Responding Online to Disasters in Economic Development

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Main News Photo

By Aaron Brossoit

Of all the trends in economic development I have been following, the most unsettling of them has been the increase in natural disasters across the country. More floods, fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados and droughts.  These natural disasters can have a devastating impact on the economic development position of a community.

In response to this unfortunate trend, we have been exploring how to best address the online communication needs of an economic developer at times of disaster. We are currently working on a pilot website project in Middletown, CA, burned by massive forest fires last fall, here is what we are learning.

Disasters Last Longer for Economic Developers
The hype of a natural disaster can capture the attention and support of the nation for weeks and months,  but for the residents and economic developers in a community the recovery can last years. Six months after the wake of the Middletown fires, there are still nearly 500 people displaced from their homes. The rebuilding process takes a long time and getting the workforce resettled has everything to do with business retention and attraction. In the design of a disaster recovery and revitalization we want rapid deployment but are focused less on ‘emergency response’ and more focused on establishing a central point of communications from the economic development perspective that can keep businesses and stakeholders informed as long as it takes until the recovery is complete.

Communicating  Resources, Support and Progress
The main goal of a disaster revitalization website is communication.  The initial focus is to get provide a point of contact and get out the information that businesses and the workforce need to get their feet back on the ground. This includes highlighting programs available to support recovering businesses, updates on community assets as they come online and communicating news and events relevant to the business community. The longer-term focus is communicating the progress of the recovery after the news spotlight has moved on. 

Good News in Bad Times
Disasters that make national news have a lasting impact on the brand of the community. But just like in business, the proper response to when things go wrong can send an even louder message. Economic recovery ironically brings many opportunities to celebrate as businesses and key community assets get back up and running. Sharing these successes boosts the morale of the community and sends a consistent message externally that the community is strong and rebounding from the disaster.  

Rebuilding often brings new and improved infrastructure and assets that becomes part of the community’s economic development portfolio. Use these opportunities to promote why the community is ‘better and stronger than ever’ and to keep positive messaging streaming throughout the duration of the recovery.

Working Together
We are making great progress with our research and development in supporting disaster stricken economic development organizations but there is more to learn. I am reaching out to the economic development community to learn more about best practices in time of disaster so that we can improve the quality and impact our tools will have. We are also looking to partner with two more communities as pilot projects. Please contact me through LinkedIn if you think your community might be a good fit.

Unfortunately we will not likely see a decrease in the frequency and severity of natural disasters ahead for our communities. This is a cause worthy of our focus and energy for both our industry and our communities. I believe by accelerating and increasing the communication we will also accelerate the recovery and economic developers should lead that charge. Until the next one, we shall prepare.

Aaron Brossoit
Golden Shovel Agency

Category: Blog, Economic Development

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