Going Beyond Disaster Relief To Disaster Resilience

Abbott, nonprofit partners build resilience in communities most impacted by natural disasters.

Sustainability|Jul.14, 2023

Resilience. It’s often defined as the ability to recover quickly from challenges and difficulties. It requires adaptability and is a skill that is especially important for families and communities facing extreme weather or other unexpected challenges where so much can change – without warning.

When natural disasters like hurricanes hit, there is always an immediate need for food, water and medical supplies. However, organized disaster-relief efforts can take days to ramp up – putting communities in danger, especially residents facing ongoing health challenges and food insecurity.

That’s exactly what the world saw after Hurricane Katrina ravaged communities across the southern U.S. in 2005. Damaged and flooded roads severely limited access to some communities, leaving many families without urgently needed relief. The biggest lesson from Katrina was that more needed to be done to help communities prepare in advance. So that’s exactly what we did in 2006 – launching two initiatives to store essential nutrition and healthcare products at clinics and food banks in advance of hurricane season.

Over nearly two decades, these disaster prep initiatives have made a real difference, providing critically needed support for hundreds of thousands of people. But we saw crucial gaps remained. And with extreme weather events becoming more common and typically causing the greatest hardship to those with the least resources to bounce back, we have further refined our strategy – working with trusted partner organizations to expand beyond preparedness, response and recovery to also focus on ongoing disaster mitigation to build more resilient communities.

Working to Help Build Year-Round Resilience

We know product donations are not enough to build capable and reliable disaster response systems. Building community resilience means constantly thinking ahead, identifying and taking preventative measures to avoid and lessen the impact of disasters, adapting to unforeseen circumstances and listening closely to specific community needs.

"What resilience looks like for one community may be very different than another. Every community faces unique challenges before – and certainly after – natural disasters,” said Suki McClatchey, director of global citizenship, Abbott. “We don’t have all the answers, but we are committed to listening and working in close collaboration with on-the-ground partners to help identify and meet the needs of each community before disaster strikes. As we learn more, we’re continuing to shift our thinking and approach to take a more proactive role in preparedness – going beyond product donations to providing power generators and emergency response system infrastructure to meet local needs."

Unfortunately, communities most vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather are also those that are historically underinvested in other areas, putting them at risk for higher impacts of disaster. That’s why we’re also looking at how our partnerships can help to address underlying health disparities that are often driven by interconnected social and economic issues like poverty, structural racism, and access to healthcare, education and opportunity.

For the third year, Abbott and the Abbott Fund are implementing targeted disaster resilience strategies to help prevent and mitigate the impact of hurricanes on communities in New Orleans, Dallas, Orlando and Puerto Rico, all areas where Abbott has established partnerships with two organizations – Feeding America® and Direct Relief – to help communities to prepare for hurricane season.

The focus of these efforts is on providing resources for infrastructure and systems at food banks and community health clinics to strengthen their capacity to mitigate the impact of disasters. This includes investments in generators, heavy equipment and supplies, staff training and emergency protocols.

One example: to help meet increased needs at neighboring, smaller food banks in Puerto Rico, this year the partnership helped the regional food bank, Banco de Alimentos, to invest in additional on-site space and equipment. This included building additional assembly lines for processing food donations, including electric conveyors, pallet jacks and other equipment that will significantly expand the number of food boxes they can quickly assemble and distribute when disasters strike.

This builds on earlier efforts in Puerto Rico that supported disaster and emergency preparedness workshops, installed 15 electric generators and distributed 35 emergency backpacks to "first responder" community organizations. Each backpack contains shelf stable water and food, safety gear for sheltering in place, and first aid materials – enough supplies for a team of four people to last three days. Not only will these tools augment an existing strong business continuity plan, but they will expand product available for distribution during response and recovery periods..

Local partners in Puerto Rico distribute an electric generator purchased through new Abbott Fund grants designed to support the resiliency of community organizations.

Building on our existing disaster prep programs (see details below), we're also expanding our ongoing product donations in these four key regions, providing community clinics with additional quantities of our nutrition products to better meet local needs. These nutrition products will help more than 650 people.

Additionally, we're providing nutrition support for food banks to address child hunger and meet year-round nutrition needs for families, with direct funding, product donations and employee volunteering where possible.

Preparing for Hurricane Season: Providing the Right Products in the Right Places

Since 2006, we’ve partnered with Feeding America and Direct Relief on two initiatives to better prepare for hurricane season by storing nutrition and healthcare products at clinics and food banks in high-risk areas.

  • “Disaster Relief Packs” for food banks: Abbott and Feeding America have provided nutrition disaster relief packs to local food banks in areas at risk of hurricanes, including Florida, Louisiana, Puerto Rico and Texas. Designed to be given directly to families affected by disasters, the packs can meet immediate nutritional needs for three days.
    Tailored to different family sizes, the packs contain Abbott nutrition products for children and adults, including Pedialyte® rehydration solutions, Ensure® and PediaSure® nutrition drinks and ZonePerfect® bars. Altogether, 4,000 packs will provide rapid nutrition support for more than 12,000 people. Thanks to the disaster relief packs and related efforts, more than 660,000 people have had access to nutrition and healthcare support over the last 17 years.
  • “Disaster Relief Modules” for health clinics: Abbott is also proud to continue working with Direct Relief to provide supplies for disaster relief to 80 health clinics providing community medical care across the U.S. Southeast and Gulf Coasts, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. These modules provide clinics with the key first aid supplies and medicines they need to treat 100 patients for three to five days immediately after a hurricane.
    In the first year of the partnership in 2006, the Direct Relief modules contained only Abbott products. Today, the modules include essential products from many other healthcare companies along with Abbott nutrition and diabetes care products. This year, the modules will serve more than 2,000 people in need.

Longstanding Support for Communities Affected by Disasters

In 2022, these efforts demonstrated their value in Puerto Rico and Florida after Hurricanes Fiona and Ian. Staff were equipped to respond, protocols were in place, and our pre-positioned products were distributed immediately to vulnerable populations, including homebound patients.

In addition to U.S.-targeted disaster resiliency and preparedness programs, Abbott is a longtime supporter of disaster relief efforts worldwide. Over the past decade, Abbott and the Abbott Fund have provided more than $50 million in funding and products to help meet both immediate needs and support long-term recovery efforts. In recent years, this included a rapid response to earthquakes in Turkey, Indonesia, Pakistan and Haiti; typhoons and flooding in Indonesia, Turkey, China and Malaysia; and hurricanes across the U.S. Gulf and East Coasts.

“With the evolving climate impacting areas in unique ways, it is so important that we are always listening, collaborating and working together to ensure we find the best approach for each community,” said Suki McClatchey. “Building resilience requires a willingness to evolve and continue to meet the ongoing needs of the communities that need it the most.”

For more on our work to address disasters, click here. And for another example of how we're helping to build more resilient communities, click here.