In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, there has been much reflection and discussion about South Florida’s preparations and ability to withstand the stress and blows meted out by the inevitable tropical tempests that plague our geography.
At the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, we heard from our members about the lack of power and connectivity, downtown flooding, downed trees and traffic signal outages that snarled traffic flow. Likewise, we were approached by businesses wanting to know how they could assist the community in its recovery efforts.
In the weeks to come there will be conversations across the community about how to harden our infrastructures to reduce and mitigate interruptions to vital resources. With each storm we weather, we learn different lessons about how our systems need to be fortified.
However, there are some things that never change from disaster to disaster. Among those: we always need to protect our citizens from the potential harm of high winds and storm surge, and we will always have to mobilize as a community to help those left devastated in the storm’s wake.
Irma sparked the greatest mass evacuation in our state history. More than 1.6 million people were forced to leave their homes seeking shelter or leaving the area entirely. A record number of shelters opened. There were thousands of people in widespread communities left without a home, food, water and other basic life essentials.
Not surprising, there was a desire to lend support and provide supplies after Hurricane Irma. Many of us lived through Andrew, Katrina, Wilma, Charlie and other tropical storms. We are a caring community. Our chamber’s member companies donated millions of dollars, as did many in the community, once the clouds parted.
I have had the unique experience of running our local and regional American Red Cross and the Greater Miami Chamber and now have operated in disasters from the two different perspectives.
At the chamber, I was struck by how much our businesses want to help with manpower and funds when calamity strikes. Yet, when I was at the Red Cross, we struggled to get corporations involved in programs like Ready When the Time Comes that include and coordinate businesses in disaster operations. These programs even train employees to work in shelters, distribute food in mobile feeding operations, conduct disaster damage assessment and preset a post-disaster-giving website tailored for and controlled by your corporation. Initiatives like these were the very same our chamber members yearned to coordinate and execute after Irma.
We will surely move forward with gleaning lessons from this experience to better prevent wide-scale power and internet outages. We will contemplate better building strategies to mitigate damage from wind and inundations from surge and sea-level rise. But we should not forget how important it is for the business community to be prepared to respond to disaster before it strikes.
We should partner with organizations like the Red Cross, the United Way and so many others to activate our community recovery plans alongside our other business recovery initiatives. Now is the time.
Alfred Sanchez is president and CEO of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce.