While government authorities are working to clear up the mess of Hurricane Sandy, brands should ask themselves if they can play a meaningful role in times of crises
Amidst the storm and in the aftermath, one brand has stood out as doing more for people in a crisis than any other: Google. The search engine's philanthropic arm, Google.org is singularly providing people with services above and beyond all other brands combined, barring charities and NGOs.
Founded in 2004, Google.org has been playing an increasingly important role in providing people with vital information ahead of major weather events and for helping them cope in the wake of disaster.
The organisation focuses on projects that fit well with the company's make-up: technology innovation, global presence and turning massive amounts of data into useful and accessible information.
Its focus covers crisis response, flu trends and dengue trends. Google.org's activity around the 2011earthquake and tsunami in Japan provided valuable information to those affected and help for family and friends to find out how people they knew were affected. It wasn't just a temporary project. Since the disaster, Google has collaborated with the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and others to rollout tsunami alerts as soon as a risk is detected.
Google.org's approach to Hurricane Sandy has been even more comprehensive and helps redefine what it does: not just 'crisis response' but preparing people for crisis.
Pre-storm, this most useful of branded utility included:
A live map detailing evacuation plans, emergency shelters, storm footage and public alerts and warnings. A partnership with an open data organisation in New York enables people to update a detailed map of the impact.
Marry this with post-storm services and Google is providing a valuable public service for all those affected.
All of this looks even more heroic when compared to the outright profiteering demonstrated by American Apparel and Gap, who have inexplicably used Hurricane Sandy as a platform to flog products.
Google is not alone in the services it provides. Coca-Cola pledged $31m to the reconstruction effort in Japan, while Uniqlo donated a similar amount. But in terms of providing useful information and services, Google alone is ahead of anyone else.
Post-storm, an audit of what brands did in the crisis should be carried out, with the outcome suggesting what brands can do more in future disasters.
Airlines could think about being more open with their data. Utility companies could offer status updates to help businesses plan staff time and resource. Taxi firms could operate on a 'tips-only' basis and large retailers could offer essential products at cost price. Of course, this type of activity is the jurisdiction of local and national authorities. But progressive brands can play a part by partnering with government services or setting up their own initiatives for such crises.
While some are still suffering in the thick of the storm, others are clearing up following the carnage. In time, brands should start thinking about what they can do in future crises. Because everyone remembers who offered them a helping hand when they were at their lowest ebb.