Corporate Disaster Response: Balancing Urgent Short-Term Needs with Long-Term Recovery Efforts


Global Impact reflects on the strong corporate disaster response following the recent string of natural disasters.

Even to a casual observer, the past several months have seemed atypical, as not just one but a series of catastrophic natural and manmade disasters have occurred. Unfortunately, this year will be remembered as one of massive destruction and loss of life; as earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and wildfires that leveled buildings and homes, and left neighborhoods and community infrastructure struggling to recover. It has been noteworthy, however, through all these crises how quickly U.S. companies have reacted. Here at Global Impact, we have seen first-hand this outpouring of support and goodwill from our corporate partners across numerous industries—from hospitality to clothing, retail, and others.

As I wrote this past summer in Corporate Responsibility Magazine, best practice suggests companies should have a disaster response strategy in place ahead of time to govern how they will respond when disasters strike. However, even the best-articulated plans were stretched this fall as corporate donors struggled to grapple with the immediate needs affecting their employees and communities, along with the incredibly expensive long-term recovery needs.

Many of Global Impact’s corporate partners focused first on the immediate needs of their employees, launching campaigns to support staff whose homes and personal property had been damaged or destroyed. Hilton, in addition to supporting responding charities, also launched employee assistance campaigns and offered generous corporate matches to support Team Members impacted by each of the disasters.

“Our Team Members repeatedly go above and beyond to support their hotels, colleagues, and communities in times of need, even when they have been directly impacted themselves. At Hilton, we are committed to supporting our Team Members as they begin the rebuilding process when disaster strikes, and through the generosity of their fellow Team Members and donors around the globe, our various Hilton Responds campaigns have yielded more than $500,000 in support in 2017." – Maxime Verstraete, Vice President, Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability, Hilton

Other corporate partners had existing response plans already in place, which allowed them to support employees with gift cards and quick cash grants for immediate needs. They realized, however, that given the scope of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and the earthquake in Mexico, a larger response was needed. This realization prompted them to augment those plans by hosting broader employee assistance campaigns, offering corporate matches, and supporting charities on the ground responding. For example, Target supported charities responding, but also provided cash grants and store gift cards, as well as launched an employee assistance campaign with a corporate match to provide additional support to impacted Team Members.

Finally, many others turned to their long-term charity partners, focusing on not just the immediate needs, but also the very long road to recovery that these affected communities will face. While some charities are best equipped to support the immediate needs of food, clean water, and shelter, other responders will be on the ground in these areas for years to come supporting rebuilding as well as resiliency planning.

Lessons learned from previous disasters tell us that collaboration, partnerships, individual and corporate support, and government aid will all be necessary for the long-term recovery efforts of those impacted by this string of disasters. If the response to the short-term needs is any indicator, we can be confident the corporate sector will be an active participant and long-term partner along the way.