Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria: Pivoting from Response to Recovery

The one, two, three punch of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria have required enormous response efforts.Government agencies, non-profits, businesses, and the public have all demonstrated generosity of spirit and action. The fury of nature has been met with courage, persistence, and resilience. Having seen and been with NPLI alumni through multiple natural disasters, we’ve learned that now comes one of the most important pivots: from the immediacy of response to the long-haul of recovery. Bouncing forward in each of the affected areas will require significant resources, patience, ingenuity–and expansive meta-leadership.

NPLI Director of Research Eric McNulty recently wrote about these challenges for strategy+business:

Experience shows that the outpouring of support is often overwhelming in the immediate aftermath of high-profile adverse incidents, resulting in too many volunteers and too many well-intentioned offers mismatched with the needs on the ground. In the days after superstorm Sandy, I sat with nonprofit leaders struggling to make the best use of the outpouring of generosity. I am sure that I’ll see the same as my colleagues and I deploy to the affected areas of the most recent calamities.

The important thing to realize is that response always gives way to recovery — a process that is predictably long and less likely to keep the public’s attention. When it comes to natural disasters, response is dramatic, recovery is grueling. The media moves on to the next story. Donations slow. Unity of mission can dissolve into bickering over differing priorities and finite funds. It is hard, necessary, important work. And it is an area where businesses can contribute in significant ways.

McNulty outlines four principles to guide private sector participation in recovery:

  • Commit for the long term
  • Take time to understand what affected communities really need
  • Get involved in the civic discourse on infrastructure and other rebuilding
  • Think about how the firm will surge in a future event

Recovery must truly be a “whole of community” undertaking. When accomplished by engaging the full range of stakeholders and drawing upon the accumulated expertise available, recovery can result in more vibrant, more resilient communities.