A business recovery pilot program originally created to help local businesses bounce back from the 2019-20 bushfires that devastated regional NSW has proven useful in upskilling participants to weather every kind of disaster from floods to pandemic.
More than 90 per cent of participating businesses in the Business Community Resilience (BCR) Toolkit pilot program shared that they were left reeling from the impact of multiple disasters in the Northern NSW region, and 88 per cent felt the fallout from disasters had negatively impacted their livelihoods.
Findings also revealed many participants were not adequately prepared for disasters with 61 per cent lacking a back-up of essential business information, 61 per cent have not documented what their essential people do, 70 per cent unable to operate without an internet connection, 65 per cent had no crisis communications plan to reach and inform their customers and 64 per cent lacking a negative risk register.
Local businesses enthusiastically embraced the program, with more than 140 businesses in Northern NSW enrolling in the BCR Toolkit since its launch by social enterprise corporate2community (C2C - now known as Resilient Ready) in September 2021.
Delivered through 26 online learning modules, the pilot program focused on empowering business owners and operators to prepare, connect, and build resilience.
The free online program was co-designed locally to help businesses prepare for future disasters and disruptions and was driven by a local steering group made up of council, chambers of commerce, industry associations and emergency services.
Resilient Ready director Renae Hanvin said the de-identified data collected during the program rollout in Northern NSW proved the need for a greater focus on building knowledge and capabilities across businesses in communities.
``A lot of attention has been on disaster recovery and even disaster preparation but not a lot has gone into business community resilience, especially across Northern NSW, so it is satisfying to know that the BCR Toolkit has filled a gap and genuinely helped people,’’ she said.
The grant-funded program wrapped up on September 30, and feedback from participants and collaborators has been overwhelmingly positive that the toolkit is helping them view disasters in a different way and implement small actions to make their businesses more resilient to future disruptions.
One businessperson said they were impressed by how simple some of the BCR Toolkit actions were and how its ``very easy to follow, relevant to today’s environment and full of useful information”.
``I am making the modules into a book to be my reference for resilience building. I am making space to add my actions and other learnings as I go.’’
Other participants found the topics ``all very relevant and a reminder to have processes, procedures, and these tools in place to assist the business to manage unexpected events’’ and said they felt ``better prepared now to face the changes and challenges that may come along’’. C2C submitted a grant application to operate the BCR Toolkit with six local government areas which quickly increased to 11 after other bushfire-impacted local councils requested to join the project. They believed it would benefit individual businesses, the wider business community and other stakeholders such as local chambers of commerce and emergency services.
``We even had experts from councils and emergency services suggesting module topics and including localised content, which was wonderful,’’ Ms Hanvin said.
``We know that connected communities are resilient communities, and this project was created to bring business communities together to learn, connect and find collective solutions to problems identified.’’
The data from each module (stripped of information that identifies individuals and businesses) will be provided to local stakeholders so they can identify local capabilities, gaps and vulnerabilities.
For example, 70 per cent of businesses said they needed power to operate their business but 61 per cent said they had no access to an alternative power source. Multiple council areas are now looking into alternative power supplies and renewable energy to help their businesses continue operating in the event of a power outage.
Ms Hanvin thanked the businesspeople, councils, and communities of Northern NSW for embracing the BCR Toolkit.
``We are excited by the feedback on how this is changing for the better the way people are doing business during their recovery, not just from the bushfires but also pandemics, floods, cyber-attacks and other disasters.
``Unfortunately, we live in an era of compound disasters so it’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ a crisis will happen, so there is still much work to be done to help businesses do disasters differently.’’
Click HERE to learn more about the BCR Toolkit program.