When Hurricane Charley hit Charlotte County, Florida, Charles Brown, president of Charlotte State Bank was prepared. He and his employees had charted out employee call lists, invested in an additional generator and plotted disaster response plans well before the storm wiped his town of electricity and basic supplies such as food and water. So it wasn't a shock when all of Brown's employees reported to work the morning following the storm. I wonder how many business owners reading this site could say the same.

Likely not many. Or so says Secretary Tom Ridge, who heads the Department of Homeland Security. This morning I was one of a handful of reporters invited to chat with Ridge about the department's new Ready Business campaign. Ridge encouraged business owners to follow Brown's lead and be proactive in planning for disaster -- especially in a post-September 11th world. The campaign is designed, Ridge says, to warn business owners to think ahead. Business owners need to work with employees and local first responders, he says, to coordinate efforts should a disaster -- natural or otherwise -- arise. He stressed that disaster plans needn't be expensive or cause unnecessary panic at a business or in a community. The idea is to be ready to take care of the company and its employees no matter the circumstances.

According to Brown, with whom I also recently spoke, his plan had been in place for months before the hurricane arrived at his door. He and the senior officers at Charlotte State Bank were more than prepared for Charley. The bank even subsidized a general store, where employees could pick up incidentals such as milk and eggs free of charge to take home to their families. Mind you, Florida is no stranger to tropical storms -- so it seems perfectly reasonable that Brown plan for something that torments his state year after year. For the president of a manufacturing firm in New Hampshire? Maybe not so much. Perhaps that business owner may want to spend his company's "extra" cash on new equipment his employees use daily or a developing a new arm of the company to bring in new business. But, as Ridge points out, planning may mean different things to different businesses depending on budgetary constraints. Yet, he insists it should be an integral part of doing business now that terror attacks have joined the list of crises which may have previously only included tornadoes and earthquakes.

The government has set up a website (www.ready.gov) laying out several ideas of how to prepare for a dangerous situation. For example, Ridge says, it might be a good idea to review your insurance plan regularly, take inventory, design an evacuation plan or even assemble emergency kits with duct tape and extra clothing.