A Newcomer’s Guide to Business Recovery

Guest Posting by Sasha Azar, Research Assistant and Master’s Candidate, Georgetown University

A number of researchers, including the Recovery Diva, have stated that recovery (especially long-term recovery) is the least understood and studied aspect of emergency management. More extensive basic and applied research is needed in this area in order to better address the anticipated growth in size and frequency of future disasters.

Although there is a critical need for more data on recovery overall, one particular subset of recovery remains severely underdeveloped. Business recovery is a key element of community recovery efforts, yet very little knowledge based on research is available on the topic. The resources available regarding business recovery are largely sparse, sporadic, and often elementary in nature. On the other hand, a plethora of resources are available regarding business recovery’s sexier sister, business continuity, which is an entirely different concept that focuses mostly on IT. The disconnect that exists between the amounts of information available on the two topics further exemplifies how little is really understood about recovery.

Unlike my earlier posting on this blog on Are You New to Recovery Research, very few, if any, online resources exist that emphasize business recovery. Two good and recent examples are Planning for Post-Disaster Recovery: A Review of the United States Disaster Assistance Framework, a textbook by Gavin Smith,  and Disaster Recovery by Brenda Phillips are good general print resources regarding this topic. In addition to textbooks, a few journals have published articles specific to business recovery. Some of the better articles are listed and described below:

Businesses and Disasters: Empirical Patterns and Unanswered Questions, a study by G. Webb, K. Tierney, and J. Dahlhamer (1999), was one of the first to thoroughly explore the topic of business recovery through qualitative research. The Disaster Research Center (DRC) at the University of Delaware collected data from 5,000 private-sector firms across the country. The study revealed a number of interesting findings, including which factors influence and affect the ability of businesses to recover following major disaster events.

Organizations at Risk: What Happens When Small Businesses and Not-for-Profits Encounter Natural Disasters, a robust report by D. Alesch, J. Holly, E. Mittler, and R. Nagy (2001) published by the Public Entity Risk Institute (PERI), delved into the particular challenges small businesses and not-for-profits face following a disaster. A separate set of recovery obstacles exists for these smaller firms that are altogether not present for larger firms, and this report aimed to expose those obstacles and provide recommendations for improvement based on the results of the analysis.

Building Community Resiliency: Spatial Links between Household and Business Post-Disaster Return, a report by Yu Xiao and Shannon Van Zandt (2011), explored the interdependency of households’ and businesses’ ability to recover following a disaster. The return of households and businesses to a community is mutually dependent, as the reopening of businesses can influence nearby households’ decisions to return to the community just as the return of households to the area will increase the chances that a business will return as well.

Two provide analyses of business recovery actions following a number of major disasters in an effort to better understand private-sector recovery practices and suggest areas for improvement.

Predicting Long-Term Business Recovery from Disaster: A Comparison of the Loma Prieta Earthquake and Hurricane Andrew, also by G. Webb, K. Tierney, and J. Dahlhamer (2002), found that a number of factors, such as the economic sector in which a business operates and the scope of its primary market, can be used to predict future success of business recovery efforts. Predictability is an important function of emergency management, and this report’s findings—though published over a decade ago—still provide useful information for today’s professionals in the field.

New Orleans Business Recovery in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, an analysis by J. LeSage, R. Pace, N. Lam, R. Campanella, and X. Liu (2010), considered the decision-making processes used by businesses in the affected area to evaluate whether to reopen, relocate, or close indefinitely and the factors that influenced such decisions. The outcome of the analysis highlighted several important implications for how business recovery analyses should be conducted in the future, and even how government aid programs are likely to be affected by these findings.

The above reports, articles, and analyses provide a good general introduction to the complexities of business recovery, but much more empirical data is needed for professionals in the field to find the information reliable.


See also the site for Rothstein Associates – It’s hard to characterize this site: it provides resources for businesses after a disaster and maintains a bookstore with products that cover recovery practices and training for business recovery.

Restore YourEconomy.org; Disaster Preparedness and Economic Recovery
Sponsored by the U.S. Economic Development Agency and the International Economic Development Council


Thanks to Pierre Picard for his review of this posting. We welcome additional suggestions and comments.

1 thought on “A Newcomer’s Guide to Business Recovery

  1. Very interesting piece. There should be no disconnect between business continuity and business recovery. The latter should be built into the former. I recently put forward just such a position with respect to tourism. I was asked to focus on tourism at the tertiary level but the terms of reference was to evaluate the curricula for inclusion of disaster risk reduction and Climate change adaptation. In that instance, I suggested that tertiary institutions should create a course entitled “business continuity for the tourism sector.” Such a course would be based on risk management but would include the environmental, disaster, climate change risks that would affect tourism enterprises. This concept can be applied to any business.

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