After 2017's devastating Northern California wildfires, the Red Cross sought sifters -- the kind sometimes used to pan for gold -- to help people search for valuables in the ashes of their homes.
Members of Amazon's new disaster response team found the items in the commerce giant's vast inventory and expedited shipment.
"We were able overnight to schedule a truck, drive it up to Sonoma Valley, and they could distribute that as part of their cleanup kits," said Bettina Stix, who conceived of and now leads Disaster Relief by Amazon, an effort begun a few months before the fires.
The cost of floods, hurricanes and earthquakes increased some 600% between 1990 and 2015 by one estimate, and disaster response planners only see the pace accelerating with more frequent, severe and chaotic weather events driven by a warming climate. The resulting demand for disaster relief and recovery is growing, and corporations are playing a greater role with both financial and material support.
Amazon is drawing on the company's wide array of businesses, logistics operations, cloud computing resources and employee volunteers to help.
That might mean quickly beginning campaigns to collect cash or product donations; moving specific inventory items closer to an area threatened by a hurricane; establishing pop-up pickup locations adjacent to damaged or inaccessible areas after a disaster; helping local governments protect and restore damaged IT systems; and volunteering to staff virtual call centers providing information to victims and responders.
Jeanne-Aimee De Marrais, senior director of U.S. emergencies for Save the Children, called corporate efforts by companies such as Amazon the "cornerstone" of support for her group and many other nonprofits. She said corporations have become increasingly important as federal emergency responders focus more on the immediate aftermath of a disaster and leave local communities to handle long-term recovery.
"As disasters continue to increase across the U.S., we're going to need more partners to really support community recovery," said De Marrais, a member of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's national advisory council since 2014.
Apart from financial contributions, companies respond to disasters by temporarily adjusting their operations to provide needed materials and aid.
"Corporations have phenomenal supply chain systems," De Marrais said, adding, "They have access to stocks and supplies that few nonprofits could ever think of in volume and speed of delivery."