Private-Public Partnerships for Disaster Response and Relief 

September 20, 2018
Head of Global Disaster Response and Relief, Airbnb
Lubna Yousef
Partnerships Consultant, Airbnb

When disaster strikes, emergency management agencies at the federal, state, and local levels are at the heart of coordinating the response efforts. Airbnb’s Disaster Response & Relief program continues to cultivate and build strong partnerships with these agencies to help support their efforts to help communities respond to, and recover from, disasters. 

In this case study, we explore our cross-sector partnership with the Florida Division of Emergency Management and how we worked collaboratively during the Orlando Pulse shooting and Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

During and directly after a disaster, temporary accommodations for evacuees and relief workers can be hard to find. In times of need, Airbnb activates its community to aid government and non-government efforts to address this. Our team works with emergency management agencies to relay updates about disaster events to our hosts and guests who may be impacted by the disaster.

The Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) works to ensure that Florida is prepared to respond to emergencies, recover from them, and mitigate against their impacts. 

Incident

On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old security guard, killed 49 people and wounded 58 others in a terrorist attack/hate crime inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Following this horrific event, Airbnb and FDEM connected, and we created a support plan in coordination with JetBlue and Uber.   

Needs 

Following the attacks, relatives of those impacted needed support during their travel to Florida to attend funerals for loved ones or visit loved ones injured in the hospital. Generally, while local authorities offer the necessary support packages for families and relatives of victims, the private sector can help extend assistance to those impacted. In Airbnb’s case, in Orlando, we were able to leverage our community of hosts to open up their homes to those in need, offering comfortable, welcoming spaces to go to in those difficult times.  

Airbnb Response  

After receiving a request by FDEM to provide support, our team jumped on a response call with FDEM, Uber, and JetBlue to create a coordinated services model. We sent our Head of Disaster Response to go on the ground and determine needs with the core partners. We then deployed an additional six team members to support on the ground in Orlando. JetBlue provided the flights for families impacted, Uber provided ground transportation, and we provided temporary accommodations.  Our team was stationed in the Orlando airport for five days and any travelers on JetBlue who were related to the victims were escorted to the Airbnb booth to arrange accommodation. 

FDEM was a critical partner in connecting Airbnb, JetBlue, and Uber which made it easier to reach those in need of assistance. 

Incident

Hurricanes Irma and Maria were category 5 hurricanes that caused extensive​ ​damage across the Caribbean and southeastern United States. 

Needs

On September 4, 2017, a state of emergency was declared by the governor of Florida and thousands of people looked for shelter; 6.5 million people were under mandatory or voluntary evacuations, and over 500​ shelters were opened throughout Florida.   

Airbnb Response  

Our team monitored the hurricane before it made impact and mapped out a response plan for the Airbnb community in coordination with FDEM and FEMA, which informed our efforts and offered field expertise. Airbnb reached out to FDEM to offer our support with emergency accommodations, and our response and partnership with was highlighted by several media outlets including USA TODAY​ ​and Florida Politics. 

Our support included:   

  • Sending safety and preparedness messaging to 64,000 hosts and guests in areas of impact.  
  • Activating our host community through Open Homes. 

Through messaging, we were able to provide the most up-to-date information about the hurricanes from FDEM. Messaging contained links to alerts and advisories from local officials plus links to our FAQs on how to modify a reservation.   

We also activated our host community to offer free shelter to evacuees and relief workers. Airbnb automatically contacted hosts in the impacted and surrounding areas asking if they had extra space that they would like to share with their displaced neighbors through our disaster response portal (www.airbnb.com/openhomes​). 

  • Having a relationship in place with FDEM ensured that our response was effective and impactful.  
  • Having a relationship with FDEM enabled Airbnb to mobilize quickly and access those in need.  
  • There is more work to be done. We identified areas where we can partner in the recovery phase and opportunities to improve and update our product.