Building Disaster Readiness, Resilience, and Recovery
By Bill Baue & Marcy Murninghan Senior Research Fellows
Tsunamis, drought, hurricanes, forest fires, earthquakes, tornados. These and other catastrophic events are no longer “the exception” but part of the New Normal, where the status quo is quickly giving way to novel social, environmental, and economic realities thatchallenge business and society to adapt. We already can see extreme versions of what’s happening through the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS), which provides near real-time information about natural calamities occurring throughout the world, along with tools for response coordination. And the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) officially confirmed that 2011 has been the worst year for natural disasters in U.S. history, while the National Weather Service is documenting multiple “off the charts, one-in-a-thousand-year” weather events such as Ft. Belvoir, Virginia receiving “an astounding 7.03 inches of rain in three hours.”
So what are socially responsible companies to do, beyond assuring business continuity for their operations and supply chains? How should they handle all the inevitable requests for relief assistance, in calamity’s wake? How can they cultivate greater community resilience, to withstand impacts and costs in people, property, and productivity? And what about mitigation of forces—such as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, unsustainable consumption and production patterns, and rampant property development along flood zones and coastal areas – which contribute to both cause and consequence of extreme events, within and across sectors, communities, and regions?
Companies are no strangers to helping with recovery efforts, often providing cash contributions, product donations, or employee volunteer time to help with the cleanup. Increasingly, however, they’re shifting the focus from “How can we help?” to “How can we anticipate?”—for example, by helping build community infrastructure to mitigate the damage, a shift in thinking and strategy that calls for different tactics and partnerships.
“The paradigm we’ve been operating on is running out of gas—that when a major catastrophe happens, you make a million dollar pledge to Red Cross and go home” says Stephen Jordan, founder and executive director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Business and Civic Leadership Center’s (BCLC), which hosts the Disaster Assistance & Recovery Program hub. “Now that we’re averaging at least two or three major disasters a year, companies are getting tired of being seen as the ‘go to’ philanthropy. There’s more reluctance there, due to limited dollars and a desire to consolidate their business networks – the Chamber, the Conference Board, Boston College – and look at resilience, preparedness, mitigation.”
Systematic and sustainable disaster risk reduction presents strategic challenges for companies, nonprofits, and government along a continuum from relief to recovery and redevelopment that need to be integrated into planning, policies, and operations.