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Enhancing resilience in the face of disaster

A little more than 10 years ago, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast of the United States, devastating New Orleans and many other communities. Walmart became an unexpected early responder – providing more than 2,400 truckloads of supplies and 100 truckloads of donated goods, while pitching in to help coordinate relief efforts on the ground. We guaranteed job transfers for our displaced associates, helping them and their families get back on their feet, while we worked to reopen our damaged stores and restore our communities.

The experience of Hurricane Katrina taught us how we can draw on our strengths – our presence in 10,000 communities; our associates’ compassion and expertise; our food, water and other products; our logistics and operations capabilities; our philanthropy; and our relationships with other community leaders – to provide relief in the aftermath of disaster. Since Katrina, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have contributed over $56 million in cash grants as well as food, water, products and associate expertise to assist with disasters in communities around the world – from Hurricane Sandy in the U.S. to the tsunami in Japan; from the floods in the U.K. to the tornadoes in the American South; from the earthquakes in Nepal to the lead contamination of water in Flint, Michigan.

As the severity and frequency of disasters have increased, we are collaborating with others to expand our focus from providing relief to enhancing the preparedness of communities in the face of disaster in two ways. 

First, we are supporting the use of technology to help improve the speed and focus of disaster response so that people, food, water and other resources are quickly deployed to the right places. According to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 50 to 70 percent of the physical goods donated during disasters are non-priority items and ended up in landfills. In line with our company’s focus on eliminating waste in our operations and supply chain, we want to prevent waste and instead help people deploy precious resources where needed. 

Second, we are investing in efforts that enhance the preparedness of communities to mitigate the loss of life and property in our communities. According to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, the average cost of damage to commercial and residential buildings worldwide is $314 billion each year. Preparedness can help reduce damage and therefore the costs of relief and reconstruction.

To underscore our commitment to disaster response and preparedness, this past year Walmart and the Walmart Foundation announced a five-year, $25 million commitment of cash and in-kind contributions for relief efforts and innovations that will help enhance response and preparedness across communities around the world. 

Enhancing disaster preparedness in our communities creates clear benefits for business and for society. More effective preparedness and relief programs reduce the loss of life and property and strengthen cohesiveness of communities in neighborhoods and the workplace. Our customers agree, telling us that of all the ways we help communities, one of the most important to them is our work in disaster response.

The following describes the two main initiatives in our disaster preparedness program:

  • Improving the speed and focus of disaster response 
  • Strengthening disaster preparedness 

Improving speed and focus of disaster response

Walmart and Walmart Foundation focus on disaster response initiatives includes providing relief in the wake of disasters, as well as investments in technologies and other innovations that improve the speed and focus of response.

Over the past year, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation helped 87 communities deal with disasters such as floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires, including severe weather in Texas, an earthquake in Nepal and flooding in South Carolina. Last year, we supported immediate relief efforts with $2.1 million in cash grants as well as donated products and our associates’ expertise in logistics and operations. Walmart emergency operations’ associates collaborated with the Walmart Foundation, responders such as firefighters and police, nonprofits such as the American Red Cross and government agencies to increase and accelerate delivery of much-needed goods and services.

Walmart also made philanthropic investments of $2.5 million in technologies to enhance the speed and focus of relief efforts, such as Good360’s platform to direct donor contributions toward the specific, registered needs of local charities, and the American Red Cross RC View’s platform that provides real-time data about evolving circumstances on the ground. 

Preparing for the worst: Cities of Service
In FY2016 the Walmart Foundation provided a grant of $300,000 to Cities of Service, a coalition of over 200 cities who have committed to developing and implementing volunteer projects that address local community needs in cities across the United States. With the grant, Cities of Service will fund disaster resilience projects within nine counties of the San Francisco Bay Area.  Projects will be selected and implemented in the summer of 2016 and will engage local citizens in addressing community-specific issues and hazards that may leave the city more susceptible to disaster events.

Team Rubicon: Veterans on standby for disaster response
When disaster strikes, a swift and organized response is essential to prevent loss of life as well as homes and possessions. Team Rubicon, a disaster response organization that unites the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders, maintains a network of volunteers on standby, rapidly deploying them to assist with response efforts. These highly skilled, experienced veterans assess impact, provide basic services and help lead other volunteers to quickly expand response efforts in an effective manner. To date, Team Rubicon has responded to over 120 disasters with nearly 35,000 volunteers worldwide. Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have proudly supported Team Rubicon’s operations and disaster deployments through financial support and Walmart volunteers. For example, in the 2015 Texas flooding, about 30 Walmart volunteers joined Team Rubicon during Operation Double Trouble in Wimberley, Texas, to aid in cleanup efforts. 

Strengthening disaster preparedness

As noted previously, the five-year, $25 million disaster commitment by Walmart and the Walmart Foundation expands our focus from response to preparedness. Our goal is to help improve the planning and response capacity of communities and their citizens , as well as convene discussions with government agencies, nonprofit organizations and other companies to share best practices in improving preparedness. 

In 2015, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation commemorated the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Starting the week, Louisiana State University’s Stephenson Disaster Management Institute released a white paper with support from Walmart detailing lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina and recommendations for strengthening future disaster preparedness and response efforts. Building on the study’s findings, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation convened global stakeholders from the nonprofit, academic, government and corporate sectors to share best practices in disaster, and led a discussion with the Clinton Global Initiative on the future of the disaster field. Walmart also sponsored Urban league of Greater New Orleans “RISE: Katrina 10” events and helped organize over 10,000 volunteers in support of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s “Katrina 10-Resilient New Orleans” Day of Service events throughout the parishes in and around New Orleans. To conclude the week and display our investment in a more resilient Gulf Coast, the Walmart Foundation announced a series of grants for preparedness programs led by local Gulf Coast nonprofits such as St. Bernard Project and the Mississippi State Gulf Coast Community Design Studio.

Building preparedness in the U.S. Gulf region – United Nations $1.2M grant
Hurricane Katrina was one of the defining moments for disaster awareness around the globe. The event highlighted the need for increased disaster preparedness investments and public-private partnerships to create more resilient communities. For Hurricane Katrina’s 10-year commemoration, the Walmart Foundation announced an investment in preparedness efforts for the Gulf Coast highlighting our relationship with the United Nations for ARISE: a program aimed to enhance community preparedness in the region. The grant aims to better prepare communities for disasters by generating metrics to measure disaster preparedness, developing Community Resilience Coalitions, creating preparedness plans and assessing the vulnerability of small businesses and engaging with them on disaster preparedness.