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Disaster relief: A coordinated effort

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Following the 2005 Asian tsunami, Business Roundtable, a membership organization of nearly 160 CEOs of leading U.S. companies, launched the Partnership for Disaster Response. One of its missions is to enhance the efficiency of companies’ responses to emergency situations.

According to the partnership, the U.S. private sector owns and operates nearly 85 percent of the nation’s critical infrastructure for providing resources to aid disaster response and recovery. “A lack of coordination of resources can cause life-threatening delays when timing is crucial,” states a partnership publication titled “How Can My Company Help? A Guide for Country Managers in Responding to Natural Disasters.”

“You can start a relationship prior to anything big happening. That’s the best-case scenario,” says Nicole Gulatz, a procurement officer for the American Red Cross. We get hundreds of thousands of inquiries from companies after a large event, and it’s hard to respond to everybody because a big part of our job is to find out what’s needed.

While Gulatz urges companies to establish a relationship with their local Red Cross chapter, the organization’s website includes a place where companies can register as a supplier. “We try to identify who our suppliers are going to be [before a disaster],” Gulatz says. Companies also can call the organization’s hotline (800-7-INKIND) or e-mail

Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) functions primarily to support first responders, it also maintains a contractor registry.

While there are obvious needs (tarps, blankets, tents, containment bags) there also are opportunities for suppliers of less obvious products. After the 2009 earthquake and resulting tsunami in American Samoa, the American Red Cross sought fabric for lava lavas, the long skirt worn by both Samoan men and women. “That was a very specific thing we needed,” Gulatz says. They needed not only a large quantity of fabric in the right texture and weight, but also in a variety of colors/prints so the victims did not look like they were wearing uniforms.

In a podcast series created in a collaboration between the Partnership for Disaster Response and Stanford University’s Center for Social Innovation, Joe Becker, senior vice president of disaster services for the American Red Cross, says that companies have more than money and products to offer; they also can offer expertise and technology.

Janice Kleinschmidt is a freelance writer based in Palm Springs, Calif.

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