A new framework for disaster reduction

Authors: Carlos Castillo, Lauren Cook and Oz Ozturk

PwC and UNISDR (the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction) are developing a collaborative framework for disaster reduction intended to contribute to improved disaster resilience and provide economic, social and environmental benefits globally.

The subtitle of this journal, ‘Winning with risk,’ emphasises the opportunities that arise from conflict and change. But another critical motivator of resilience is risk-reduction. The stunning toll of natural disasters on lives, businesses and national economies has spiked interest in finding ways to sustainably reduce and manage disaster risk. In 2011, in Thailand alone, floods shut down 1,000 factories and forced more than 700,000 people out of work. In 2012, floods, typhoons and earthquakes caused more than $274 billion of economic losses in Asia. In October 2012, when Hurricane Sandy ravaged the North-Eastern United States coastline and impacted densely populated areas in its path, it was a powerful reminder to the public and private sectors, to governments and businesses alike, that is was time to act – together.

In December 2012, the Business Council for the United Nations – supported by PwC – brought together representatives from both private and public sectors to discuss “Disaster Risk Management: Preparedness and Resiliency.” Representatives from UNISDR, UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), Wal-Mart, Citigroup and Government amongst others, shared their views on how they are working together to improve the resilience efforts of communities around the world.

Figure 1: Disaster risk management framework

We define resilience as the ability to recognise, take, and rapidly and effectively adapt to changes. In the context of disaster, preparedness for different conclusions elevates the level of resilience. There is not one preparedness approach that will fit all outcomes. However, there are some common preparedness techniques – communication among key officials in the public and private sectors, testing of infrastructure, education efforts – that can be applied no matter the circumstance.

A framework to combat the devastation before it starts

PwC has been working with UNISDR for close to a year to collect and analyse data about these preparedness techniques and develop a framework that can be applied around the world. The insights and best practices from this global study will be used in conjunction with the UN’s 2013 Global Assessment of Risk report to be published in May. The PwC global study itself, led by PwC Partner Oz Ozturk, will be available as a standalone detailed report early this year. The findings will be used to establish better alignment between the private and public sector for disaster prevention and set the scene for the soon to be updated Hyogo framework in 2015.

As the number and severity of natural disasters increases at an alarming rate, this framework provides a pragmatic approach to combat the devastating impact before it starts. At the event, I (Carlos Castillo) boldly claimed that, “all disasters are preventable.” We say this because we believe disasters can be prevented through risk-based preparedness and mitigation efforts, leading to enhanced resilience. The power of the PwC and UNISDR partnership is that it incorporates all leading practices from the private sector on a global scale with the UNISDR leading practices in community disaster risk reduction.

There is a clear benefit for the public sector when it comes to these partnerships. As for corporate sector parties, their increasing interdependence with their communities and the public sector means they gain more than just good PR from partnering with other organisations to create more resilient communities. Steve Dozier, Vice President, Wal-Mart, highlighted this in terms of the interdependence of its associates, stores and communities following a disaster. He noted that the more rapidly their stores and other businesses can reopen and provide critical goods and services following a disaster, the more resilient communities become. For communities to recover quickly, Wal-Mart has to be prepared to support its own employees enabling them to return to work sooner. Rapid recovery also relies on the government’s help when it comes to assisting the private sector with crucial infrastructure needs.

Partnerships that have increased each others’ preparedness

Recent examples of PPPs (Public Private Partnerships) provide realistic hope for the success of the global framework.

DHL against disasters – DHL instructed UN officials on how to prepare Beirut’s International Airport for natural disasters. Beirut has the only operational commercial airport in the country, and the US had exports worth over a billion dollars to Lebanon in 2011 alone.

Joining forces in Florida – A US example with global implications was shared by Castillo from his experience as Miami-Dade County’s, Florida, emergency management director. The County formed alliances with local universities and corporations to harden their facilities against hurricanes, thereby reducing the need for additional evacuation shelters for students and staff.

Skilled up students – The Japanese government taught junior high and elementary school students survival skills that helped during the 2011 Tsunami.

Keeping money mobile – Citi’s mobile banking was so user-friendly that it generated $10 million in transactions during Hurricane Sandy.

Combining the intelligence and experience underlying these examples, the PwC and UNISDR initiative seeks to produce an applicable global framework – with possibly far-reaching economic, social and environmental implications – for preventing or recovering from disaster.