Preparing & Responding to Disasters: It Starts with You!

By Brian Mattos | October 11, 2018 | Disaster Relief, Nonprofit, Pro Bono, Public & Social Benefit, Volunteering

Disaster preparation kitBecoming more prepared for disasters as an individual can take a little bit of work. But for a family, small business, or large company, it’s even more important to be responsive and resilient. Last year was the costliest on record for natural disasters, and with their impact on society and the environment alike, it’s time to be strategic about disaster response. Let’s take those first steps together.

What are we at Salesforce doing?

Recently, a group of nonprofits, corporations, and Salesforce employees came together for the Humanitarian Impact Summit. The half-day event challenged us to learn how to better support communities in crisis, realize actionable pro bono volunteer opportunities, and drive #MoreGoodTogether in disaster relief and resilience. Three sessions provided unique perspectives on how the people and organizations of the Bay Area responded near and far in 2017, which as you may know, was the year that fires swept through Napa and Sonoma counties as well as Santa Barbara, a few hours’ drive from where many of our Salesforce employees live..

Disaster preparedness - slide from the Salesforce.org Humanitarian Impact Summit

Peter Schwartz, SVP of Strategic Planning at Salesforce, led the first session with panelists Trevor Riggen, of the American Red Cross Northern California; Michelle Centeno, of UNICEF USA; and John Berglund, of the Salvation Army, to discuss sector-driven solutions from these well known disaster relief organizations. It was a candid and informal conversation discussing what lessons we’ve learned and how we can prepare for what scientists expect to be the “new normal.” Indeed, the New York Times has created an interactive infographic to demonstrate how your hometown has changed and how much hotter it could get due to human-induced climate change.

Even with today’s technology advancements, access to reliable communication was highlighted as an ever-present and consistent problem when disaster strikes. Riggen described a scene after the North Bay fires as family members were trying to locate loved ones who didn’t have, or even own, cell phones. “In each of our shelters we had a wall of names. People would come in all day, every day, walking through those names. Where’s my mom? Where’s my dad?”

Preparing & Responding to Disasters: It Starts with You!

The panel shared that when it comes to building a more disaster-resilient community, everyone has a role to play. Prepare yourself, educate others, and contribute to being a part of the solution.

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Nonprofit programs in action

To move from ideas to action, we discussed how organizations can take advantage of the expertise in their communities to better prepare and respond to these events. John Kennedy, of Habitat for Humanity Sonoma County; Tiffany Eng, of Grounded Solutions Network (and past blog author); Ryan Kush, a Salesforce employee and pro bono volunteer, and I, spent some time answering that question.

As the panel began, we learned that Habitat for Humanity was a local organization on the front lines of the 2017 Napa and Sonoma fires. The fires broke out as the organization was in the middle of transitioning to new tools on the Salesforce platform. Grounded Solutions Network develops a tool called HomeKeeper to help manage affordable home ownership programs. And Ryan was a volunteer looking to use his Salesforce skills for good. Little did any of them know how important the work that they were doing would be to the community just a few short months later.

The conversation started by focusing on identifying gaps in technology and capacity. Eng noted that through her experience working with the network of HomeKeeper organizations, “there is definitely a capacity issue that we see that’s a common theme and common challenge [for these nonprofit organizations] in terms of just getting by.” But identification is only the first part. Kennedy added that for nonprofits, making technology decisions couldn’t be haphazard or rushed, even in the face of disaster. “Any sort of touch point [using technology, you need] to step back, see the information flow of the organization and all the opportunities, and then put a plan together.” Pro bono volunteers can help provide a more holistic and a neutral perspective on any topic, but in this case especially technology. This could be crucial for a nonprofit that might have a more change-resistant staff or board.

Want to take the next step and engage a volunteer in your organization or volunteer yourself? A few recommendations:

  • Identify the skills that your organization needs to understand how the problem should be sustainably solved. Is it an increase in internal capacity through additional staff or consultants? Or through short-term project-based help like pro bono volunteers? That’s an important distinction.
  • For volunteers, spend time assessing the skills that you can bring to an organization like Habitat for Humanity or UNICEF USA. Is the expertise that you have unique? Maximize your impact by seeking out the organizations that can best take advantage of your skills, not just the organization you want to volunteer with. Checkout Taproot Plus, Catchafire, or our Salesforce Pro Bono Program to get started.
  • Time is valuable and limited for your team, your organization, and for any volunteer. So don’t waste it. Be smart when you engage. The more thoughtful, planned, and prepared you are for the experience, the better the outcomes.
  • Don’t wait! Be proactive about preparing for disaster resilience.

Need Some Salesforce expertise for your nonprofit? Request support for a Pro Bono Project.

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Panel from the Salesforce.org Humanitarian Impact Summit

Last, we discussed platforms and tools that organizations use everyday to help accelerate their digital transformation. Impact Cloud is a coalition of impact-oriented technology companies working together to help accelerate the impact for humanitarian and disaster relief organizations.

Brian Komar, the VP for Global Impact Engagement at Salesforce.org, was joined by colleagues Erin Baudo Felter at Okta for Good, Tina Lee at NetHope, and Bryan Breckenridge at Box.org, to discuss and learn more about collaboration efforts to scale impact for nonprofit organizations. First-hand stories about how technologies are being used to address disaster relief (such as Red Cross hurricane relief) then led the discussion to focus on engaging nonprofits and corporations around potential opportunities for more collaborative efforts.

Felter highlighted this point: “Okta is not going to go solve a disaster on its own, but we know that if we engage in smart collaborations and relationship building — ideally, well ahead of the disaster, through partners like NetHope, through partners like Box — we are going to be able to respond more quickly through our technology, employees, and available financial resources.”

The next step for all of us is to continue to find more ways to partner and work together across industries and geographies towards greater collective outcomes. How do we work towards this?

  • Identify local and global partners in the work that we all do everyday.
  • Provide unrestricted funding for nonprofit organizations to operate, collaborate, and innovate. The ability to build internal capacity within an organization is essential so that they have the framework and foundation to succeed. When it comes to disasters, it is not if, but when, the next one will arrive.
  • Learn more about the available resources that your company provides to support and respond to the local community and around the world. Checkout initiatives like Impact Cloud and Pledge 1% for companies leading this work.
  • Take the Resilient Response Pledge to help shift disaster giving behaviors among corporations to better support response and long-term recovery.

Ultimately, we spent a small part of our day in engaging conversations that are just the start of the work that needs to be done to move us forward. We are all a part of the same communities and it is up to us — the volunteers, nonprofits, small businesses, and large corporations — to continue to learn and reflect on how we can drive more impact together in disaster relief, resilience, and beyond.

Also, check out our 2018 Social Impact Report highlighting the impact of our community of technology trailblazers, grantees, and citizen philanthropists.

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