Quick Guide: Chambers of Commerce Preparedness


January 01, 2015


Lessons Learned From the Chamber Network

To reach chamber presidents from our mentor network who have experienced disasters and are willing to share their lessons learned, contact the Disaster Help Desk at 1-888-MY BIZ HELP (1-888-692-4943). The network includes chambers in Joplin, Galveston, Queens, San Diego, Cedar Rapids, Manhattan, and others that have recovered from disasters.

CCC Community Disaster Reports:

Top 10 Chamber Preparedness Tips

  1. Build a team to create your chamber disaster plan.
  2. Gather critical documents and information needed for decision-making.
  3. Identify and prioritize your chamber’s critical operations and processes.
  4. Identify your hazards—the potential disruptions to your chamber operations.
  5. Keep it simple: Build your plan and create a grab and go case.
  6. Create a communications strategy and plan to use it post emergency. Maintain your emergency contact lists for the board, staff, vendors, and other key contacts.
  7. Recruit and train staff volunteers that will keep emergency supplies and take the preparedness message home.
  8. Back up and protect your vital records and data regularly. Store key data off-site.
  9. Take action to mitigate the potential impact on your employees, equipment, buildings, facilities, and storage. Consider insurance and a generator.
  10. Exercise, test, and update your plan at least annually. Keep your plan current.

Organizing and Governance

  • Build strong relationships before a disaster occurs with local government representatives, such as emergency management and economic development officials. After a disaster, various task forces and committees spring up at the federal, state, and local levels—the most common being the Long-Term Recovery Organization (LTRO). Building relationships with elected officials and the public sector will establish your position on their emergency contact lists when disasters strike. 
  • At the LTRO, you will want to fill the seat representing businesses to ensure that post-disaster decision-making represents the interests of the business community. 
  • If an LTRO is not set up, work with the local government to create an LTRO or a Long-Term Business Recovery Committee (see Quick Guide—Chamber Recovery).

Chamber Preparedness

  • To serve your member businesses and the community, the chamber needs to take steps to be better prepared for an unplanned disruption.
  • How prepared are you? The Red Cross’s Ready Rating provides an assessment to help organizations identify gaps and strengths and where to focus attention. www.readyrating.org
  • Consider your risks and plan accordingly.
  • If you have an earthquake risk, there are simple, low-cost ways to secure tall furniture that may fall on someone. Then practice “Drop, Cover, and Hold On”. Visit: www.earthquakecountry.org
  • If floods are a concern, install flood doors and elevate or move critical goods, inventory, and equipment out of basements or other floors that may flood.
  • If you live in an area prone to tornadoes, hurricanes, or high winds, consider installing hurricane shutters, a safe room, safety glass (that doesn’t shatter), and train your employees on what to do in the event of emergency.

April has a National Volunteer Week. Use this opportunity to acknowledge your volunteers and possibly arrange a special event that helps the community.

Volunteer and Nonprofit Matchmaking

  • Create relationships with voluntary organizations that will respond to your community after a disaster. Contact your local VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster) to establish these relationships.
  • To build community capacity, businesses and chambers can create their own volunteer programs by inviting employees to participate and complete an inventory to identify their specific skills (e.g. accounting, web development, fundraising, sales, construction). Chambers can then establish a relationship with matchmaking organizations that will connect their specific volunteers’ skills with nonprofits in need.

Organizations that connect individuals and companies with volunteer opportunities:

Sample Volunteer Liability Waiver Forms

Additional volunteer resources:

  • When disaster strikes, call the Disaster Help Desk at 1-888-MY-BIZ-HELP (1-888-692-4943) for assistance in the organizing of volunteers.
  • Skills-Based Volunteers: Getting Started - Tips for interested businesses/orgs to create and participate in skilled-based volunteers programs, including explaining the different SBV models, assessing the non-profit’s needs, evaluation, and more SBV resources.

Resources - Tools and Products

  • The Readiness Roadmap – Takes non-profit leaders through a multi-stage, readiness assessment to determine whether they need and are ready for skilled volunteers. Geared more toward the recipient of the volunteers (which you may be one), but good information to understand potential skills that may be needed.
  • CauseCast – Helps organizations become better global citizens through increased volunteer and fundraising engagement around social change by providing a centralized solution for volunteering, giving, matching, and rewarding.
  • Securing Waivers of Liability from Volunteers of Nonprofit Organizations – Explanation of volunteer waivers with a sample/template waiver at the end.

Resources - Organizations

  • HandsOn Connect – HandsOn Connect is a volunteer management solution from Points of Light Institute and HandsOn Network. It’s a full lifecycle volunteer management platform that expands your capability to manage, track and report on people, programs, trainings and volunteer opportunities in real time.
  • Catchafire – This site matches professionals with nonprofits based on their skills, cause interest, and time availability.
  • Common Impact – A nonprofit that connects skilled professionals from global companies to high-potential local nonprofits.
  • AmeriCorps – AmeriCorps members and AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers serve directly with nonprofit organizations to tackle our nation’s most pressing challenges.
  • ESC-US – Provides opportunities for skilled professionals to volunteer their expertise and experience, and for nonprofits to tap into the tremendous people resources available in communities.
  • Idealist.org – World’s largest nonprofit networking site, with more than one million registered users and thousands of job openings, volunteer opportunities, internships, and events posted by more than 94,000 organizations.
  • Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation – Calls upon a global network of 160 commercial law firms to provide critical pro bono legal assistance to select non-profit “social entrepreneurs.”
  • Taproot Foundation – Works to increase access to high-quality pro bono services for public benefit organizations working to address society’s social, environmental, and economic issues.

Case Management

Before a disaster, consider how you can assist your community’s businesses. Work with a Small Business Development Center (SBDC) or other partners who counsel businesses. Combine with your existing resources to provide value-added services before and after disaster.

Business Case Management

  • After disasters, certain nonprofits will be selected by local governments to work directly with impacted individuals and families. This is called disaster case management. A disaster case manager helps people work through recovery strategies and how to get back on their feet. While designed for individuals, a few communities have modified the approach to serve businesses, called business case management.
  • Business Long-Term Recovery was the first-of-its-kind business case management developed to assist small businesses in Cedar Rapids, Iowa after the 2008 floods. You can download the report here that describes what was developed, recovery timelines, partners, funding, case examples, and more.
  • Business Disaster Case Management Task Force – Cedar Rapids 2010 report describes what was set up, funding used, driving factors to help businesses, findings, and recommendations.

General Case Management – Can Assist in Establishing a Model for Businesses

Case Management Software

  • Review from Idealware: They typically run about $5,000- $30,000 per year, depending on your requirements and number of users. For most systems you should also expect to pay a setup fee of at least several thousand dollars to get up and running with a system customized to your needs. Nearly all the tools below are hosted and web-based. Web-based software allows users to easily access data from multiple locations and saves considerable costs, which would otherwise be devoted to hardware, extra software, data security and backups, along with the staff to monitor these functions. Although a hosted case management vendor has physical possession of your data, a good vendor is likely to be able to keep it more secure and accessible than you could manage on your own.
  • Social Solutions
  • Eccovia
  • Unicentric

Preparing Small Businesses in Your Communities

  • Most businesses are unprepared for a disaster. Those that falter impact the community.
  • The reason why most businesses aren’t prepared is because they don’t believe a disaster will happen to them. When businesses do prepare, they cite lack of knowledge, expertise, time, and money as major obstacles. The chamber can assist businesses by offering them, or connecting them to, resources that address obstacles for preparedness.
  • Chambers can offer workshops and lunch-and-learn sessions on business preparedness. There are local and national business continuity associations, nonprofits, and professional organizations that can help.
  • Use anniversary events (e.g., historic flooding, a tornado, National Disaster Preparedness Month in September) to bring your members’ attention to preparedness.
  • Chambers can also send preparedness tips and tools to businesses multiple times a year. Disasters happen year-round and they will need regular reminders on how to take action.

Business Continuity Planning

  • At the core, every business should have a business continuity plan (BCP). The more complex the business, the more complex the plan. At its foundation, BCP plans contain the same basic elements: emergency contact list for employees, key contacts list, critical documents for decision making, list of critical equipment, and systems that may need to be replaced, etc.
  • DRB Toolkit© (Disaster Resistant Business Toolkit) - A simple and fully customizable software tool to help all types of businesses build a disaster plan, train employees, run exercises, prioritize and prepare operations. It provides tools, templates, and videos for beginners and experienced planners. This 501(c)(3) non-profit of experts will give each chamber two free copies. Contact the Disaster Help Desk (1-888-692-4943) for more information.
  • Preparedness for Businesses of all Sizes (SBA) – Offers 10 quick tips for all businesses to consider.
  • 7 Steps to an Earthquake Resilient Business – While earthquake is in the title, this resource is actually for all hazards. A great "getting started" guide to help businesses lay out the basics of your plan, regardless of the hazards.
  • “Disaster Can Cut Disaster Recovery Time, Expense” (SBA) – Article that highlights the importance of planning.

Sample forms For Your Plan:

Media Strategy

  • The media can be a powerful way for chambers to relay business preparedness messaging.
  • Need to work with the media? Develop a media relations plan/approach with three parts: a target audience, a communications objective, and a message.
  • Contact the media with stories and images. Consider what photo-ops may exist or how to tell a story visually, (e.g., what a business did to prepare).
  • Treat media as a partner in sharing your information. Build a relationship because the better you know each other now, the easier it is to respond to requests that meet everyone’s objectives and ensure the correct messages reach businesses and the public.
  • Invite reporters to attend preparedness events that you host.
  • Be succinct in your communications. The clearer you are to reporters and in press releases, the better the chances are that message will be understood by the public and picked up by a news agency.
  • Make one key point at a time in interviews. The media are looking for sound bites, so avoid sentences that could be edited or cut short and miss your point.
  • Establish a media point of contact in your organization and plan for backups. They may be the same as your spokesperson, but likely two different people. The media point of contact is the organizer of messages and press releases whereas the spokesperson may be the head of the company and is the person quoted in your press releases. 
  • Create a media contact list with names, cell numbers, and emails. Keep it current.
  • Be honest, if you make a mistake, correct it as quickly as possible.
  • Be timely. Media personnel are always on a quick deadline and if they don’t hear from you they move on to someone else.
  • Be a professional; all comments are on the record. If you have to say “I don’t know,” just let them know you are working on it and get back to them when you do.

Resources – Media Relations

Social Media Tips

  • Create a Facebook page and a Twitter account for your chamber and update it regularly.
  • Before a disaster, use pre-identified hashtags (e.g., #prepare) to encourage preparedness or specific actions.
  • Have the right person(s) focused on social media on a daily basis to connect with stories to help motivate preparedness.
  • Hold Twitter town halls to acquaint the public with you as a source of information.
  • Post streaming and recorded videos on preparedness topics such as planning or training.
  • Verify all information (e.g., phone numbers) and use common sense to be respectful of the entire community.
  • Respond to issues immediately and professionally.
  • Use games and apps to get people connected with your site, organization, etc.
  • Use quick response (QR) codes so people can be more quickly directed to a particular website.
  • 6 Ways to Utilize Social Media Before Disaster Strikes – Tips and ideas about how to connect with the public pre-disaster on disaster preparedness.
  • Social Media Disaster Prevention and Response Tips – Article highlighting the possible risks of ineffective social media outreach following a disaster.

Communications - General

  • FCC/FEMA Tips for Communicating During an Emergency – Eleven helpful tips related to gathering information and communicating with others after a disaster. For example: when is there no power, will your landline telephone service work? 
  • Get Tech Ready – Similar list to the FCC resource above, but includes a link to the Red Cross Safe and Well site for people to communicate where/how they are after a disaster – a great people finder.

Communications Strategy and Plan

Setting up a Chamber Foundation

Consider the benefits of creating a chamber foundation. The process to get certified as a tax-exempt nonprofit can take about 18 months to complete and needs to be coordinated with a legal professional.

  • The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website has extensive resources on forming a nonprofit. Go to the site and search for "nonprofit status" to get more information.
  • How to establish a nonprofit organization
  • Your local Foundation Center is another good resource for all things non-profit.
  • How to start a private foundation (10 steps) for simple steps to take and where to ask for help.
  • A chamber foundation can be useful to set up a fund to support small businesses after disasters. You can promote the fund as maintaining jobs in the community.  Often, people don’t understand the importance of businesses until the jobs go away.
  • If you do not have a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation as part of your chamber, you can create a strategic partnership with an existing nonprofit to help. This process is easier if you work with someone that already has the mechanisms and procedures in place, such as a community foundation or economic development group. Having an already established nonprofit works well when emergencies occur because it reduces the start-up time to receive donations in times of need.

Additional Resources

Community Planning and Recovery

Financial, Federal/National Resources

Emergency Drills, Training and Education

Preparedness Resources

Mental Health Recovery

  • Your organization’s Emergency Assistance Program (EAP) can provide counseling to employees or staff on all life matters, especially after a disaster. Regardless of your EAP, plan to make the following resources available to also assist, as they can help people cope with disaster traumas.
  • American Psychological Association – Works with the Red Cross on crisis counseling.
  • Traumatic Stress – How to Recover  - This page shares the signs and how to address traumatic stress.
  • Disaster Distress Helpline - To reach out for free 24/7 counseling or support, contact the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs’ to 66746. TTY for Deaf/Hearing Impaired: 1-800-846-8517.