Convenience Retail Industry Plays Key Role in Disaster Readiness Test

In early May, Miller Oil Company participated in FEMA’s National Level Exercise 2018 to test disaster preparedness.
May 18, 2018

WASHINGTON – Earlier this month, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) conducted its National Level Exercise 2018 (NLE 2018), one of the agency's major exercises that tests the ability of the government and industry to protect against, respond to, and recover from a large-scale disaster. Based on last year’s devastating storm season, NLE 2018 was modelled to depict a major hurricane hitting the Mid-Atlantic states.  

A key part of NLE 2018 was to show how public and private sector organizations can work together more effectively by leveraging information sharing. As hubs of their local communities, convenience stores play a crucial role in disaster recovery, especially during the early stages. The ability for convenience stores to remain open or reopen quickly benefits the community, especially first responders.

For its NLE 2018, FEMA worked with SABER, the Single Automated Business Exchange for Reporting. As a member of FEMA’s National Business Emergency Operations Center, SABER has provided business status data to the center, as well as FEMA regions, states and local governments during previous disaster preparedness exercises, including real-time events such as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

On Monday May 7, SABER’s Business Resilience Program launched as part of NLE 2018. NACS retail members were invited to participate in the program to gauge their readiness in the event of a significant natural disaster and see how they could enhance their operations planning.

Miller Oil Company, which operates Miller Marts convenience stores as well as provides heating oil, HVAC and commercial fuels throughout Central and Northern Virginia, is located in the area where the NLE 2018 hurricane was projected to make landfall, causing severe damage to residences, businesses and critical infrastructure. With a tradition of community service through its non-profit Miller Oil Foundation, Miller staff volunteered to play an active role in the SABER Business Resilience Program pilot.

"People throughout Hampton Roads have always generously supported our company and our family," said Jeff Miller, president of Miller Oil Co. "We welcomed the chance to support NLE 2018 and the SABER Business Resilience Project because we are committed to driving operational excellence. This was another great opportunity for us to give back to the community by learning how we can work more effectively with government agencies to serve our customers when they need us most." 

Over the course of three days in the exercises, Miller employees successfully transmitted status reporting information through SABER to FEMA and state and local governments. (All company-specific data was kept confidential to participating companies.) The Miller team used SABER's mobile app, SpotOnResponse, at store locations to receive alerts and send operating status or needs information to both their corporate headquarters and, via SABER, to the appropriate government agencies.

Preliminary results from Miller Oil Co.’s participation in the SABER Resilience Program portion of the exercise suggest that the new information technologies helped minimize the burden on stores and reduce the time required to share business status information with public agencies during a potential disaster. Likewise, access to reliable fuel availability and open/closed status updates from companies on the frontlines of a potential disaster also helped government emergency managers make decisions more quickly on resource allocation. It was especially important for first responders to know where they could get gas, coffee and food between shifts.

"We believe that the participation by NACS members helped government agencies understand the industry's needs and capabilities so that the convenience and fuel retailing industry is better represented in future policy and planning decisions regarding resource allocation, commodity staging locations, road reopening and other recovery actions," said Carolyn Schnare, director of strategic initiatives for NACS. "We hope the exercise also promoted business-to-business collaboration and consumer awareness. Retailers who are better prepared for emergencies should be able to stay open longer and reopen faster, which will reduce disaster-related loss of income and could offer a competitive advantage."

NACS has a variety of resources available online to help retailers prepare for the upcoming hurricane season, or any disaster. If interested in learning more about SABER, contact Carolyn Schnare at cschnare@convenience.org.

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