Saturday, March 12, 2011

CSR and Disaster Risk Reduction - Part 1 (Guest Blog)

Guest Blog by Ian Doyle

One aspect of social media (see previous blogs) relates to disaster risk reduction. Wayne Visser, in his book The Age of Responsibility provided examples of “crowdsourcing” through social media platforms such as Peoplefinder in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and “Mission 4636” following the Haiti earthquake that proved to be effective tools in responding to requests for help and in locating missing persons.[1]

Social media is also providing important access to information in the wake of disasters. [2] This was exemplified by the Japan earthquake yesterday. With Japanese telecommunications affected by the seismic activity, but the internet still working, Twitter and Facebook were the most effective way to get news out. Therefore disaster risk reduction is one field where social media enterprise could contribute as part of its corporate social responsibility.

Interestingly, the Japan earthquake also reminds us of how companies other than social media enterprise can respond to disasters. Google for instance, ‘advertised’ this warning on its search engine page in response to the earthquake, thus becoming a global emergency alert system, stating:

“Tsunami Alert for New Zealand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Hawaii and others. Waves expected over the next few hours caused by 8.9 earthquake in Japan.” And just hours later, updated it to: “Tsunami Alert Waves expected across the Pacific region, caused by 8.9 earthquake in Japan,” and then “Resources related to the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.”

The importance of business taking an active role in disaster risk reduction is becoming more and more relevant. As developing countries are most affected by natural disasters and many corporations have transferred their production facilities to these regions, it stands to reason that businesses start to reflect on their societal role in the event of a catastrophe.[3] How business is addressing disaster risk reduction overall is thus another part of corporate responsibility that companies need to consider.

The key to successful disaster reduction is to reduce the vulnerability of communities exposed to natural hazards and better be able to cope during, and recover after the event. More recently, this has been addressed through business continuity management plans. Business continuity is the activity performed by an organisation to ensure that critical business functions will be available when there are disruptions.[4]

But because disaster risk reduction aims to strengthen community responses in the event of disaster, it requires companies to think about how their business continuity plans impact society. For instance, if business expediency is the priority, a business continuity plan could entail dropping a supplier if supplies are temporarily disrupted, effectively depriving the supplier of much needed resources to be functional again. Such a plan would be contrary to sustainable development. If business is going to play its role in decreasing the vulnerability of communities that are exposed to natural hazards, particularly in developing countries, disaster preparedness needs to be understood within the context of sustainable development, which will be explored in part two of this reflection.

Part 2 to follow ....

About the blogger

Lifeworth Consulting associate (, Ian Doyle, has based this blog on Lifeworth’s pro-bono work with the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), and his forthcoming article co-authored with professor Jem Bendell in issue 41 of the Journal of Corporate Citizenship.


[1] Visser, W. (2011) The Age of Responsibility: CSR 2.0 and the New DNA of Business, London: Wiley

[2] Imogen Wall, ‘After disaster: information for life’, Open Democracy Online. 26 October 2008.

[3] Alyson Warhurst. ‘Disaster Prevention: A Role for Business’. Provention Consortium Online. August 2006.

[4] ICOR : Business Continuity Management. See also, David Honour. ‘Defining Business Continuity’, Continuity Central Online. 29 September 2006.