Lee Witt on Potential Disasters, Confidence to Survive

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Mar. 18, 2013 12:00 am  

James Lee Witt

Regardless of where you stand on climate change, there is a definite increase in significant weather events across the country and around the world. At FEMA and even today at Witt O’Brien’s, we focus on an all-hazards approach to disaster preparedness. No matter what the reason, we need to prepare ourselves for any disaster, and the all-hazards approach works. What we need to focus on today is not if a disaster is going to affect you but rather when. Every community, business and even individuals should take stock of what mitigation efforts they can take to reduce the risk of being negatively impacted by such an occurrence.

What’s the best advice that you can give a business owner about planning for a potential disaster such as a fire, tornado or flood?

Businesses can do much to prepare for disaster or any hazard that can affect their business or bottom line. Seventy-five percent of companies without business continuity plans fail within three years of a disaster. Companies that aren’t able to resume operations within 10 days of a disaster are not likely to survive. Of those businesses that experience a disaster and have no emergency plan, 43 percent never reopen; of those that do reopen, only 29 percent are still operating two years later.

I would suggest that businesses look at their business continuity plan and if they don’t have one, start one now. They will need to organize, develop and administer a preparedness program. They first should gather information about the hazards and risks, which could be as simple as a fire or power outage. They then should write a preparedness plan that includes resource management, emergency response, crisis communication, business continuity, information technology, employee assistance, incident management and training. Then they must test, exercise and evaluate their plan and identify what needs to be improved. And finally, businesses should ensure that their employees are up to speed personally and encourage emergency preparedness being instituted individually at their homes. Employees who are prepared at their homes are employees who are able to come to work to get you back in business following a disaster.

How much time do you spend in Arkansas these days, and do you still have a farm in Yell County?

My wife of 50 years, Lea Ellen, and I live full time on our farm in Dardanelle. We bought the farm at which my parents worked when I was a kid. Witt O’Brien’s has an office in Little Rock and that allows us to enjoy our golden years with our boys, their wives and our three wonderful grandchildren in the state we love.



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