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US Business, Civic Leaders Plan for Emergencies

Disasters are a part of life, whether natural catastrophes, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, or man-made disasters, including terrorism. Mike O'Sullivan reports, business and community leaders who met in Los Angeles say the key to survival in either case is preparedness.

People have always contended with tsunamis, earthquakes and other disasters. Today they face the threat of terrorism. Business and civic leaders recently shared ideas on emergency preparations, at a forum sponsored by the group Town Hall Los Angeles.

Ellis Stanley of the city's office of emergency preparedness says it all starts with individuals.

"We realize that in major disasters, especially something like a catastrophic earthquake in California, if you cannot get to us and we cannot get to you, it is incumbent on that individual to have supplies to be able to take care of themselves those first critical hours," he said.

He says every school, business and family needs an emergency plan.

Yossi Sheffi of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says terrorism and natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, take a human toll, but their economic impact is not as serious as many people think.

"Among real terrorism professionals, the most dangerous thing is not a dirty bomb or 9/11 or London subway or Madrid subway," he noted. "If you look at the economic impact of any of those, they are negligible on the GDP, including 9/11, even Katrina. The most dangerous thing is an attack when the organization under attack doesn't know that they are under attack until it is too late."

He says a biological attack or an epidemic can be far more dangerous if the infection takes hold before people realize it.

Public health authorities monitor the incidence of disease to look for unusual patterns, and Skip Skivington of Kaiser Permanente, a major healthcare provider, says his hospitals are preparing for a widespread epidemic. He says the H5N1 virus, which has infected both birds and humans, could trigger one.

"We have done a lot of things internally to understand the disease and understand how that would impact our operations, and try to match our operations with the outbreak, should it occur," he said.

Roche Pharmaceuticals makes life-saving cancer and AIDS drugs, and anti-rejection drugs for transplant patients. Roche also makes Tamiflu, and has expanded its production of that antiviral used to treat influenza. Mike McGuire, Roche vice president for anti-infectives, says the company has an emergency plan in place.

"All of our sites are equipped with satellite phones, secure video linkups," he said. "We have plans in place. We have already stockpiled the parts or equipment for machines. Should something happen and we couldn't get a part from a vendor, we knew we would have enough to carry us through for another year. "

He says that in an emergency, essential companies in communications, energy and transportation also need to keep operating.

Harbors and ports are vital arteries for commerce, and are possible targets for a terrorist attack. Shawn James of Lockheed Martin Homeland Security Systems says security is important, but that in any disaster, essential goods must be kept flowing.

"Because if you over-screen or over-scan or over-inspect, the potential is there that you could really impede that velocity of commerce and have an impact on the economy," he explained.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) helps in the recovery and reconstruction of countries struck by disaster. Mark Ward oversaw the effort in Asia after the major tsunami of 2004. He says people can quickly forget the threats that they face.

"What about 10 years from now," he asked. "Are people going to get complacent? Are the lessons that we learn today, are those memories going to fade? And what if there's a tsunami the year after that?"

He says national governments and community leaders must stay focused on the risk, and not get complacent.