Managing Disasters – private enterprises getting involved in Disaster response

The Wallstreet Journal published the following article on June 9th, 2008. Please see my thoughts after reading the post :

Managing Disaster

June 9, 2008

In the aftermath of a terrible natural disaster like China’s Sichuan earthquake, global businesses with operations in the area have a critical role to play in providing much-needed relief. Their ability to do that depends greatly on how well they have “learned the landscape” – not only of their host country, but also of disaster response.

Following the May 12 earthquake, many multinational companies like FedEx, General Electric, IBM, Xerox and others, responded not only immediately and generously, but correctly and effectively. Most of the companies provided an outpouring of cash, nearly always the most effective way to help a relief effort in any disaster. Cash is liquid, and it can be used to respond to the most urgent needs. Cash also allows relief agencies to purchase items such as food, clothing and tents locally, helping to restart economies that come to a halt in a disaster’s aftermath.

At other times, a company’s unique products, services, and industrial and technological expertise can be extremely valuable in speeding a relief effort. For example, GE donated water purification systems and health-care equipment to aid hospitals and communities in the affected provinces. A team of IBM developers customized and translated Sahana software, a free, open-source disaster-management system, into simplified Chinese to coordinate relief efforts in Chengdu. Caterpillar provided a fleet of about 30 machines, work tools and generators, along with a team of skilled operators, for rescue operations in the area. And Pfizer deployed a rotating team of 50 employees to volunteer with the Sichuan Red Cross Society of China to help manage donations.

The companies didn’t find themselves prepared for the Sichuan disaster by accident. Back in 2005, when 75,000 people died in the earthquake that devastated South Asia, several CEOs of large multinational companies, including the two of us, joined together to start the South Asia Earthquake Relief Fund. Instead of simply sending what we thought could be used at the disaster site, we traveled to the region and met with Pakistani officials to learn firsthand about the impact of the earthquake. The visit helped us determine what kind of donor assistance was needed most to aid both the immediate relief effort and the long-term reconstruction of the region.

That experience taught us a valuable lesson that has guided our response to the devastation in China: To be effective, companies must work to develop a deep understanding of their host country’s government, attitudes, customs and people. This enables them to respond more quickly, communicate with government and relief agencies more effectively, and provide the right kind of assistance should a disaster occur.

The Partnership for Disaster Response, a cross-industry task force of Business Roundtable member companies that coordinated corporate giving in the two disasters, recommends several steps for companies to take in preparing response plans well in advance of a disaster. These include identifying the local organizations that will be most effective on the ground; involving employees through matching gifts programs; and carefully assessing which products or services are really needed before sending them.

With their vast resources, expertise and knowledge of how their host countries work, multinational companies operating in China and across Asia can serve as a powerful resource when a natural disaster strikes – and as citizens and governments take the first steps toward healing.

Mr. Immelt is the chairman and CEO of General Electric and a member of Business Roundtable. Ms. Mulcahy is the chairman and CEO of Xerox and the chair of the Corporate Leadership Initiative at the Business Roundtable.

My immediate thoughts :  –> please see my comment

One comment

  1. To tell the truth I became first a bit puzzled :

    On one side I absolutely appreciate the involvement of private enterprises in the support of victims of disasters. It is true every cent and effort is needed to help people in the direct aftermath of destruction. I

    On the other side I remember a 20 feet container full of Italian’s stylish shoes, arriving in El Fasher – North Darfur. Those blinking and shiny sandalettes, which were obvious produced for the upper class female to be shown on a Corniche or fancy reception, but they were delivered to help the IDPs of the Darfur conflict.

    While researching a bit about the writers of the article and their background I came across a well done website which is called Business Round table’s Partnership for Disaster Relief and where beside their achieved activities a guideline can be downloaded, how a company should react/ handle in case of own involvement to recent disasters. (see also link beside)

    As we all know this is a part of social marketing and encourages own staff with the feeling : “we care”. The more I digged into the topic – as more I saw profound thoughts and efforts from those leaders in becoming involved with disaster response.

    A group of international organizations, including the Red Cross Movement are already receiving sufficient amounts from this resource. Partnerships with private enterprises have shown very efficient as for example logistic companies are helping with transport of relief goods to special rates or even for free.

    It would be very appreciated if those companies would receive regular adequate informations, form partnerships and could be stimulated to support Disaster Preparedness in future, in order to reduce the impact of increasing natural calamities.

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