November 6, 2006
City Club of San Francisco,
San Francisco, California
The intent of the annual Crossroads Conference is to provide a forum where members of Fritz Institute's Corporations for Humanity initiative convene to discuss developments in the field of humanitarian assistance. During the day-long conference, which brings together corporate executives and members of the humanitarian community, common challenges confronting the humanitarian sector are discussed and the relevance of private sector approaches, skills and resources to address those problems are explored. In this way, Fritz Institute seeks to provide a bridge between corporations and aid agencies so that each sector can understand the unique dynamics of the other and investigate opportunities for partnership and learning.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, there has been a new awareness about the vulnerability of the United States to disasters and the lack of readiness to cope with the effects of natural hazards. Corporations and businesses throughout the country are reassessing their business continuity plans. The government and nonprofit organizations, many of whom would be on the front lines of a major disaster response effort, are also looking to corporations for collaboration to enhance capacity and to augment disaster recovery.
As most of us know, it is a near-certainty that a significant earthquake will strike the Bay Area in the next few decades. In fact, the Bay Area is home to three of the six most-hazardous cities in the United States: Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose. Yet, there is consensus that the level of readiness of the community as a whole is far from adequate. Less than 33% of businesses have a continuity plan and there are practically no partnerships between the private sector and the government to share information, collaborate and plan for recovery after a major event. This years Crossroads Conference focused on this aspect and brought together major corporations and nonprofit organizations in the Bay Area to discuss challenges and opportunities to work together to improve Bay Area preparedness.
During the introductions, participants reiterated their interest in understanding the corporate role in disaster preparedness, relief and recovery. It was noted that after a major disaster in the Bay Area, 80% of the resources needed for recovery are controlled by the private sector, underscoring the critical need for the private sector to be incorporated into any major disaster planning effort.
From the corporate perspective, disaster preparedness usually occurs at three levels. Risk management and business continuity planning is undertaken to ensure that the financial impacts of a disaster are minimized. Employee health and safety at the office as well as at home are the next priority. Finally, corporations also consider their responsibility to the communities in which they operate and how corporate resources and skills can be leveraged in rendering humanitarian assistance and in facilitating the recovery of the community. In all cases, good planning requires drills and exercises to ensure that protocols are understood so that they can be effectively implemented.
These themes were addressed in conference presentations as various speakers brought their own unique perspectives and experiences to the group.
Opening Presentations: Views on Disaster preparedness and Relief
- Mark Bartolini, formerly of the International Rescue Committee, opened the conference with an address on the applicability of lessons learned in international relief to the domestic context. He emphasized the importance of coordination and information-sharing at the time of a disaster when systems go down and chaos prevails.
- Anisya Thomas, Managing Director of Fritz Institute, reviewed the Institute's work in bringing together the diverse constituencies and stakeholders in Bay Area Disaster Preparedness, including the government, the private sector, community- based organizations, academia and philanthropy. She spoke of the importance of having corporate partnerships with relief organizations or the government in place prior to disasters in order to properly leverage the assets that the corporate sector possesses. These could include physical assets as well as intellectual know-how. These are difficult to create because of cultural differences between the private and non-profit sectors, but they offer great promise.
- Ana-Marie Jones, Executive Director of Collaborative Agencies Responding to Disasters (CARD) followed with a plea to revisit current messaging and methods around disaster preparedness. In her view, using fear to urge people to prepare for disasters is a disempowering and ineffective approach. CARD is built on the concept that preparing for disasters is an essential part of every person's responsibility to themselves, their organizations and their families. Ana-Marie argued eloquently that the survival of the Bay Area rested on its ability to bounce back after the inevitable earthquake and maintain the viability of the region as a center of innovation and commerce. Thus, disaster preparedness and partnership between corporations and nonprofit organizations are crucial to the well-being and commercial vitality of our region after a major natural disaster.
Challenges in Preparedness: The Corporate Perspective
- Mary-Lou Quinto, Director of Global Logistics at Genentech, gave a powerful presentation that highlighted the possible implications of lack of disaster readiness. She described the risks to Genentech which until recently had concentrated all its finished goods in warehouses in the Bay Area. In addition, its scientists, the bulk of its intellectual capital, are also concentrated here. A catastrophic disaster in this area could therefore cause a great deal of harm to the viability of this corporate leader. She described her activities to diversify the geographic location of warehouses across the US. She also suggested that companies should incent employees to be more participatory and enthusiastic about preparedness by incorporating reward systems for people to be on disaster teams. She ended her presentation by suggesting that Fritz Institute could play a role in bringing together counterparts in other Bay Area companies to share knowledge and best practices and learn from each other.
- Ophelia Basgal, Vice President, Civic Partnership & Community Initiatives for PG&E, offered insights into the unique perspective that a large public utility can play in helping the community to prepare. While PG&E has a robust disaster plan and conducts internal drills regularly, the essential services that they provide for gas and electricity and the social contract with the public that these perceived necessities imply argue for an approach that actively supports the building of prepared communities. Following the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina regarding the difficulties encountered by vulnerable communities, PG&E is seeking to build the preparedness and capacity of local community-based organizations, particularly the non-profits that focus every day on serving those who are least likely to be prepared, such as the poor, the sick and the elderly. However, PG&E is hampered somewhat in this effort by the lack of clear metrics of preparedness in the nonprofit sector. As a result, Ophelia spoke about the need for tools to identify and measure gaps in preparedness, which could then serve as a foundation for investment and partnership with the nonprofit sector.
Break out Sessions: Collaboration and Preparation
The remainder of the conference focused on lively breakout discussions where participants were asked to provide suggestions regarding how Fritz Institute and its corporate partners could engage to prepare for disasters. Five key concepts emerged from this session:
1. Fritz Institute should take the lead in identifying models of leveraging private sector approaches and skills. As an independent organization that brings together and disseminates best practices in disaster management and introduces standards of preparedness at a community level, the Institute is uniquely positioned to play an intermediary role.
2. There is an opportunity to build a brand around community preparedness that would be attractive to corporations and community-based nonprofit organizations. The essence of the brand would be the role that organizations play in the resilience or preparedness of the Bay Area.
3. There is a need for a mechanism to enable corporations to convene and share best practices in operational disaster preparedness, and risk management. Fritz Institute was asked to consider hosting and/or facilitating such a group.
4. Corporations need to know more about community preparedness. This will enable corporations to be more responsible corporate citizens and provide the community with knowledge and resources critical to disaster response and recovery.
5. The deployment model for any significant cross-sector collaboration should be undertaken with the notion of "validate locally; deploy globally" in mind, i.e., 2-3 tangible successes in the Bay Area that can be referenced publicly and then expanded or franchised in CA or eventually in other areas of the US.
Fritz Institute will be meeting in January 2007 with its major donors to finalize plans for the launch of its Bay Area Preparedness Initiative, at which point Corporations for Humanity members will be contacted for further discussion on specific topic areas and activities, such as those outlined above.