Disaster response: how do you plan for disasters?

October 01, 2001

Giving tops US$1billion.

Terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11 prompted an unprecedented response from companies and individuals alike. Estimates from the US-based Foundation Center put the total given by companies at more than $170 million in the first week after the tragedy. Donations had risen to over $1 billion, from both companies and individuals, by the time CAB went to press, according to an estimate by the respected US publication, The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Contact The Chronicle of Philanthropy on 00 1 202 466 1200 (http://www.philanthropy.com)

Crisis funds set up.

Crisis funds are now in operation around the world to raise money for relief efforts and victims of the September 11 tragedy. Some companies have opted to give money to funds set up by national charities, faith-based groups, police and fire fighter organisations. Others have established their own funds with corporate donations on which employees can build – Cantor Fitzgerald, Aon, Marsh & McLennan and Morgan Stanley are notable examples. Corporate funds accepting contributions from beyond the company include Citigroup and Goldman Sachs.

news in brief

• The September 11th Fund, created by United Way of New York City and the New York Community, had generated $320 million in pledges as of October 15 – almost half of which resulted from the telethon event, Tribute to heroes. (http://www.september11fund.org)

• The UK-based, Charities Aid Foundation is running a special fund, Helping USA, which enables individuals and companies to support those affected by the terrorist attack (http://www.allaboutgiving.org/helpingusa)

• The Liberty Disaster Relief Fund was set up by the American Red Cross to support relief and rescue efforts in New York. As of October 9, it had attracted over $370 million in donations. (http://www.redcross.org/donate)

• A number of websites have also been established both by corporations and charitable groups to facilitate payments by online donors to the various crisis funds. Two of the most visited sites are http://www.helping.org and http://www.libertyunites.org.


The publishing group, Pearson, ran advertisements in the Financial Times from September 15, encouraging international companies to support an emergency relief fund. Pearson had already established the fund with a donation of $500,000 and an offer to match employee contributions dollar for dollar up to another $500,000. It followed up on October 2, with a two-page spread publicising over 80 companies that had made substantial donations.

The FT’s sister business newspapers across Europe – Les Echos in France, Expansion in Spain and FT Deutschland in Germany – ran similar campaigns, and FT.com compiled an online list of relief organisations to which donations could be made. Among other initiatives, Pearson Education, a subsidiary of Pearson Group, is providing expert advice to parents and teachers on how to speak to children about the disaster, coping strategies for parents and specially chosen diversions for children. Contact Luke Swanson, Pearson, 020 7010 2313 (http://www.pearson.com)

Companies’ cash giving.

The following examples are a snapshot of some substantial corporate contributions to emergency funds set up in the aftermath of the attack (see below), many of which included offers to match the donations of employees, and in some cases, business partners.

n Microsoft gave $5 million in cash to the September 11th Fund and $5 million in software and services (http://www.microsoft.com/giving)

n General Electric gave $10 million to the City of New York NYCPPI Fund, to assist the families of firemen, police officers and rescue personnel who died in the attack (http://www.ge.com/community)

n Exxon Mobil pledged up to $20 million. The company is giving $5 million in an immediate cash donation, with the promise to match employee and dealers’ contributions on a three-to-one basis (http://www.exxon.mobil.com/ contributions)

n Coca-Cola pledged $12 million to a variety of organisations responsible for helping the children of victims (http://www.cocacola.com)

n Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers are all giving $10 million for agencies providing relief (http://www.msdw.com) (http://www.jpmorganchase.com) (gs.com) (http://www.lehman.com/employee)

n HSBC Group pledged $2 million for a range of relief funds and agencies. In the USA and Canada, HSBC is also offering to match donations from customers and employees up to $500,000 and $100,000 respectively (http://www.hsbc.com)

In-kind giving.

Many companies used their products and services to assist the emergency operations and subsequent clear-up effort. Below are examples:

n Volkswagen of America donated 25 vans to the New York Fire Department, and gave $2 million through its Foundation (http://www.vw.com)

n Amec and Caterpillar made available employees and specialist equipment to provide emergency power and lighting, to lift and remove heavy debris and to back up the emergency services (http://www.amec.com) (http://www.caterpillar.com)

n Web-based companies, such as Amazon, AOL, Cisco, Yahoo!, eBay and Microsoft, used their online resources to operate a website to help process donations and aid (http://www.libertyunites.org)

n Motorola deployed crisis teams to New York and Washington with communication equipment. The company also shipped thousands of mobile phones, batteries, base stations and other equipment to the two disaster areas (http://www.motorola.com)

n Kelloggs, PepsiCo, Perdue Farms, Heinz and Kraft Foods were among food and beverage companies that donated products for victims and relief workers (http://www.kelloggs.com) (http://www.pepsico.com) (http://www.perdue.com) (http://www.heinz.com) (http://www.kraft.com)

n AT&T gave $10 million in long-distance calling cards to relief workers (http://www.att.com/response)

n BP delivered 1 million gallons of gasoline and automotive fuel for the rescue effort, in addition to a donation of $5 million (http://www.bp.com)

n Gap made donations of 64,000 units of clothing and outerwear (http://www.gap.com)

n Nortel Networks donated a series of 30-second television public service announcements to the Red Cross (http://www.nortelnetworks.com)

n Deutsche Bank were lead sponsors of a Metropolitan Opera performance on September 20, which raised over $2 million (http://www.db.com)

n AstraZenica employees sponsored a community collection site from September 18-20 to support the workers at Dover Air Force Base who are collecting the victims’ remains from the Pentagon attack. At corporate level, the company made a donation of $1 million to the American Red Cross (http://www.astrazenica.com)

Longer-term responses.

n Citigroup announced a $15 million contribution to a newly created Citigroup Relief Fund that will provide scholarships to the children of victims (http://www.citigroup.com)

n Officemax pledged $1 million in college scholarships for the children of the rescue workers that died in the attack (http://www.officemax.com)

n Levi Strauss is giving $500,000 to the Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund (http://www.levistrauss.com)

n Nokia, in co-operation with the International Youth Foundation, invested $1 million in a new global fund for the college education needs of young people affected by the tragedy (http://www.nokia.com)

n New York’s technology professionals are co-operating to create a central clearinghouse for volunteers from the software, technology, and new media sectors. The industry-led initiative will despatch technology-equipped teams to further the relief efforts and help displaced businesses re-establish their IT infrastructure (http://www.SiliconValleyCares.org)

Business-led groups.

n San Francisco-based Business for Social Responsibility, immediately established a disaster response information centre on its website. The site provides information on how to assist employees, support affected communities and respond to customer needs. Among the other information services on the site are a news monitor and discussion board (http://www.bsr.org/csrresponse)

n UK firms were invited by Business in the Community’s Cares programme to join volunteering projects in the UK on October 5-6, linked with a similar drive being organised by CityCares in the USA (http://www.bitc.org.uk)

n The US Conference Board published a list of relief funds for companies wanting to donate (http://www.conference-board.org/wtc_main.cfm)


As we go to press, the Red Cross disaster relief fund has raised over half a billion dollars, much of it from companies. An unprecedented tragedy, a truly extraordinary response. The huge amount is stretching its ability to spend the money only on immediate help for victims and their families. Two months on, the raw emotions are still strong, yet some strategic conclusions are starting to be drawn.

In this edition, AmEx’s Connie Higginson, literally blasted from her New York office, tells us about the need for long term disaster preparedness. One key lesson is that, if the timing, location and impact of natural and human disasters are by definition unpredictable, their continuing incidence is a dead cert. At the very least, that means maintaining a budget every year to fund an immediate response. Faced with the need (to be seen) to do something, companies should not have to scrabble around, raiding different corporate pots.

This time round, it seems many of the millions donated are actually being diverted from other good causes; now those funding requests are being turned down or postponed, and public fundraising efforts redirected. Which takes us to a second issue – hard to say too loudly in the immediate aftermath: the need to address not just the initial crisis but to tackle root causes and the longer term ‘big picture’. The obvious question: what to do about Afghanistan? The fluid and fraught international situation makes it hard at time of writing to be prescriptive, but it must surely be a mistake for companies just to respond to the terrible events in America.