- The Washington Times - Monday, August 9, 2004

The D.C. Office of Homeland Security is preparing to assess the vulnerability of the area’s business community to a major terrorist attack.

The agency is seeking consultants for a $4.9 million Citizen Education Campaign that includes an effort to find weak spots in the private sector’s defenses and recommend ways to prepare for an attack.

The proposals are due at the end of the month, and the study is scheduled to begin in the fall.

Although information on preparedness of the business community is sketchy, early indications show that smaller companies would be least able to withstand loss of life, property damage and prolonged loss of business that could result from an attack. They also are least likely to invest in security measures.

“It’s not that they’re less willing; they have fewer resources to do it,” said Caroline Cunningham, a vice president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade.

The board classifies more than 80 percent of the Washington area’s businesses as small.

The Conference Board, a New York business-research group, reached similar conclusions in its study of midsized companies with annual revenue of $20 million to $1 billion.

The biggest of the 100 companies surveyed considered their security expenses as a sound investment, but the smaller companies think of them as a burden, according to the Conference Board report.

“Most surveyed companies, however, report little increase in security spending since 9/11,” the report said.

Big budgets are not needed for many security measures, the board of trade said. The measures include:

• Developing a business-continuity plan. The plan would describe how to continue business operations if a catastrophe interferes with normal work duties.

• Making a list of emergency phone numbers. The list should include home numbers of critical employees, medical facilities and other important contacts.

• Watching for suspicious activity near the workplace and reporting it to police. Examples could include panel trucks parked for extended periods near utilities or transit stations.

“Those are security measures, but there’s no cost in it,” said Chip Akridge, chairman of the Board of Trade’s Emergency Preparedness Task Force.

Most small-business owners in the Washington area contacted for this story refused to talk about their security arrangements or said they had not increased security spending. Expenses caused by tighter security in the area have created the biggest problems, especially for companies that must deliver products to their clients.

“It’s taking us longer to do our job,” said Jeff Wingrove, president of Metropolitan Delivery Corp. in Northwest.

The company uses messengers to deliver packages and envelopes.

Leslie Townsend, co-owner of AC Crane & Sign Service in Rockville, said occasional blocked streets downtown can interfere with the company’s response time to customers.

“We may just schedule our jobs a little farther apart because of the traffic in D.C.,” she said.

Gwen Smallwood, office manager at Rockville Printing & Graphics, said deliveries to government agencies take longer.

“We have to drop things off at the front, and our customers have to meet us.”

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