After Hurricane Ian devastated parts of Southwest Florida, many sprang into action to help those affected. Some organizations, such as the Red Cross and FEMA, always stand ready to help when a disaster strikes. But many businesses and their staff want to help and don’t know how.
When my colleagues and I learned several hundreds of our community association clients were in the path Ian cut across Florida, we wanted to show our support. Working with partners CINC Systems and The Wright Community Management, we managed to get emergency supplies to thousands of people in Southwest Florida in the four weeks following the hurricane.
We learned many valuable lessons throughout this process, which was complicated because time was of the essence, major roadways were shut down and power outages made it difficult to communicate with those in the affected areas.
Based on these lessons learned, here are a few suggestions for Florida businesses that want to be able to act quickly to provide relief following future disasters.
1. Have a plan.
Preparing a disaster relief plan in advance that outlines how your organization will support those impacted by a disaster will speed response time and help the entire effort run more smoothly.
This plan should address the points covered below in this article. It should also outline financial aspects, such as a budget for relief-related expenses, a process for collecting donations, and a dedicated, funded debit account that a core relief team member can use to purchase emergency supplies immediately.
Get leadership and legal buy-in for the plan, and revisit it quarterly to make updates as needed. Also review it after a disaster, to make necessary adjustments based on using the plan in a real-life scenario.
2. Assemble the team.
Identify who will be involved in activating and executing the disaster relief plan. Outline roles and responsibilities, and keep contact lists up to date.
If your organization has a presence in various markets, duplicate role assignments in each market. This will help ensure that if one area is hit, there may be another person who can take action from an unaffected area. Also, consider strategically inviting vendors or clients to get involved, especially if they can provide additional types of support or access to affected areas.
3. Assess the need.
During the planning process, identify who your organization will support with its relief efforts. Perhaps priorities are your staff, your customers and/or your clients’ staff. Also, consider supporting certain community groups or causes that align with your company’s mission, such as children, seniors or pets. Then keep their updated personal contact information printed or saved in cell phones, in case you need to reach them in an emergency.
Following a disaster, contact those you plan to support. Have a core team member track who has been contacted and keep a list of needs and their delivery status. This person will act as a 911 operator of sorts, logging requests, communicating needs to the team and ensuring follow-through.
4. Consider logistics.
If a disaster damages infrastructure or disrupts transportation routes, it can be difficult or even impossible to get emergency supplies to people quickly. Look at supply routes from all angles, and plan for multiple staging and delivery locations based on where a storm could hit.
For example, following Hurricane Ian, our client The Wright Community Management in Fort Lauderdale used their office as a collection point for supplies. While shutdowns of Interstate 75 restricted access from helpers to the north, the Wright team was able to make daily deliveries to Southwest Florida from the east.
If it’s possible for your organization to keep a stash of emergency supplies such as bottled water, nonperishable food and generators on hand, those items can make it to the people who need them even faster.
5. Rally the troops.
Beyond the team members who have key responsibilities in executing the disaster relief plan, consider how your organization will invite all staff to participate in relief efforts.
Will you offer them the opportunity to donate money or supplies, and if so, how? Will you give them paid time off to volunteer for relief efforts, and if so, how much?
Consider how to get staff involved and prepare a written template communicating that in advance. That way, if a disaster strikes with little or no notice, leaders can quickly drop the details into the template and send it to their teams.
Providing disaster relief as an organization is a wonderful way to wrap your arms around your staff, your clients and all you help, to show them you care in good times and in bad.
Contact Heather Karamitsos at HKaramitsos@americanmomentum.bank to learn more about lessons learned while providing emergency relief to staff and clients impacted by Hurricane Ian.