The Bottom Line

Corporate giants pour money into emergency response and research.

by James Careless / June 2, 2016
Walmart (Shutterstock)

Walmart and Wells Fargo are two unsung heroes of the emergency management world. While most corporations focus mainly on their bottom lines, these two titans make major, tangible contributions to emergency management agencies in their communities. In doing so, both companies combine a sense of civic responsibility with enlightened self-interest — because the disasters that affect their communities also affect these corporations’ properties, employees and paying customers.

More Than $50 Million Contributed

As the largest U.S. retailer, with 4,574 physical locations, Walmart has good reason to care about emergency response to natural and man-made disasters. This is why the company has numerous emergency management personnel coordinated by its own EOC at Walmart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.

The company’s commitment to emergency response stretches into the communities it serves, not just its own properties. For instance, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Walmart and the charitable Walmart Foundation used its stores and associates to deliver truckloads of water, food and other essential supplies to the stricken Gulf Coast, in addition to providing cash donations and jobs for associates displaced by the storm.

Over the past 10 years, these two bodies have contributed more than $50 million in global relief and resiliency efforts, and responded to disasters in the U.S., Mexico, the Philippines, Haiti, the United Kingdom, Canada and Chile. On the 10th anniversary of Katrina in 2015, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation committed another $25 million to support disaster recovery and resilience efforts worldwide.

The strategy of the company and its foundation is to form partnerships with all levels of government to boost the quality of disaster response and resiliency in U.S. communities. It’s not just about money, according to Brooke Brager, Walmart’s senior manager of emergency preparedness and planning. “We support and encourage our associates to take part in Local Emergency Preparedness Committees,” she said. “We also encourage our store managers to work closely with their communities’ local emergency management agencies so that everyone knows what to do when a disaster hits.”

Walmart and the Walmart Foundation are giving $2.9 million in grants to U.S. nonprofit groups that are working to improve disaster response. In addition, Walmart and its foundation have funded research by Louisiana State University looking at the past, present and future of disaster responses to answer the question, “Are we ready now?” The resulting study uses input from first responders and academics, with a focus on the importance of formal public-private partnerships, technology innovations, preparedness and the power of heroes in disaster relief and resiliency.
“Helping our communities and emergency management personnel plan and respond more effectively to emergencies is a win-win for us all,” Brager said.

Wells Fargo Lends Its Expertise to EOCs
The name “Wells Fargo” conjures up images of Wild West stagecoaches, and indeed the company started by Henry Wells and William Fargo in 1852 had its roots in serving the California Gold Rush. But today’s Wells Fargo has grown to become one of the world’s biggest banks, with a 2015 net income of $23 billion.

Wells Fargo maintains two dedicated groups that collectively work together as the company’s emergency management team. The expertise and active support of these personnel, who are overseen by Chris Terzich, vice president of incident management, is freely shared with government EOCs through a number of company/government partnerships. They include the Minnesota Information Sharing and Analysis Center, the InfraGard Minnesota Members Alliance and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s National Security Task Force.

“At Wells Fargo, our corporate values are based on our people, our communities and our country,” Terzich said. “So we take a community-based approach to emergency management, helping out local, state and federal emergency management agencies in their preplanning and responses.”
Given the importance of Wells Fargo’s financial activities, the company spends a lot of time developing resiliency strategies not only for its own systems, but also for those that it supports in the community.

The InfraGard Minnesota Members Alliance is a prime example of the latter. InfraGard is a partnership between the FBI and the private sector that shares information and tactics for protecting critical infrastructure and key resources against terrorist attacks. “Through InfraGard, we have Wells Fargo team members who sit in at EOCs during emergencies,” Terzich said. “Our people aid in sharing real-time information and helping the EOC’s first responders in quickly reacting to and recovering from emergency situations.”

Wells Fargo is also a member of the Safeguard Iowa Partnership (SIP), a public-private group aiming to “strengthen the capacity of the state to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters through public-private collaboration,” according to its mission statement.

Working with Wells Fargo and other corporate members, SIP has overseen emergency management initiatives such as establishing a two-way state radio system for coordinating early business shutdowns due to weather events and other emergencies, as well as acting as an EOC-based “private-sector information conduit” during such incidents.

“While posted at the EOC during emergencies, Wells Fargo’s people are eager to collect and share information about what is happening with affected private-sector businesses,” said A.J. Mumm, director of the Polk County Emergency Management Commission, a SIP member. “This includes sharing vital information without reservation with their competitors: When the community is in an emergency situation, Wells Fargo’s people always put it first — and not themselves.” k


James Careless has written extensively on public safety for Government Video, Law and Order and Urgent Communications magazines.