MONTPELIER -- On Thursday, June 5, IBM specialists will deliver a disaster preparedness workshop to Vermont FoodBank members from flood-prone communities to ensure that organizations caring for some of the state's most vulnerable people have strategies in place before the next disaster strikes. The outcome will be plans that outline how several organizations providing food for Vermont residents can maintain its mission during periods of extreme emergency. This workshop is the last in a series of six sessions provided by IBM in partnership with the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD) to help support the state's recovery from Tropical Storm Irene.
"At each session over the past year, IBM has helped us focus on building resiliency -- not only through improved disaster preparedness, but also through the increased use of digital tools to disseminate information, mobilize community volunteers, and attract donations," said Sharon Combes-Farr, VCRD's Vermont Digital Economy Project Director. "IBM's commitment of $150,000 in Impact Grants provided a significant share of the matching funds for the federal Economic Development Administration disaster relief grant that funded this important VCRD project."
When Tropical Storm Irene tore through the state in 2011, all Vermonters suffered, and those depending on food banks and other services of the social safety net were among the hardest hit. As a result of the disaster preparedness workshops that IBM has conducted, service providers from many vital segments of Vermont's nonprofit spectrum are now able to visualize their missions more clearly and have developed effective strategies and tactics to help ensure continuity of service during future times of crisis, Combes-Farr continued.
"More and more, today's nonprofits must be technologically savvy in leveraging digital tools -- both for operational resilience and also to maximize their message reach, extend their mission, do more good work with less, and raise funds," she said. "This is why the Vermont Digital Economy Project was delighted when IBM made their expert consultants available to us in these important areas."
According to Cathleen Finn, IBM Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs Manager for New England, IBM Impact Grants provide consulting expertise specifically designed for nonprofit organizations so they can better serve their communities.
"IBM wanted to help Vermont in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene. When we became aware of the Vermont Digital Economy Project, we came to the conclusion that providing IBM experts to conduct in-depth analysis and workshops on a number of topics related to disaster preparedness would help many of the state's most essential nonprofits build effective strategies ahead of the next disaster," Finn said. "We have been extremely impressed by how committed Vermont's organizations are in adopting new ways to carry out their missions and better serve the people who depend on them."
Last year, IBM consultants delivered a workshop on disaster preparedness to executives of the Vermont FoodBank, who share responsibility for distributing food to its network of 270 food shelves throughout the state. A similar workshop was held for the 26 members of the Vermont Access Network, who work on the front lines of communication as highly localized media outlets. Though both organizations are very different, both shared the same starting point when preparing a disaster plan.
"The IBM consultants explained that the first step for both organizations during times of disaster is to uphold their missions," Combes-Farr said. "Knowing the most important thing you do helps to guide exactly what you must do in an emergency and what you must protect from risk."
In addition, the portfolio of grants also included a "Strategies for Social Media" workshop hosted by the Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security for the state's emergency managers and their extended nonprofit partners. The end result was a roadmap designed by the IBM consultants which will enable these disparate groups to leverage grassroots volunteers by communicating more seamlessly during times of disaster. A Strategies for Social Media grant was also delivered to the directors of 10 public libraries across the state, and a Web User Experience workshop was given to help Vermont 211 create a strong, more user-friendly website to meet the needs of people who access their website for information about healthcare, childcare, emergency food and shelter, and more. On Thursday, the IBM Impact Grants will wrap up with the final workshop for about a dozen member organizations of the Vermont FoodBank network from across the state.
"Everyone at VCRD and our partner organizations is extremely proud of the work we are doing in Vermont's flood-impacted communities and throughout the state," said Combes-Farr. "Without the Impact Grant donations by IBM, much of this great work would not have been possible."
About The Vermont Digital Economy Project: The Vermont Digital Economy Project was created by the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD) to address vulnerabilities of Vermont business and communities that are not fully utilizing online tools. The project offers free support to speed flood recovery, spur economic development and job growth, and improve community resilience to disasters. The project is working directly with more than 40 of the towns that were affected by flooding to help businesses, nonprofits, and municipalities expand their innovative use of online tools. It is funded by a disaster recovery grant from the Economic Development Administration and from the donations and expertise of its partners (IBM, Microsoft, the Snelling Center for Government, the Vermont Department of Libraries, the Vermont Small Business Development Center, and the Vermont State Colleges) to provide grant services. More information can be found online at .