I’m writing this post from the road, having left my home in St. Petersburg, Florida to avoid the dreaded Hurricane Irma and seek higher ground.
I evacuated twice. The first time I packed my 10-year-old boys and 50-pound dog into a car without air conditioning in 92-degree heat and we trekked up the interstate for 3 hours. We stopped at a Wendy’s and spent 52 minutes in a drive-through with half of southern Florida. The dog tried to jump out of the window. It was miserable. We made it 50 miles (in those 3 hours). We turned around and came home.
The second time we evacuated—the next day—I made a plan. I got the resources I needed. I scouted a different way using surface roads and not highways. The kids and I are safe. The dog didn’t try to jump out of a moving car window.
The difference between acting impulsively and having a plan in place was what changed our failed attempt into something that worked. Still looking back from safety, there are a few things I would do things differently. Having experience in situations like that helps. That’s why I wanted to share the wonderful advice April Wehrs posted on the Chamber of Commerce Professionals Group on Facebook. Last year, her chamber in Louisiana underwent incredible and devastating flooding. She had these three steps to share about her experience.
Helping Chamber Members Recover from a Natural Disaster
- Just like stages of grief, those recovering from devastation go through stages of recovery. April advises, “All people care about in the beginning are people.” Check-ins are critical. Getting information to loved ones about who’s safe is of the utmost importance.
- The next concern after role call is their business and property. They need to see what the physical damage is.
- After the shock and sadness is processed, people are accounted for, and damage is assessed they think about money—profits, reopening, and how soon they can begin to generate revenue. This is one of the biggest areas chambers can help because, for those experiencing it for the first time, they often don’t know what to do. If the funding is there people need directions on how to claim it.
Stepping in as Command Central
Once the natural disaster subsides and people begin recovery, the chamber can step in and assume the duties of command central, coordinating between public and private entities to help coordinate resources and share information. Jo Caskey of the Kimball County Visitors Comittee suggested chambers draft an Emergency Response Plan now. But after the emergency, you can still begin recovery through:
- Keeping in contact with members and the community. You’ll need to communicate with them and the rest of the country.
- Once the crisis is over and recovery is occurring, you’ll want to let the country know you’re open for business. Jo said, “It’s another means to support and promote your local businesses.”
The Role of the Chamber in Disaster Recovery
There are so many hats a chamber pro wears daily but during a crisis, this escalates even more. Expect to be:
- An inspirational leader and community cheerleader. You may feel helpless and hopeless but your community will need inspiration and cheers. You’ll talk about their strength and the power of community.
- PR rep. Someone will need to communicate the extent of damage and get people back to wanting to do business in the area.
- Paper pusher. You may be coordinating a lot of needs and resources in helping members fill out forms, provide them with contact info and more.
- Hand holder. This is one of the most stressful things people can endure. They will need a lot of caring support.
- Social media master. Tech plays a critical role in keeping everyone together and pushing out resource information. Yes, electric power might be an issue to begin with, but you’ll need to find a way to keep things updated as early as possible for the outside world and your community. This may mean coordinating info with someone outside the affected area to update your social profiles and website.
Good luck, Florida. My thoughts and prayers are with you. We’re likely in for a long and slow rebuild. But together we can do it.
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