Current research funded through the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre is exploring planning and capability requirements for catastrophic events. Catastrophic disasters by definition overwhelm the capacity and capability of existing emergency management frameworks, requiring unique approaches to their management.
The resources of emergency management organisations are often geared around managing relatively frequent disaster scenarios. It is not cost effective to have significant investments of resources that might be only employed in the most extreme or catastrophic events. However, the inevitability of more extreme events that can overwhelm local and regional, and even national, resources means that it is worth considering where additional surge capacity might be sourced if and when needed.
The business sector has been identified as an important participant in disaster management across prevention, preparedness, response and recovery in order to reduce the burden that the community places on government following a disaster. In the United States during the response to Hurricane Sandy, for example, the business sector was able to move eight times the amount of food into affected areas compared with the combined responses of government and other non-government organisations. Similar conclusions were made following Hurricane Katrina, where it was said that Wal-Mart (retail store) frequently outpaced FEMA by several days . In the Australian context, though the business sector has much potential to assist during disasters of all sizes, this potential is not often understood and commonly under appreciated.
Options for business engagement
A continuum of options exists for the business sector to engage in disaster management. These include: direct delivery of goods or services to impacted communities on a for-profit basis; corporate social responsibility programs; for the purposes of maintaining business continuity; for the purposes of fulfilling regulatory obligations; and direct contracting to government of the business sector either in advance or in the aftermath of a disaster. Each option should not be viewed in isolation, as businesses and government can advance their shared objectives through multiple models of engagement.
Direct provision of goods and services for profit
There are numerous organisations that provide goods and services on a for-profit basis to communities in a disaster management context. The most obvious of these is the provision of insurance to enable communities to re-build after disasters. Insurers operate a network of sub-contracted assessors, restorers and builders to provide services directly to insurance company clients. Recent examples in the United States have seen insurers also engage private firefighting organisations to protect homes. In this example such mitigation services were seen as a means of attracting further clients and were undertaken in collaboration with public authorities.
Corporate social responsibility
Johnson et al. (2011) in a study of US Fortune 100 companies concluded that most large corporations engage in disaster-related corporate social responsibility activities. For example after the Black Saturday Bushfires the business sector contributed some $2.6 million in pro bono contractor services to the Bushfire Reconstruction Authority. Companies involved represented logistics, professional services, engineering, project management and architectural professions (Victoria Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority, 2011). Corporate social responsibility programs most often include sharing awareness about a disaster with employees, customers and business partners; providing support to employees directly impacted by a disaster; collaboration with community organisations; financial support through workplace giving and appeals; offering skills and expertise; and corporate volunteering.
Governments and the business sector working together to maintain business continuity is a win for both parties. The business sector has a significant incentive in ensuring the continuity of its assets and operations to maintain its revenue and reputation; from a government perspective the less time emergency managers spend on managing the results of broken supply networks, the more time they can focus on meeting other vital community needs.
Business continuity is clearly viewed by some businesses as a competitive advantage; for example Wal-Mart and Home Depot in the United States. After disasters these businesses are able to service the needs of their customers because they have forecasted the demand for products, maintained the continuity of their supply chains and can utilise their advanced logistical capacities. United States experience shows that information sharing to ensure business continuity is a key motivator for both government and the business sector.
A small number of examples exist in Australia where the business sector is regulated to provide services during a disaster. Examples include the Commercial Radio Code of Practice that includes obligations regarding emergency broadcasts and obligations of energy operators to provide services to people on life-support. Telephone companies are also regulated to provide free access to the 000 emergency number.
Direct contracting occurs when the public sector procures goods from the business sector typically in exchange for a fee. Contracting can be pre-planned through the establishment of preferred provider relationships or at the time of the emergency. Contracting occurs based upon an identified capability need, where it is determined that the business sector is best placed to deliver.
Effective preparedness for catastrophic disasters means bringing together a diverse group of organisations with specific capabilities to plan and prepare for future events. The business sector should be considered as a key player in the preparedness for, response to and recovery from disasters of any scale. The business sector can assist in providing additional capabilities and capacity to manage events that would otherwise overwhelm existing emergency management arrangements. Based upon this value proposition emergency managers should expend further effort to build public-private partnerships.
For more information, go to www.riskfrontiers.com
- JOHNSON, B. R., CONNOLLY, E. & CARTER, T. S. 2011. Corporate social responsibility: The role of fortune 100 companies in domestic and international natural disasters. Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, 18, 352-369.
- VICTORIA BUSHFIRE RECONSTRUCTION AND RECOVERY AUTHORITY. 2011. Legacy Report. Available: https://www.rdv.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0013/1151104/VBRRA-Legacy-Report.pdf [Accessed 22/2/2018].