03 Jul Resilient Response Texas Forum Tackles the Huge Challenges of Disaster Recovery
Resilient Response Texas Forum Tackles the Huge Challenges of Disaster Recovery
Nearly two years after Hurricane Harvey tore through Houston and southeast Texas, leaving an astounding $125 billion dollars in damage, many residents are still struggling to rebuild their homes, their businesses and their livelihoods.
According to the Harvey Data Project, an effort spearheaded by the City of Houston to account for the full cost of the storm on the city’s housing, total residential damages from Harvey is estimated at $16 billion — of which $3.1 billion hadn’t yet been met by federal recovery programs 22 months after the hurricane.
In the city’s most economically vulnerable neighborhoods, 31,000 households experienced loss of more than 50 percent of their annual income, with an average of $26,000 in remaining unmet need per household, the report found.
The slow slog of recovery from Harvey was certainly top of mind as leaders from across the disaster recovery community gathered in Houston last week for the Resilient Response Texas Forum. Hosted by Good360, All Hands and Hearts, and the OneStar Foundation at Mattress Firm’s BEDquarters, the one-day conference gave a cross section of corporate and nonprofit representatives a rare opportunity to share best practices in disaster recovery and identify ways to implement a more resilient response to natural disasters.
The forum follows our rollout of the Resilient Response initiative in collaboration with All Hands and Hearts, on the first anniversary of Hurricane Maria in September 2018. The campaign introduced a six-point pledge that encourages corporations to give more purposefully so they can do their part in creating communities better able to withstand future disasters.
In Houston, participants highlighted the need to move past immediate recovery and focus more on rebuilding for the long-term. Research shows that approximately 70 percent of all giving occurs within the first two months of a disaster — and only 5 percent of giving is ever allocated to long-term reconstruction and recovery.
“The media and donation cycle spike and decline early, but the need cycle continues long after,” said David Campbell, founder and chairman of All Hands and Hearts, in his opening remarks.
A major goal of the forum was to uncover tools and knowledge for companies and response partners to integrate into their disaster relief work. Speaking to attendees, Larry Elizondo, head of community relations and CSR at CITGO Petroleum, suggested these kinds of collaborative, cross-sector meetings are critical to bringing a sense of synergy to recovery in disaster, allowing thought leaders to gather like a family and work as a team.
The 40 attendees from across a diverse spectrum of organizations, including representatives from UPS, Mattress Firm, Coca Cola, Insperity, Dow Chemical, Concordia, Ecolab and DollarDays broke into small groups to identify challenges, as well as success to share. They zeroed in on five common barriers to implementing effective disaster aid:
- Communications and IT
In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, companies should expect challenges in their ability to communicate with employees and leadership teams, as well as maintaining their technology. Experience tells us that these issues are multi-pronged and all-encompassing.
“Companies didn’t build their infrastructure in a week, and it’s not coming back in a week,” said one participant.
The key here is to have backup plans and redundancies in place to account for communication and IT failures.
- Finding and Sustaining Funding and Volunteers
To build sustainable support for better disaster giving, companies need to foster cultural and behavioral change within their organizations — ideally, with C-suite buy-in.
“Preparedness is an investment, and company leaders have to commit to the plan and the money that it’s going to cost,” said one attendee.
- Understanding the Ecosystem and Managing Expectations
Building relationships with donors, volunteers, nonprofits and disaster response officials — long before a disaster strikes — is critical to the long-term success of any initiative. Companies need to understand the individual roles of these players as well as how they interact with each other to work effectively together.
All companies need to find champions at the local level and nurture these relationships so they can activate this assistance in a disaster. Another important task is managing the eagerness of employees and customers to help in any way when a disaster happens.
“Everyone wants to give immediately and collect stuff from their closets right away,” said Corinn Price, director of community involvement at HR services provider Insperity. “Harnessing the emotions and giving spirit at the right time with the right response is key.”
- Data to Evaluate and Identify Patterns
Natural disasters tend to follow a lifecycle arc from the immediate life-and-property threatening emergency through the long-term rebuilding process. Collecting data on a set of common disasters (for example, the impact on local economies and communities, and the recovery costs associated with a Category 4 hurricane in an urban area) would help companies develop a playbook for future events.
Access to good, actionable data is also critical to estimating need and evaluating the effectiveness of programs and how best to use funds, said
Michelle Meyer, Director of the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center at Texas A&M University and Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning who served as a post-doc researcher with the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center at Texas A&M University.
- Disaster Location
Companies don’t choose where a large-scale disaster will strike. In many cases, it will be in areas where deploying aid will be difficult. One particular concern is building the capacity to respond in low-attention communities.
“Disaster doesn’t always happen in high-profile locations,” said Justin Land, Dow Chemical’s global citizenship program officer. Therefore, making sure impacted communities, especially vulnerable populations such as rural and low-income populations, are adequately served is critical.
“Disasters are inconvenient for the rich and middle class, but they are devastating for the poor,” Campbell said.
Another major goal of the conference was to develop a parallel version of the Resilient Response pledge specifically for nonprofits to adopt. One key point of the agreement was to make sure nonprofits effectively communicate the needs of a disaster-impacted community to potential donors. Specifically, responding nonprofits should coordinate their communication efforts to ensure that donations of cash, volunteer time and goods are truly fulfilling the gap in needs along the recovery continuum. This means pulling partners outside of their silos and working effectively together to shorten the recovery timeline.
Time and again throughout the forum, participants returned to several takeaways that seemed to apply to almost every company looking to create a more purposeful approach to disaster response. One of these is the importance of having plans during “blue sky times,” as Good360’s Regional Manager for Disaster Recovery Kaitlin FitzGerald put it.
By proactively developing a roadmap for how they will respond during a disaster, including how they will protect employees and corporate assets, as well as contribute to relief and donation efforts, companies set themselves up for a more effective response.
At UPS, emergency preparedness and employee training on disaster response are top priorities, said Roderick Brown, the Texas-based District Health and Safety Manager for UPS.
In the Houston area, the transportation and logistics giant holds two safety conferences for new employees each year (one before the summer to prepare workers for the sweltering months ahead and another before the potentially dangerous hurricane season).
For UPS, emergency preparedness and disaster response extends to employees and their families as well. Lunch-and-learns at work help employees create their own individual emergency plans for their households.
Another key takeaway from the conference was the notion that relationships are best built before disaster strikes. That way, in times of emergency, companies can focus their efforts on mobilizing their established partnerships, rather than trying to create relationships on the fly.
“We’re good when the crisis hits, but there is a wealth of knowledge available that can help us create a longer term plan,” said one attendee.
The challenges that companies face are similar, so partnerships help to fill in the gaps. Those gaps are enormous and no single company or organization can address all of the issues alone, said Good360 CEO Howard Sherman. In his remarks at the forum, Sherman emphasized the need to put the problem at the center of attention and taking a collaborative approach to solving the problem.
The Resilient Response Texas Forum gave thought leaders in disaster recovery a chance to do just that — strengthen relationships within their ecosystem, share ideas and come up with some creative solutions to common challenges.
For more information on the Resilient Response initiative, please visit www.resilientresponse.org. If you are a company interested in joining Resilient Response, email Jim Alvey at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are a nonprofit looking for more information, email Tiffany Everett at email@example.com.