- Associated Press - Saturday, October 25, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Ohio officials are hoping to expand a state program intended to boost information-sharing and disaster response through cooperation between the public and private sectors.

The Ohio Public Private Partnership, or OP3, was formed last year as part of state efforts to improve disaster response after storms in summer 2012 left hundreds of thousands of people without electricity during a heat wave. The program now includes nearly 90 businesses, government agencies and associations and the state is looking to get more involved.

Officials say OP3 has already been leveraged for public benefit, including when participating retailers helped get extra water to the Toledo area in August when toxins produced by algae in Lake Erie fouled the tap water for 400,000 people.

At the program’s fall conference this month, state officials told dozens of participants that planning ahead and working together can help reduce the severity of such situations.

“Unfortunately bad things do occur, but those bad things … are mitigated because of people and plans that are formulated in meetings like are going to go on here today,” Ohio’s public safety director, John Born, said as he welcomed the crowd.

Businesses and associations receive no financial incentives for participating in OP3 but can benefit from quick access to information from the government side of planning or response efforts, Ohio Homeland Security Director Richard Baron said.

The goal is to help everyone keep their operations going or get things back to normal as quickly and efficiently as possible. That could include learning more about each other’s operational needs and capabilities, prepositioning resources ahead of bad weather or a known threat, and developing contacts that can be called upon for help.

It’s drawing praise from some of the private-sector participants. The manager of business continuity and disaster recovery for Verizon Wireless, Todd Biebel, shared insights at the conference and called OP3 one of the biggest public-private partnerships he’d seen.

Other partners signed on include Ohio’s largest electricity providers, a half-dozen business associations and a variety of retailers, hospitals, insurers, communications companies, restaurants, banks and manufacturers. Many of them are household names and Ohio-based businesses, such as Kroger Co., Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Wendy’s restaurants, Marathon Petroleum and health care supplier Cardinal Health Inc.

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Find Kantele Franko on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/kantele10 .

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