By THOMAS J. DONOHUE
U.S. Chamber Of Commerce
In recent weeks, communities in Northern and Southern California were ravaged by wildfires. The Camp Fire in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains was the most devastating fire in this country in a century, burning the entire town of Paradise to the ground. The Paradise Ridge Chamber of Commerce was one of more than 4,200 buildings destroyed. Yet in the aftermath of the blaze, local business and community leaders vowed to rebuild.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is committed to helping them do it. Our message to all those who have been impacted: Paradise as it was once known may be lost, but hope is not. And more help is on the way.
For years, the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s Corporate Citizenship Center has helped marshal support and coordinate private sector recovery efforts following disasters. Our team provides guidance, assistance, and resources to local businesses harmed or destroyed. More than 2,000 businesses have been impacted by the Camp Fire, including nearly 1,400 that are located in the burn areas.
As the fires began to escalate, the Chamber began activating our resources. We set up our 24-hour Disaster Help Desk to field questions and supply information to area business leaders. We distributed our Recovery Quick Guides, outlining practical steps businesses can take to help their employees, seek financial assistance through insurance and other means, and eventually restore operations.
Now that both fires have been contained, we’re helping lead longer term recovery efforts. Last week we hosted a disaster coordination call with FEMA, state officials, and local chambers of commerce. More than 160 companies also joined the call to learn how they can help.
Many companies have already been involved in relief efforts. Comcast NBCUniversal has pledged $1.1 million in cash and in-kind support for firefighters and victims through local relief organizations, and it opened 51,000 XFINITY WiFi free hotspots. IBM donated $250,000 in cash and is allowing employees to use three additional days of paid time off to volunteer. And besides a cash contribution, United Airlines launched a new Crowdrise by GoFundMe campaign to award up to 5 million bonus miles for individuals who make donations of $50 or more to support affected communities.
This is a great start, but much more is needed, especially in the weeks and months to come. This is only the beginning of the recovery process. The people of Paradise face the daunting task of rebuilding their city, businesses, and homes from the ground up. As efforts proceed, all of those affected must be able to count on the enduring support of the business community.
Thomas J. Donohue is President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and submitted this article to update readers on the assistance the U.S. Chamber is providing to help California wildfire victims in the recovery process.