Corporate Citizenship Blog

Corporate disaster relief: Best practices and lessons learned

Posted by Susan Thomas on May 15, 2009 2:11:41 PM

The rising incidence and severity of natural disasters in recent years has prompted business to take a hard look at how it should be responding to these situations. The pressure from employees, government and the community to become involved is significant. What should companies do to provide positive support in the relief or recovery phase of a disaster?

This question was the focus of a Boston College Center webinar on May 28. We looked at best practices and lessons learned, and heard from experts from Microsoft and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among others.

Unfortunately, many Center members are quite experienced in putting their disaster response plans into action. Center member Office Depot recently received a 2009 Florida Governor's Hurricane Conference Corporate Award in recognition of its strong commitment to helping communities prepare for, recover from and rebuild after hurricanes and other natural disasters. The award acknowledges the Office Depot Foundation "for contributing generously to hurricane relief agencies in Florida for 15 years and promoting important new strategies for recovery, rebuilding and mitigation."

Center member FedEx recently took top honors in the Boston College Center's first annual Corporate Citizenship Film Festival for a video that powerfully demonstrated the value of moving vital relief supplies into disaster-hit communities. In May 2008, FedEx Express and Heart to Heart International Inc. delivered the first private airlift of relief supplies to China following last year's massive earthquake in Sichuan Province. FedEx and Heart to Heart share a long-time commitment to preparedness and have worked together since 1995 to deliver humanitarian aid around the world. FedEx is committed to utilizing their network to support disaster preparedness and contingency planning to pre-stage materials before a disaster strikes. Working with FedEx, Heart to Heart has established an innovative Forward Response Center network to position relief supplies in strategic locations, so the supplies can be rapidly transported to people affected by a disaster. FedEx has helped Heart to Heart transport humanitarian aid to almost every major region of the world. Additionally, FedEx organizes the collection, sorts inventory, and provides storage, clearance and transport of relief supplies to sites affected by earthquakes, hurricanes or other natural disasters.

Just one month later, Center member Rockwell Collins was forced to implement its disaster response plan when the Cedar River crested at a record 17 feet above flood stage. Fortunately, the Cedar Rapids based communication and aviation electronics company suffered damages to only one facility, and was able to turn its focus to helping the community.

The first step was addressing the needs of Rockwell Collins employees who had been affected by the flood, the most devastating natural disaster to ever hit Cedar Rapids and the largest flood recorded in the state of Iowa. Next the company identified $2 million in funding from the Rockwell Collins Charitable Corporation to support immediate relief efforts and long-term recovery and rebuilding.

Rockwell Collins mobilized roughly 850 Rockwell Collins employees into volunteer teams to help gut and clean affected homes and businesses, and launched a flood recovery website to aid in the coordination and communication of the ongoing relief effort.

Working in the community, Rockwell Collins became acquainted with Hands On Disaster Response (HODR), a non-profit organization that provides hands-on assistance to survivors of natural disasters around the world. HODR's Project Cedar Rapids brought over 2,000 volunteers to the area during its four-month deployment.

With a grant from the Rockwell Collins Flood Recovery Fund, along with a few other major donations, HODR provided mini-grants ranging from $500 to $5,000 to qualified, flood-affected residents in need of financial support to purchase appliances and building materials to repair their homes. Over the course of the project, HODR volunteers served 460 households for an estimated $800,000 in donated labor.

Topics: Corporate Citizenship

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