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Akhila Vijayaraghavan headshot

Major Retailers Show that Disaster Management is an Integral Part of CSR

Disaster management is rapidly becoming a very important area of CSR. Although some natural disasters strike very suddenly and the only response that can be done is post-tragedy, others require a degree of forethought. Sometimes CSR responses may be as simple as ensuring that services go on as normal, so as not to create further inconveniences. According to research by University College in London, CSR activities in disaster and environmental management broadly falls under five categories:

  1. Philanthropy or charity

  2. Contractual

  3. Collaborative

  4. Adversarial

  5. Unilateral

For a week now, retailers like Walmart, Home Depot and CVS Pharmacy have been preparing themselves in anticipation of Hurricane Irene, which hit the East Coast over the weekend. During Hurricane Katrina, Walmart was able to reopen its stores a week after the levees broke. They also delivered $20m in cash, 100 truckloads of free merchandise and food for 100,000 meals - some say that this was faster than the federal government's response to the crisis. This time around, they are better prepared.

What Walmart is Doing

Mark Cooper is Walmart's head of emergency management and he has been in charge of coordinating the mega-retailer's action plan in the following ways:

  • Walmart has a staff meteorologist which means they can keep track of disasters and ensure proper response in a timely fashion.

  • Using its extensive database, it is able to monitor and anticipate demand during emergencies to ensure that it is stocked up with needed products. With Irene, the system helped to allocate things like batteries, canned foods etc.

  • They have used their experiences with Katrina to come up with a better response this time. The most wanted item then was strawberry Pop-Tarts (believe it or not), so now they are ensuring that stores are stocked up with it.
What Home Depot is Doing

Russ Householder is Home Depot's emergency response manager. Home Depot has a Hurricane Command Center in Atlanta with 100 associates who worked to anticipate how Irene would affect its East Coast stores. They have been monitoring their stores since the beginning of hurricane season and have been connected with their district managers. These managers in turn have been focusing on stocking items like generators, chain saw, water etc.

Householder says, "We take storm product, both pre- and post-strike product, we stage those in containers and we have them in our distribution centers, really ready for a driver to pull up and pick up and take them to our stores."

When Irene struck Puerto Rico, Home Depot stores switched to emergency generators and the stores were open and ready for customers the next day.

What CVS Pharmacy is Doing 

CVS encouraged all its customers to fill their prescriptions prior to the weekend. They have also instructed them to keep their medicines in a water-proof box with easy instructions, especially if they are taking multiple medications. Their stores are also stocked with items like water, flashlights and other products. They are also assisting in hurricane recovery efforts by planning water donation with the American Red Cross.

Taking a Proactive Stance Towards Disaster Management

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has begun to study the ways in which the private sector works during emergencies. Since Katrina, this kind of crossover in knowledge is very essential in order to ensure adequate disaster response. The retail sector has a lot of avenues to improve on their disaster responses. Taking a proactive stance towards disaster management is not only good CSR, it simply boils down to good customer service. Ensuring that stores are well stocked and open ensures that most people can get what they need after an emergency. In this way, relief agencies can focus on the less fortunate.


Akhila Vijayaraghavan headshotAkhila Vijayaraghavan

Akhila is the Founding Director of GreenDen Consultancy which is dedicated to offering business analysis, reporting and marketing solutions powered by sustainability and social responsibility. Based in the US, Europe, and India, the GreenDen's consultants share the best practices and innovation from around the globe to achieve real results. She has previously written about CSR and ethical consumption for Justmeans and hopes to put a fresh spin on things for this column. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she is a voracious reader and enjoys photography, yoga, travelling and the great outdoors. She can be contacted via Twitter @aksvi and also http://www.thegreenden.net

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