Maryland Businesses Get Their Stake in Emergency Response

By: Kathy Snyder, President/CEO, Maryland Chamber of Commerce
Patrick Donoho, President, Maryland Retailers Association
Jock Menzies, President, American Logistics Aid Network
Oliver R. Davidson, Senior Advisor, Business Civic Leadership Center

Many heartwarming stories start with an urgent late night call asking for help. A personal connection combined with the ability and desire to help our neighbors can produce positive results even in unfortunate circumstances.

In Maryland, this scenario played out when the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) called business leaders because an emergency shelter established in summer 2011 for Hurricane Irene had an unanticipated need. Drawing on prior relationships, MEMA contacted the Maryland Retailers Association (MRA) to arrange meals for an emergency shelter housing 2,500 evacuees from Ocean City. “This relationship allowed MEMA to reach hundreds of retailers with one phone call,” said Patrick Donoho, president of MRA. A single point of contact for MEMA and the private sector is vital to quick response and coordinated efforts between the public and private sectors. MRA was able to reach out to all its grocers directly and quickly identify a company that was willing and able to respond to the request.

The successful outcome was possible because MEMA and the business community had a working relationship developed over several months. The meeting establishing this collaboration was hosted by MEMA with leadership by The American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Business Civic Leadership Center (BCLC), and support by the Maryland Long Term Recovery Task Force, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Private Sector Office, and the Association of Contingency Planners, Maryland Chapter.

The participants established an informal Maryland business emergency network. Emergency situation information and preparedness tips are circulated among business members to raise awareness to stimulate emergency planning and mitigation actions to reduce possible losses. In addition, business members are invited to join the Maryland Long Term Recovery Task Force, a collaborative effort of MEMA and the Maryland Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (MD VOAD).

Kathy Snyder, president/CEO of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, said “Chambers of Commerce have members from all industries, and this network can be very valuable during and following disasters. In anticipation of Hurricane Irene, the Maryland Chamber utilized its new relationship with MEMA by sharing with its members statewide, including 50 local chambers of commerce, specific service or product needs. Commercial real estate firms reviewed available sites for parking of tractor trailers. HVAC, heavy machinery, and other service companies were provided information about who to contact to offer assistance. For the most part, these were new leads for MEMA to pursue.”

The state chamber also collected cell phone numbers of local chamber executives in the areas predicted to suffer the most when the hurricane made landfall. This expanded the state chamber’s network of resources and provided a feedback mechanism for local chambers to share member needs following the event. While none needed assistance due to the relatively limited damage from this particular storm, the relationship was established to be ready and available to help.

Jock Menzies, president of ALAN and chairman of Maryland’s The Terminal Corporation, explained his interest. “I was chair of the Central Maryland Red Cross when Hurricane Isabel came through and, I drew heavily on my connections to meet pressing needs. When ALAN was established following Hurricane Katrina, I got involved because I knew businesses want to help with community needs. It is our people, markets, and capacity that are impacted, and we need them all back online to revive the economy. In preparation or Irene, ALAN identified needed resources in Maryland as well as in New England states, drawing on local networks. Integrating the private sector into the situation and making it aware of potential needs allows companies to better respond to specific requests, opening a window to possibly unseen resources.”

“Businesses are an integral component in disaster preparedness, response and recovery”, said Richard G. Muth, executive director of MEMA. Regardless of the industry to which they cater, businesses are at the hub of any local city, town, or community. The services and products they provide help communities withstand a critical event and recover so much more quickly after disaster strikes.

Muth believes so strongly in this idea that in 2011 he created a Business Operations Concept (BOC) for Maryland as an initial means for MEMA to enter into agreements with businesses that can assist during critical events. In early 2012, he is formally establishing an Office of Resiliency designed to work with communities statewide to build resiliency. Muth explained, “During a disaster and while government is focused on restoring critical infrastructure to prestorm readiness, local businesses have the ability to empower people to come together—neighbor helping neighbor— providing community resiliency and restoring a sense of normalcy to their community. I cannot underscore enough how vital businesses are to successfully mitigating any disaster.”

[Editor's note: This article is part of The Role of Business in Disaster Response report.]