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Creating a Culture of Business Resilience: A Role for Local Government, Part 2

This is part two of a two part series. To read part one, click the link in the Related Articles box below.

Christopher Atkinson

According to the Small Organizations Natural Hazards Project, few small businesses fully understand the threat from disasters and how they might recover if presented with a disaster, such as a hurricane. Small businesses have a tendency to encounter more difficulties than larger, more well-established businesses in dealing with a recovery process, and a lack of continuity planning only exacerbates the dilemmas they face after a hazard event. Poor planning for recovery can result in a firm overextending its resources; the great personal cost to reopen may not be reflected in the recovery achieved. Even for those businesses that manage to respond and reopen, market share can decline, perhaps permanently. Businesses that do succeed in the recovery context may offer new products or services, or appeal to a unique post-disaster marketplace. As R. David Paulison, former Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency stated, “small businesses that don’t have a plan in place generally don’t survive after a disaster, whether it’s a flood or a tornado. We see that anywhere from 40-60 percent of those that are hit like that simply don’t come back to business.”

Both the Small Business Administration website and the main “ready.gov” federal portal offer business-oriented disaster preparedness information, and local governments may support planning and forethought in this area. Such preparations may not reduce the threat of a disaster event entirely, because events have concerns beyond the scope of governments or businesses to easily manage, but they will at least encourage precaution among business owners. Local governments should encourage small businesses to consider the risks that are present in their communities, and develop holistic plans that protect personal and business interests.

Large businesses are also at risk from disaster events. Failure to support community-wide efforts to achieve reduction in business vulnerability can clearly have impacts on large firms: quality of life for employees of large businesses can be threatened, when other businesses close; disaster events disrupt supply chains; and disasters cause businesses to be shut down for extended periods, and force large firms to deal with a new reality of a community unlike the one they knew before the event occurred. Cities and counties can promote planning for more resilient responses among large businesses, including planning for redundancies in critical data storage, temporary facilities in event of disaster, staffing and workforce needs, alternate suppliers, and other efforts to bring businesses back on line more quickly. Large businesses should also be brought to the table with small business stakeholders, government officials, and nonprofit groups, to build a supportive network well in advance of the need.

Local government institutions can have an impact on business resilience in how they operate functions within the government enterprise, as well. Where encouragement is provided to local businesses in the form of full and open procurement opportunities, small business programs that allow firms that have not previously done work with government to gain access, and transparency in understanding government processes and their outcomes, businesses may find it easier to get back on their feet. While difficult to quantify, institutional culture is nonetheless important for business resilience, and extends beyond the walls of city hall into the community’s culture and support of business.

Reducing vulnerability and increasing resilience is good public policy, generally. In times of uncertainty and increased risk, the lessening of impacts to communities makes sound financial sense, as well. Vision for community resilience is an expression of political understanding and will at a high level. Policy actions must reflect this willingness to foster a community that understands threats and has the capacity to meet the demands it will face when disaster strikes.

Christopher Atkinson recently defended his dissertation titled “An Evaluation of the Impact of Local Government Institutions on Business Resilience in Disaster,” earning the Ph.D. degree in Public Administration at Florida Atlantic University. Email: [email protected].

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