A Chamber’s Role in a Disaster

Ok, I’m convinced. As three quarters of the counties in my home state of North Dakota are declared federal disaster areas due to devastating flooding, I’m ready to admit it’s not if you’ll have to deal with a disaster someday… it’s when.

I’ve lived in Fargo for 15 years, four of which have seen major spring floods. But our floods are different from what western North Dakota is facing. Ours are battles, which for the most part we win. Theirs is annihilation. First was sandbagging, then came packing up as much as you can, then came the siren, signaling an abrupt transition from frenzied preparation to protection of life and neighbor.

Here’s what I’ve learned about the role of a Chamber of Commerce in times of disaster.

1. Assess the level of individual needs being fulfilled – consult the pyramid.Maslow's Hierarchy
As you pull together a plan to get your community through a disaster, consider Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Sleep, sustenance, air… I remember Fargo’s mayor “joking” about his extended stretch of no sleep, neighborhoods being evacuated and Blackhawk helicopters prowling the skies to rescue the stranded. Our Chamber, which usually operates in the belonging and esteem levels, had lost the basic foundation of a community with their physiological and safety needs met. Act and communicate accordingly.

2. Mobilize your resources.
Chambers have incredible resources at their ready; just how incredible I didn’t realize until disaster hit. Our members represent over 80,000 employees in our region. That’s thousands of volunteers ready to sandbag, hundreds of restaurants ready to donate food, countless transportation, storage and service providers… With a call to our membership, we were able to mobilize a sufficient volunteer force to fill millions of sandbags before the river even began to rise.

3. Serve as an information treasure trove.
Your chamber represents businesses. Those businesses represent people. Collect information from them like a hungry hippo. Who is suffering? Who can help? Match the needy to the givers. Distribute information.

4. Be the positive story teller. for sale pool home
Exciting as it is to see your little neighborhood as the lead story on the national news, mass media reporters tend to stick to the gloom and doom side of a disaster, and rightly so. Take it on as an organizational mission to cheerlead your troops and lift their spirits. Some of the most positive and inspirational stories I’ve ever heard have risen from the rubble of disasters. Find those stories and share them. Celebrate every little success you can find and don’t forget the healing power of humor…

5. Be there.
Make sure there is a way to reach you. Is someone manning your social networking accounts, email inboxes, phone lines, fax machine? In this day and age, there can always be a way to reach the chamber. Assuming, of course, you have landed in a safe place before you set up shop.

6. Be part of the recovery.
Serve as the conduit between your members and organizations that are in place to help them recover, such as FEMA, the Small Business Administration, etc. Provide resources about recovery programs and loans. Host round tables for support and information sharing between business leaders. Seek out recovery milestones of your members to share and show how far you’ve come.

7. Throw one hell of a party.
When all is said and done – ‘nuff said. Welcome back to normal.

What am I missing? Are there additional roles chamber’s can take on in a natural disaster? Share what you’ve learned…


About Yo Adrienne Olson

Yo Adrienne Olson is a Fargo girl, a blessed mom, a lucky wife, an innovative communications professional and a closet entrepreneur.
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