Resilience Starts with Community Engagement - BCLC Executive Director Stephen Jordan

Last week, Charles Schwab hosted BCLC's Disaster Assistance and Recovery workshop in San Francisco. 

The Bay Area’s resilience and disaster preparedness support systems are very impressive.  But I realized it’s not just the preparedness work that will determine the long-term health of the Bay Area. It’s what’s being done to promote community vitality on an ongoing basis that needs more attention.

California always has an embarrassment of riches – and their disaster risks are no different. In this case, the state doesn’t just have one fault, but multiple faults including the Hayward and the San Andreas. Bottom line: there is a 63% chance of a category 7.0 earthquake hitting the Bay Area in the next 30 years.  Depending on its epicenter, it will cause between $100 billion and $200 billion worth of property damage; only $12 billion to $18 billion of which will be insured.  

And this is actually an understatement of the magnitude of the problem, because the faults crisscross the water, electrical, and transportation infrastructures.  The public and community systems will take a toll that can’t be quantified.


Despite the risks, you can see why the Bay Area is such an attractive place.  The panorama is breathtaking.  The cuisine is world class.  Stanford and Berkeley and other idea factories create a seedbed of innovation.  For quality of life, intellectual and artistic vitality, climate, and connectedness, there are few places on the planet that can compare.  This is a region worth living in, but it pays to be prepared.

We tried to accomplish three primary objectives with the workshop.  The first is to make connections across the public, private and nonprofit channels.  As the saying goes, “you don’t want to be exchanging business cards after a disaster.”  We’ve found that these forums help build trust and promote working relationships, even though we hope they never have to be implemented for real. 

Our second objective was to help knit the business continuity and corporate citizenship functions together more closely.  Business continuity tends to look at plant, property, equipment, and the firm’s internal operations.  CSR officers are actually indispensable because they help maintain the community’s continuity.  If the schools are closed, employees stay home.  If health and wellness programs aren’t adequate, employees stay home.  If nonprofit and community organizations aren’t functioning, business operations don’t work as smoothly.

Our third objective grew out of the second: we need to raise awareness that you can’t really make a community resilient and sustainable after a disaster has happened. Communities have to work on it during “peace” time or during the “steady state” of normalcy.  To that end, CSR leaders serve an important purpose – to improve the environmental and social ecosystems in which their businesses operate on a daily basis help. This helps them create a more resilient system overall, in the event a disaster happens.

As we worked through the issues in the workshop, I asked if the participants thought that the emergency support function (ESF) system that is used in the aftermath of disasters might have a counterpart during normal times.  Should there be a public-private education support function or a public-private health and wellness support function that would provide communication and coordination links on an ongoing basis?   Companies like HP, Apple, and Mattel already have education-oriented CSR programs, just as companies like Amgen, McKesson, and Kaiser Permanente have health and wellness programs.  Meanwhile, companies like SAP, PG&E, and Chevron have ongoing sustainability programs in the region. 

Do they sync up at the project level?  The community level?  The regional level?  Any level?  As we push forward on public-private partnerships for community development, more needs to be done to improve communication and coordination along functional lines.  More needs to be done in terms of creating support systems and connections between local, state, and national players, and much more needs to be done in terms of goal definition.

A 7.0 quake is going to be a catastrophe, no doubt about it. But maybe the goal isn’t how resilient a community will be, but how well it manages its support systems on an ongoing basis.  As one participant in the workshop pointed out, when people sell tooth paste, they don’t focus on how bad your teeth will be if you don’t brush, they focus on how white and clean your teeth will be if you do.

Getting the roads and the water, the healthcare and the education, the housing and the safety systems right creates platforms of productivity that enable businesses to flourish.  Enabling businesses to flourish creates wealth that enables these systems to prosper.   This is how virtuous cycles get built.

The Bay Area and other communities have seen plenty of instances where, instead of pulling together, people have privileged one value over another, torn down each other instead of building each other up.  Getting the balance right creates more opportunities for all.  Getting it wrong creates a situation that is inherently unsustainable.

One of the rock stars of the workshop was a captain in the Salvation Army, who explained how his organization transformed from a “vulnerability” model of community support to one that is focused on the economic, environmental, and social aspects of recovery and resilience.  Another was a county executive in San Diego who described the “ReadySanDiego” partnership between the county and businesses.  A third was a business continuity manager from a wireless carrier who talked about the linkages between business continuity and CSR.  A fourth and fifth were CSR representatives from two high-powered companies in the logistics space who discussed small business assistance and improving the way businesses make giving decisions after disasters.

I believe – and the examples above support – that a new type of win-win thinking is emerging within the CSR, public, and NGO sectors, one focused on community development.  We’re moving beyond community resilience to revitalization — and also reinventing the way we work together.  A lot of people are going to like this new model of teamwork, but we still have a lot of work to do.

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