The trusted name in emergency preparedness for over 10 years

Daily Breeze Article - June 3, 2007

By Muhammed El-Hasan
Staff Writer for the Daily Breeze

An El Segundo business is among firms offering disaster kits. The company recently began offering the "Classroom Lockdown Kit." The most eye-catching item in the kit: a portable toilet.

When police chase a car thief through narrow residential streets or scour leafy backyards for an elusive burglar, local schools generally institute a lockdown -- keeping children in their classrooms until all is clear.

As the police action plays out near campus, a child urgently hopping up and down in a locked classroom may signal another type of crisis.

During a lockdown, what's a kid to do when nature calls?

Since most classrooms do not have their own bathroom, such situations may result in serious anxiety or even messy accidents.

More Prepared, an El Segundo-based seller of disaster kits, recently began offering the "Classroom Lockdown Kit" through its Web site, MorePrepared.com. The most eye-catching item in the kit: a portable toilet.

More Prepared is part of a growing disaster preparedness industry fueled by natural and man-made disasters, fear of pandemics, regulatory changes and globalization of commerce.

Last year, companies in the U.S. paid outside vendors about $15 billion for products and services to ensure the business operates in case of disaster, according to the Disaster Recovery Institute International.

A decade ago, the figure was $2 billion to $2.5billion, said Al Berman, executive director of the Washington, D.C., organization also known as DRI International.

"I think 9-11 drove some of it," said Al Berman, whose group certifies professionals working in business continuity. "But much of it is being driven by the market place."

As companies increasingly depend on vendors and international supply lines to do business, one weak link in the chain could cause major disruptions.

So if a vendor is hit by a tsunami in South Asia, a hurricane in Louisiana or an earthquake in Japan, the customer still expects to receive the goods and services in a timely manner.

"The reason people are doing it is because their customers are saying do it," Berman said. "And there's no better driver than the market place for that."

That helps explain why large data centers housed in fortified buildings are cropping up to store critical data in a secure location for companies.

About 10,000 large-scale data centers now operate in North America, including several in El Segundo such as 365 Main, which opened last year.

In addition, regulations driven by corporate scandals like Enron and recommendations from the 9-11 Commission have pushed companies to better protect their financial information in case of disaster.

In June 2006, shipping giant DHL appointed Dan Ludwig as senior vice president of humanitarian affairs and emergency management, a newly-created position at the Plantation, Fla.-based firm.

Ludwig's job includes coordinating recovery plans from a disaster at any of the company's locations worldwide.

This includes making sure contact lists, call trees and checklists are readily available so executives and employees know exactly what to do to preserve the firm's ability to function.

Growing interest in the disaster recovery field led the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill to create a master's degree program in disaster management starting this fall.

"With the growing populations, more concentrations along areas that are vulnerable like coastlines and the changes in climate, which increases the intensity of events, you're really setting yourself up for more disasters over the next 10 years," said Jim Porto, director of executive programs at the university's department of health, policy and administration.

Constant media reports of disasters and disaster preparation also help fuel this industry, said Kathleen McGrorty, a director at Protiviti Inc., a Menlo Park-based risk management consulting firm.

"You can hardly read a publication today without reading something about being prepared for one thing or another," McGrorty said. "It's not any one event."

Protecting one's customers also plays into disaster preparedness. For example, the hospitality industry would be devastated by an avian flu pandemic that brings airline traffic to a screeching halt, McGrorty said.

That has led hotels to improve health conditions including adding hands-free faucets in bathrooms.

"They lose their client base if people are not traveling and eating in their restaurants," McGrorty said. "When you think about it, it's really about companies staying in business, period."

The corporate world's concern for consumers in disasters is not limited to hotels and airlines. Recently, DaVita Inc., the El Segundo-based provider of nationwide kidney dialysis services, unveiled a telephone hotline to help its patients find open clinics during disasters and other emergencies.

Also directly serving consumers are the growing number of emergency kits being offered, mostly through the Internet.

Pete Moraga, a spokesman for Allstate Insurance, travels to disaster preparedness conferences in California to discuss precautions. That is where he has had a firsthand view of the growth in disaster kit businesses. 

"You see a huge amount of for-profit companies that are selling disaster preparation kits and items, automatic gas shutoff valves and all the things that are needed to prevent disasters," Moraga said.

"With the entrepreneurial spirit, there will always be people who will do something about it."

For example, Cyalume Technologies Inc. spun off from its parent company last year to focus on selling its battery-free glow sticks for consumer and military uses. The consumer brand, which generates light through a chemical reaction similar to that of a firefly, is known as SnapLights.

"There's definitely a yearning and a need in this country for safe light when the power goes out," said Staasi Heropoulos, a spokesman for the West Springfield, Mass., firm.

In 2004, the owners of West Los Angeles production company Cream Cheese Films started selling a disaster kit called Ready Freddy that includes battery-free supplies like a flashlight, radio and cell phone charger.

"We thought this is something that people don't think about until it's too late," said Randy Gladstein, whose production credits include "Robin Williams: Live on Broadway." "Our sales spike whenever there is any disaster just because people's awareness is up."

More Prepared in El Segundo launched its Web site in 2005, two weeks before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, "and we were really busy," said Mina Arnao, who started the company with her friend.

The two mothers of young children started out selling emergency kits that parents might buy their kids for school.

The business expanded into standardized and custom emergency kits for school, home and on the road.

A few months ago, the school Arnao's two daughters attend underwent a lockdown because a burglar was believed to be in the area. That led her to come up with the Classroom Lockdown Kit.

Then the Virginia Tech massacre occurred, gripping the entire nation with another emergency. More Prepared issued a press release on the Lockdown Kit about a week later.

"We were developing this before that happened," Arnao said. "We've seen a lot of lockdowns with all the schools we deal with. We were thinking what happens when you're locked down and there's no bathroom?"