When disasters strike — whether hurricanes and tornadoes or floods and earthquakes — communities and organizations rally to help, using their unique strengths to boost support. While every attempt to support affected families and neighborhoods is appreciated, aid is most effective when it’s coordinated.
Here’s how collaboration boosts the aid response in the face of disaster.
Communities and charities working together
Local communities are often quick to respond to disasters, offering immediate in-kind donations and monetary contributions to organizations including food agencies and churches, who mobilize donors. Public calls for donations, such as telethons or hotlines, give the public an opportunity to contribute.
And people nationwide respond to those calls. The Red Cross reported that public support during the 2018 California wildfires enabled them to provide hundreds of thousands of meals and temporary shelter, plus financial assistance for tens of thousands of evacuees in the area.
The added power of private sector support
While individual donations and grassroots efforts from smaller organizations are vital, larger companies can offer logistical power and technological capabilities beyond what nonprofit or community organizations can achieve on their own. These companies amplify the volume and speed of aid delivery from charities and individuals, which is crucial for large-scale disasters.
During the 2017 and 2018 California wildfires, Amazon leveraged its large inventory to quickly and cost-effectively donate necessary specialty products, including 500 sifters and 40 air filters. The company mobilized these unique items in a way that individuals or smaller organizations would struggle to accomplish as quickly without support, due to the company’s expansive inventory.
Many for-profit organizations can offer easy ways for employees to give to trusted organizations. For example, charitable giving is made easy for Amazon employees and customers alike, who can donate via Amazon Pay, Charity Lists, or even by just asking Alexa to make a donation, giving resources to trusted nonprofit partners like the Red Cross and UNICEF.
Industries with certain specializations can use their expertise to offer support in ways individuals or charities can’t. For example, grocery and food industry companies can use their locations and resources to provide aid in the form of meals and food during times of need. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Amazon was able to fill two of their Prime Air planes with humanitarian help bound for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Similarly, in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Florida, Amazon flew in donations — including tarps, batteries, baby food and generators — to isolated areas in the Panhandle with small planes and helicopters, staffed by volunteer pilots coordinated by the organizations GotLift and World Hope.
Collaboration among local communities, nonprofit and for-profit organizations
Despite their impressive resources, large companies can’t do it alone. When roads are closed or there are other obstacles preventing aid from reaching those in need, local community leaders can help companies by identifying alternate routes and coming up with creative solutions to help impacted families. Sometimes it’s as simple as communities alerting organizations about an immediate need and asking for assistance.
For example, in spring 2019, Ottawa declared a state of emergency due to sudden severe flooding, calling for hygiene supplies, towels, blankets and drinking water. Amazon worked with the city to respond with tens of thousands of relief items. In other disasters, the organization is able to join forces with local officials to build mobile pickup locations where people can collect relief items, designed with the community’s knowledge about which areas would be most accessible.
The missed opportunities of working independently
When companies, charities and individuals aren’t operating together, well-meaning efforts sometimes fail to make an impact — and may create more problems. Some have dubbed the donation of unnecessary relief items a “second disaster,” as organizations then have to dedicate scant resources to handling items that aren’t useful for addressing urgent needs.
With collaboration between for-profit and nonprofit organizations and local communities, however, guidance on how best to support relief efforts can be developed and clearly communicated. In some instances, such as the recent wildfires, the most necessary items — air filters and sifters — are not what people would have donated.
The most successful disaster relief and management efforts involve effective collaboration and coordination among individuals, charities and the private sector, with guidance from local community leaders. Working together, all these groups can make a difference, when and where it’s really needed.