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Volume 31, Issue 2

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Overview

Public sector emergency authorities, utility service providers, emergency medical teams and other first responders have well developed emergency response procedures, and they generally coordinate well with disaster relief organizations. However, the recovery of essential commerce and trade is traditionally left to chance, market forces, or ad hoc liaisons created in the chaotic aftermath of the event. Community-wide planning and action calls for the development of integration mechanisms and processes to ensure that all sectors of the economy are represented and appropriately involved. This article provides an overview of community-wide planning, response and recovery.

Quick and coordinated recovery of basic commercial networks - electric and other utilities, food and water distribution, telecommunications, financial services, transportation and fuels, and broadcast media is the key to timely recovery of other businesses, the viability of neighborhoods, and the continuity of government. The mechanism missing in the vast majority of communities is an active private sector voice in disaster planning, response and recovery.

Businesses play a key role in both the Disaster Resistant Community and Showcase Community programs. The reason is clear. If businesses do not survive a disaster, people are out of work, a community's revenue stream is severely disrupted, and the impact prolongs the recovery process. An increasing number of communities are examining the feasibility of establishing a 'Business Recovery Alliance.' The objective is to bring together the leadership and expertise of business, emergency preparedness, the engineering and scientific community, and others to develop a public/private partnership approach to reducing the vulnerability of businesses and the community's marketplace to flooding, tornadoes and severe weather, earthquakes and other hazards.

Business alliances focused on disaster planning, response and recovery have been formed in several communities. Most noteworthy are those in Project Impact and Showcase Community locations where cooperation between government and the private sector was a significant part of the overall objectives from the outset. Both these programs have embraced the Business Alliance concept to meet their goals and objectives.

What is a Business Recovery Alliance?

Several lengthy documents are available that describe a Disaster Recovery Business Alliance in great detail. The summer of 1997 edition of 'THE CUSEC JOURNAL' contains an article that very adequately describes the concepts and implementation approach for Disaster Recovery Business Alliances. In the article, an alliance is defined as a vehicle for building a partnership between business and government that will lead to significant improvements in the ability of business to recover from disasters. The Business Recovery Alliance is an organization, a process and an end product. As an organization, it serves to unite disparate elements of the private sector across industry lines and provides a structure within which to develop communication across the common barriers that exist between the public and private sectors.

The process for implementing the key elements of a Business Recovery Alliance have been defined in several publications, but is also recognized to be highly flexible depending on the community and regional environment in which it is being implemented. The process always includes the establishment of a local business sponsored and owned operation that serves as the alliance leadership. It also includes the conducting of a community or regional business impact analysis that examines the economic and quality of life vulnerabilities of a disaster. The process also focuses on identifying initiatives relating to businesses working in partnership with government to help mitigate the economic affects from a disaster.

The end product of the Business Recovery Alliance process is the establishment of a successful and sustainable business alliance between the businesses within a community or region and the local, state, and federal governments that support them. It is important that this alliance be driven and managed by the business community in order for it to be effective. Ownership by businesses is the best way to assure participation and Business Recovery Alliance, serves many purposes for the alliance members. Not only does it continue to focus on initiatives to reduce the vulnerability of businesses in disasters, but it also serves as a basis to promote improvement in the day to day economic well-being of the community.

What IS NOT a Business Recovery Alliance?

A Business Recovery Alliance is not intended to be a comprehensive program for helping a community to be disaster resilient. It is only an element of such programs. Initiatives being driven by the local, state and federal governments tend to be focused on response and mitigation for the public at large. A Business Recovery Alliance tends to focus on economic business recovery and businesses within the community. This role is supportive and complimentary to these other initiatives.

Business Recovery Alliance is not a government driven program, although it requires government participation and support. A Business Recovery Alliance is an alliance between local businesses and local governments and is to be initiated and managed by local businesses. It needs to be driven by local businesses to have sustainability and business support.

Business Recovery Alliance is not intended to be a moneymaking organization. It is intended to be funded by its alliance partners with sufficient funds to maintain staffing and operations to achieve its objectives. The intent is for funding to come primarily from the business members participating in the alliance.

Why is Business Recovery Alliance NOT a Government Driven Program?

When we look at the purpose of a Business Recovery Alliance, we find that the business community is the focus of its efforts. Ownership and participation by the businesses is essential for its success.
We need to recognize and accept the prevalent perception businesses have of government organizations. They expect and appreciate the great support and effort that government agencies provide in emergency response.

Law enforcement, fire fighting agencies, medical emergency response operations, and offices of emergency management provide the community with excellent support. Beyond that, government is perceived by businesses as a public support operation that deals with public issues and that should stay out of private business matters. Most businesses do not wish to have government involved in their business operations and in particular their financial matters.

On the other hand, government sees its role as providing service to the community and would like to reach out to help businesses make their communities more disaster resilient. Government officials often feel that they are best positioned by way of their public office to provide this service to the businesses.

What we find is that typically we have two very different cultures, the public and private sectors, which have coexisted but seldom commingled when it comes to economic or financial matters. The public sector tends to be funding and budget-driven and often looks for ways to expand its sphere of influence and control. The private or business sector tends to be driven by the bottom line in an effort to make a profit. Taxes are paid to support government activities and any new initiatives driven by the government are often viewed as a direct hit to the bottom line in the form of increased taxes.

The role of a Business Recovery Alliance is to provide cross-cultural leadership. The staff associated with a Business Recovery Alliance needs to be able to understand the two different cultures and bridge the gap between them to make an effective alliance. This is one of the main reasons to have the Business Recovery Alliance as much of a neutral party in the alliance as practical. This suggests that a Business Recovery Alliance should be set up as neither a government entity nor a business.

We find that the public sector is more open to partner in initiatives to create disaster resistant communities and is willing to participate in a Business Recovery Alliance. On the other hand, the business community needs to see direct benefits to the bottom line and needs to have control of the Business Recovery Alliance activities to be a willing participant.

Business Recovery Alliance as an Organization

A Business Recovery Alliance is structured along the lines of most non-profit organizations. It has a Board of Directors that should be made up of representatives of business organizations in the community. The membership should provide funding for a full time Executive Director who is accountable to the Board for leading the planning, fund raising, and promotion of community-wide response and recovery activities. In a large community or region that includes several large employer businesses, funding may be available for support staff as well, but this is not necessary. In at least one community in the Midwest, the Business Recovery Alliance shares support services with the local Emergency Management Agency.

Business Recovery Alliance as a Methodology or Process

The Business Recovery Alliance process is driven community awareness and recognition of the need for disaster mitigation planning. Business sponsors are solicited and form the community steering group. A community operation is then established which collects and analyzes area-specific data, resulting in a Regional Business Impact Analysis (RBIA). Programs are then developed based on the results from the RBIA. Eventually, a self-sustaining community program is established that continues the process of disaster preparation, mitigation, response, recovery, and resumption. One of the key components of an effective community-wide planning, response and recovery process is a defined and practiced communication system that ensures the availability of necessary information. In one community, business and government leaders followed their disaster planning with planning for a communications infrastructure that could serve both disaster and community development needs.

Business Recovery Alliance as an End Product

Both the Business Recovery Alliance organization and the Business Recovery Alliance process exist to establish Business Recovery Alliance the product. The end result of the process is the establishment of a local operation that is supported and managed by the local business community to provide an alliance with the local public sector operations in preparedness, response, recovery and resumption of businesses in the event of a disaster within the community. The local Business Recovery Alliance staff will be involved in leading the business community in disaster mitigation initiatives and coordinating the exchange of information between public sector emergency operation centers and the business community. With pre-planning, the Business Recovery Alliance operation will assist in the recovery and resumption of normal business operations.

The structure, location and financial support of the local Business Recovery Alliance operation is dependent on the environment in which it is established. The same reasons for customizing the Business Recovery Alliance process apply to the customization of the Business Recovery Alliance product, or local operations. It is important to recognize that Business Recovery Alliance exists to bridging the communications gap between the public and private sectors. As stated previously, these two elements of the community tend to have a different culture. The local Business Recovery Alliance operation serves as a cross-cultural manager or liaison in leading the two groups through success in all aspects of the disaster recovery activities.

Conclusion

Business Recovery Alliance is an organization, a process and a product that is designed to provide an improvement in a community's ability to deal with disaster recovery by the formation of a effective alliance between the private and public sectors of a community. Because of the cultural differences and the typical perspective businesses have toward public agencies, the Business Recovery Alliance approach suggests that leadership and management of the local Business Recovery Alliance program should be from the private sector, with support and cooperation from the local public sector operations. This arrangement calls for new perspectives to be adopted on all sides of the current cultural barriers that exist in most communities. The deliberate separation of the public and private sectors must be appropriately bridged in communities like Anycity, USA. The economy as well as the lives and safety of community members are very much as stake.

It does not matter if you see Business Recovery Alliance as being an organization, process and/or product. What does matter is that you understand the concepts and principles that it represents and that you support the development of a Business Recovery Alliance in your local community. The Business Recovery Alliance exists to support the community in its efforts to provide for the common good in both economic and social terms.


Mary L. Carrido, founder and President of MLC & Associates, Inc., has over 14 years of experience in a variety of activities and industries. She has managed and conducted Disaster Recovery and Business Resumption projects for cities, transportation agencies, utility companies, financial institutions, and distribution and manufacturing companies.