When natural disasters strike, businesses can be a big help.
Weather-related disasters, such as floods, storms, and wildfires, have not only become more frequent but also increasingly intense, resulting in a larger impact on a higher percentage of the population. Over the past decade alone, a staggering 88.5% of counties across the United States have been impacted by weather-related disasters.
The world has taken note and more corporations are supporting disaster relief than ever before. But as the disasters we are responding to today are intensifying, our approaches to relief must also adapt. No longer can the focus of corporate disaster relief strategies hinge solely on immediate relief. Rather, these strategies must broaden their scope to encompass a more holistic view of enhancing resilience. Here are 7 principles to consider when looking at your disaster resilience strategy.
1. DETERMINE WHEN TO INTERVENE
With the number of natural disasters happening across the world continuing to increase, deciding where to direct your budget (especially a limited one) can feel overwhelming. Having a framework to help your team make these decisions allows for a quicker response as well as easier management of budgets to prevent them from being spread too thin – both of which will deepen your impact.
This might include prioritizing relief efforts for disasters that reach a certain scale in areas that directly impact your communities and your business the most. Start by considering where your employees and customers are located and the footprint your supply chain has across the world.
2. PROTECT YOUR PEOPLE
Prioritizing responding to natural disasters that impact your business’ communities also means ensuring you have plans in place to support your employees who have been impacted. This includes ensuring your facilities are built to be resilient and equipped with emergency preparedness materials, and that your staff are trained on your evacuation procedures.
Beyond this, consider what resources and benefits you have in place to offer employees who have been impacted by a disaster, and how these supports are being communicated to them. The Home Depot does this through its Homer Fund which, since its inception, has provided $28.6 million to support associates impacted by natural disasters.
3. INCLUDE PREVENTION AND PREPAREDNESS
Experts are calling out the need for investment in prevention and preparedness initiatives, to help ensure communities are more resilient to disasters. Prevention and preparedness not only help save lives and prevent loss but is also a smart investment, saving $6 for every $1 invested.
A simple first step is to consider supporting external organizations or communities that work to increase resilience and mitigate future risks, like Wawanesa’s Community Wildfire Prevention Grants, which provides support for wildfire prevention initiatives in communities throughout Canada. While it does not eliminate the need for reactive disaster responses, a forward-thinking approach significantly augments resilience.
You can also consider taking proactive measures to help fast-track your business’s ability to respond when disasters strike. See Anheuser-Busch, who periodically repurposes their facilities throughout the year to prepare emergency drinking water for future disasters.
4. SUPPORT HISTORICALLY MARGINALIZED COMMUNITIES
Time and time again, historically marginalized communities are left out of disaster planning and are disproportionately impacted by crises. Oftentimes these communities are more likely to live in more climate-vulnerable areas (such as in New Orleans where Black homeowners were three times more likely than white homeowners to live in the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina). In Canada, Indigenous communities are at a greater risk of flooding, face harsher impacts from wildfire smoke, and are 18 times more likely to be evacuated in times of emergency.
Bringing partners and organizations from these communities to the table when developing your strategy helps to ensure their voices and needs are heard as we work towards enhancing resiliency for everyone.
5. TAILOR TO UNIQUE NEEDS
One size does not fit all when it comes to climate-related disasters; there can be many complexities when determining the right way to respond to each one. Most states, provinces, and regions have different strategies and systems in place that require your strategy to be flexible enough to adapt.
Some large-scale disasters might call for a big, broad response, while others may require deeper support at a local level. Local grassroots organizations can create a substantial impact and their direct connection to the community allows them to identify local needs. However, those groups may take longer to identify and often don’t have the same scale as national and international relief organizations. Striking the right balance is key.
Historic context should also be considered when deciding how to approach relief. This is incredibly clear in the case of the recent Maui fires. The distrust of government, stemming from the history of colonization and oppression of native Hawaiians and paired with their present-day slow response, has led to survivors organizing their own relief efforts. Your strategy should be flexible enough to consider the needs and wants of the impacted community in your response.
6. PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTHS
Your business has a specific set of skills, and those skills can be invaluable in an emergency situation. One comparative study found that countries that received help from organizations based on their core activities received aid faster and were able to recover stronger than countries that only received donations.
Try to find unique angles of support based on what your business does well, which may not be addressed by typical disaster relief. Just look at Tide, whose Loads of Hope gives survivors the comfort of clean laundry after a disaster, or how GreenShield Health is providing free counselling services to Canadians affected by wildfires. You can also look for ways that your core capabilities can enhance the work being done by others. FedEx does this through its Delivering for Good program, which lends its logistics expertise to relief agencies.
7. STAY FOR THE LONG HAUL
The impacts of a disaster on a community remain long after the initial crisis is over, but many companies often don’t stick around. A year after the 2021 flooding in B.C., Abbotsford farmers were still waiting on necessary funding to rebuild their homes and, almost two years later, Merritt, B.C. is just now getting the funding to rebuild their Middlesboro Bridge (a project which is estimated to take until 2025 to complete). Expanding your disaster resilience strategy to include ongoing support can make a huge difference for communities navigating these difficult journeys.
The importance of the rebuilding process also circles back to enhancing a community’s resilience. We should not aim to simply return a community to its original state but strive to make it stronger. Communities often struggle to navigate complex insurance policies and Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements that might not even cover the additional costs associated with rebuilding a more resilient infrastructure. Great strategies aim to better understand the long-term challenges faced by communities to find unique solutions.
Remember, nobody is expecting you to solve the world’s issues alone.
As you look to adapt your strategy, collaboration is key. Build deep partnerships with charitable organizations that consider more than monetary support, and collaborate with communities and other businesses to further drive your impact.
With climate change-related events happening more and more, there is a massive opportunity (and need) for companies to collaborate to protect the communities they serve. We invite you to look beyond your own four walls and seek out innovative ways to contribute your strengths to others’ initiatives and invite others to participate in yours.
And if you need help figuring it all out, we’re only an email away!
— SARAH CIVIL, CLIENT STRATEGY MANAGER AT PUBLIC INC.