Last Thursday, IBM consultants delivered a disaster preparedness for nonprofits workshop to food shelf managers from across Vermont to ensure that organizations caring for some of the state’s most vulnerable people have strategies in place before the next disaster strikes.

Pat Corcoran with Vermont Food Shelves

Pat Corcoran, the founder of IBM’s Business Continuity & Resiliency Services Group, led the discussion to two dozen Vermont food shelf manager

Two dozen food shelf professionals took part in the day-long workshop, which was developed and delivered by Pat Corcoran, the founder of IBM’s Business Continuity & Resiliency Services Group. In addition to five representatives from the Barre-based Vermont Foodbank, attendees included two or more people from each of eight food shelves from the extensive Vermont Foodbank (VFB) network.

Pat is one of the world’s premier experts in business continuity, a term that refers to the planning and preparations for ensuring that an organization is able to continue its most important operations in the event of a disaster or other serious disruption. During the course of our project, as well as within the IBM workshops, we also call this “disaster preparedness” and “disaster readiness.”

The starting point for all disaster planning, as Pat explained, is for the organizations to know very clearly what their mission is and why. This is because the sole purpose of disaster planning is to protect these critical missions, and to ensure that they continue without disruption. As Pat puts it, “knowing the most important thing you do helps to guide exactly what you must do in an emergency, as well as what you must protect from risk.”

Pat Corcoran Presenting

Pat Corcoran founded IBM’s Business Continuity & Resiliency Services Group and is one of the world’s premier experts in business continuity.

In the case of the VFB network organizations, the core mission is the delivery of food to needy people. Over the course of the workshop, Pat walked these local food shelves step by step through all aspects of their business so that they left the workshop with the information they need to create disaster plans specific to their own organization. This will help to ensure that the network will continue providing food for Vermont residents during periods of extreme emergency.

Last November, Pat delivered a similar workshop to the entire executive team of the Vermont Foodbank, who together share responsibility for distributing food to the Foodbank’s network of 270 food shelves throughout the state. You can read more about last year’s workshop here.

“We are lucky to get access to the top expert in this field,” said Chris Meehan Chief Community Impact Officer from Vermont Foodbank. “The Vermont Foodbank had a disaster plan when Irene hit and we had to act immediately. We were able to assess our plan afterward to take stock of what we did right and what we could do better. And, six months ago, thanks to the Vermont Digital Economy Project, we were able to work with IBM to put together a more holistic disaster preparedness plan for organizational continuity,” Chris continued.

Disaster Readiness Plan

Participants started disaster readiness plans for their organizations using this custom workbook created by IBM business continuity experts

When I approached Chris about the opportunity to extend the same disaster preparedness for nonprofits planning exercise to its network, she jumped at the chance. Speaking to the representatives from the network food shelves, Chris said: “As food shelves, you are meeting the needs of individuals every single day. I was excited to give you this opportunity to take time out of your day-to-day activities to come together to work on your own disaster plan.”

Although every food shelf was made aware of the opportunity, space limitations meant that the VFB had to be very selective in determining which small subset of Vermont food shelves would be able to participate directly in the free workshop. Luckily, IBM is making the material available so that food shelves not able to take part directly in the session will still be able to reap the benefits of this important information.

Chris and other members of the VFB team remain very impressed with the power of the planning exercise and will work to add organizational disaster and risk planning to their regular training for network partners.

This workshop is the last in a series of six separate consultant-led engagements provided by IBM in partnership with VCRD to help support the state’s recovery from Tropical Storm Irene. IBM’s commitment of $150,000 worth of consulting in Impact Grants provided a significant share of the matching funds for the federal Economic Development Administration disaster relief grant that funded VCRD’s Vermont Digital Economy Project.