The vital link between businesses and communities after disaster

The vital link between businesses and communities after disaster

Christchurch’s earthquake -hit services, particularly those we often take for granted, proved the perfect case study for Joanne Stevenson.

The University of Canterbury PhD student is nearly three years into her thesis on organisational resilience and the vital post disaster link between businesses and communities.

“I’m trying to create a more connected understanding of organisational resilience and figure out what it means for businesses and what it means for policy and development,” said Joanne. “It’s about making the links between an organisation and the community they’re a part of more clear.”

Joanne said people often didn’t consider the importance of businesses in establishing both social and economic progress following a major disaster.

“We rely on businesses for so much of the daily interaction in our lives. Often people don’t think about businesses in the sense of community and economic recovery but organisations are important hubs of social interaction.”

Joanne uses the example of wanting a coffee after the September earthquake to illustrate the important role of businesses in everyday life.

She had to drive around several outlets which were closed before finding a service centre that served coffee where she waited an hour. This small example illustrates how everyday services provided by business, no matter how big or small, are an integral factor to consider in post disaster communities.

Following both the September 2010 and February 2011 quakes Joanne surveyed 360 organisations throughout Canterbury. She then selected 32 businesses within the selected areas of Christchurch CBD, Kaiapoi and Lyttelton to carry out comprehensive case studies on.

facade-containersThroughout last year Joanne spent hours with each organisation, getting to know their post quake worksite and develop an understanding of their economic situation.

She was then able to compare the data gained from these interviews with the earlier surveys to evaluate the level of business resilience both immediately post quake and again at a later period.

A surprising find resulting from her research was four organisations reporting significant positive economic outcomes.

“Some of the businesses that were most disrupted by the earthquakes experienced a significant pick up in cash flow,” said Joanne.

In one example a business lost their retail outlet in the February 2011 quake and was forced to change to wholesale selling. The new products designed for wholesale led to a higher turnover for the company resulting in increased revenue.

Joanne’s findings also revealed the impact disasters have on a business’ operational objectives.

Post quake many businesses called on a range of contacts, both formal and informal, to provide additional labour. For some organisations this meant family members helping with administrative backlog while other businesses redistributed their work to different offices around the country.

Managing employee wellbeing and stress was another challenge identified by several organisations. A range of methods were undertaken by businesses to lend staff the emotional support they often required.

Joanne’s research showed that in post disaster environments competing businesses were often best positioned to provide each other with assistance because of familiarity with the operational and supply processes.

The earthquakes also acted as a stimulus for some businesses to re-evaluate their overall efficiency, allowing them to upgrade technologies and identify underperforming segments of the organisation.

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