For years, disaster planning at Encore Events Rentals, with locations in Windsor, Petaluma and St. Helena, Calif., was focused on emergencies occurring when employees were in the building and needed to exit immediately. All that changed after living through the wildfires of 2017.
“Before 2017, we had a more traditional emergency plan to deal with earthquakes, gas leaks, etc. After 2017, we definitely elevated things,” says Bridget Doherty, president.
What made 2017 such a turning point? “That was the first year the wildfires really impacted us,” she says. “The fires were massive. The Tubbs Fire was happening in Santa Rosa, in which more than 5,000 homes were lost. At the same time, we had fires happening throughout Napa and Sonoma counties. Our two counties are right next to each other. These fires impacted 80 percent of our employees, with many having to evacuate and two employees losing their homes. We were trying to support our employees while managing through the crisis, with two locations out of commission for over a week.”
That experience prompted changes, including:
Putting in clear communication chains: “We have dealt with wildfires in 2017, 2019 and 2020. We now have a list — while it sounds simple — of having things ready to communicate when the business is closed down, etc. We want to communicate as quickly and efficiently as possible to our employees, check in with them and let them know what the status is. We have ongoing communication training between senior managers. One communication goes out and then four or five people are responsible for getting that clear information to our employees during that time,” Doherty says.
On the external front, the company’s marketing manager is charged with communicating via social media. “During this time, that was our main avenue for immediate communication with our clients,” she says.
Dealing with power concerns: “PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric Co.) was implementing rolling blackouts during potential fire times. We built a new 55,000-sq.-ft. building in Windsor in 2019. In that building we set it up to bring a generator in at last notice. That need and reality has changed our infrastructure for us to being able to run power, not necessarily during a fire, but during a rolling blackout,” Doherty says.
Enhancing the sprinkler system: “In our new building we also invested in a very large sprinkler system. We have high ceilings and racks to about 24 ft. In California we cannot go that high without having sprinklers. We invested in a very robust sprinkler system for the building in addition to the generator setup. The system is 10 times-plus stronger than what we have in our other locations,” she says.
Moving to the cloud: “Not all our systems were cloud-based before 2017. For instance, our HR system and Alert software were not. We have now moved everything to the cloud, which means we can access all information at any location,” she says.
With these steps, Doherty feels better prepared to care for her employees, clients and her business.