Disasters strike at unexpected times and often have wide-reaching consequences. The recent Whaley Bridge incident, where a nearby dam ruptured and threatened to flood the sleepy Derbyshire town, was averted with quick-thinking and decisive action from the emergency services, a network of specialist disaster response teams as well as surprisingly, local businesses.
While praise must be reserved for the emergency services, the role local businesses play in helping to combat dangerous situations like the Whaley Bridge event is instrumental to helping avert or mitigate disaster.
Are natural disasters becoming more common?
Climate change is increasing the risk of extreme weather events according to research by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit. The report analysed extreme weather events from all over the world, including the sustained drought in Syria and Storm Desmond, which pounded the UK in 2015.
While heatwaves have always been linked to climate change, freak storms and extreme cold weather has been linked too; with the latter producing the Beast from the East in 2018.
With droughts, flooding and freezing conditions becoming increasingly likely, disaster responses need to be drawn up to counter their impact. While aid agencies and government organisations have disaster response plans, much has been said about the role the private sector can play in mitigating the impact of disasters.
Introducing private-sector networks
Businesses may have a part to play in tackling disasters. In fact, some have started to forge what are known as private-sector networks, which are essentially networks of local and multinational businesses working together to strengthen their own risk preparation. Some also work together to respond to natural disasters in their local area.
Private sector networks have been useful in mitigating some natural disasters, like when a category 5 tropical cyclone struck Fiji in 2016. Two major Fijian telecommunications companies, Digicel and Vodafone, sent SMS messages to alert residents on remote Fijian islands.
After the disaster, actors in and around Fiji set up the Fiji Business Disaster Resilience Council; a body comprised of public and private sector organisations designed to share best practices and strategies for dealing with disaster response and preparedness.
The Connecting Business initiative (CBi) is a scheme that brings businesses together to tackle the effects of natural and manmade disasters and humanitarian crises. For example, after the Typhoon Nock-Ten which affected almost a million people in the Philippines, members of CBi helped restore power and telecommunications services along with the Government-led response. Thanks to initiatives like this, businesses can help pick up the pieces after a catastrophe.
Benefits of private sector networks
Besides the obvious benefits of collectively pooling resource and expertise, there are other advantages of participating in a private sector network:
- Increased resilience as disaster strikes – by working together, organisations can get access to specialised resources, helping them to identify business risks before any disaster strikes. This helps businesses tackle and deal with the aftermath of a crisis. Private sector networks usually dole out training and resources between entities in the network.
- Stronger collective voice – businesses in private-sector networks get a louder voice collectively, as opposed to being on their own. Their interests and capabilities can be understood more clearly by emergency services and relief agencies, ensuring that the latest and most up-to-date information and actions around disaster preparation and priorities are heard.
- Pooling knowledge makes disaster management more effective – as a coordinated network, and leveraging local knowledge, private-sector organisations can help to steer disaster relief efforts. They can help target areas that are in most need of help and preparation to ensure that there aren’t gaps in disaster mitigation. Also, dealing with one body of organisations, instead of multiple smaller stakeholders, helps aid agencies and emergency services save time communicating. In addition, leveraging local knowledge and resources is usually cheaper and beneficial for local economies instead of getting these assets from elsewhere.
Could private sector networks be part of a wider CSR strategy?
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is becoming increasingly important for businesses as they seek to operate in a time where the way businesses behave ethically is vital for consumers.
It’s particularly important to millennials, as according to a Bentley University study, 86% of Gen Y believe that it’s important to work for a business that conducts itself ethically and responsibly. In addition, Nielsen identified that millennials would choose to buy from a company with higher CSR reputation.
Businesses, in high-risk areas, could bolster their CSR offering by integrating private-sector networks into their strategies that aim to achieve charitable objectives. That way, their business might be perceived as one that is proactively trying to support their local community.
Private-sector networks can support disaster relief
Disaster relief is usually handled by governments and aid agencies, but with private-sector networks, that doesn’t have to be the case. Businesses, who are increasingly expected to do more to contribute to their local communities, can take the initiative and set up a private-sector network with other. Together, like-minded organisations to mitigate disaster impact.
But will your organisation take on the challenge?