Innovation

Should You Cash In on Disaster?

It may be uncomfortable to profit from devastation, but no one can deny that demand is surging

Written by Deborah Aarts

In the past few weeks, Canada has started to resemble a disaster zone.

First, Calgary and most of Southern Alberta were blindsided by once-in-a-lifetime flooding. Thousands of homes and businesses were seriously damaged, if not destroyed. It’s been nearly three weeks since the deluge, and Albertans still have a massive mess to clean up.

Then, a huge explosion triggered by a runaway railcar turned the small town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec into a disaster area. It will likely take months for life to return to a semblance of normalcy in the small community—if it ever does.

Now, as I write this, the Toronto area is scrambling to recover from the greatest single-day rainfall in the city’s history. Sirens are wailing outside my office window at PROFIT headquarters. Tens of thousands of people are facing flooded basements and damaged properties.

Even the most steadfast optimist has to admit that things are volatile. More and more, we’re faced with big, messy occurrences that have big, messy consequences.

Experts agree that climate change is making natural disasters—think: floods, droughts, hurricanes and tsunamis—increasingly frequent. And as the crisis in Lac-Mégantic proves, we’re not exactly excelling when it comes to quelling man-made catastrophes. Factoring in aging infrastructure across the country and you have a very uneasy situation.

Read: Your Risk-Management Primer

Someone’s got to clean all this up. And as recent events have proven, governments—well-intentioned though they may be—simply aren’t equipped to do the work alone.

The private sector has been involved in disaster recovery for ages, be it directly (think: emergency response, building restoration and data recovery) or indirectly (think: temporary accommodation, infrastructure repair, skilled trades training/placement and insurance). But the protracted cleanup times after any major recent disaster suggest that the current service offerings just aren’t enough to cover big disasters at the frequency with which they’re occurring.

Read: How to Meet Demand for Disaster-Preparedness

This is quickly becoming an enormous problem. And as any entrepreneur knows, when there’s a problem, there’s opportunity.

Disaster recovery is messy business, by its very nature extremely variable. And it can be uncomfortable to be in a line of work that directly profits from the discomfort and/or distress of others—not to mention a potential PR disaster (look no further than recent outrage about the rigid policies of certain insurance companies in Alberta).

Read: The Basics of Crisis PR

But it can also be seen as a very tangible way to give back to society during times of great need; in fact, there’s an argument to be made that disaster recovery is social entrepreneurship of the most primal variety. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the financial spoils can be lucrative.)

And as with most dirty work, it desperately needs doing. Frankly, I don’t think my neighbours who are attempting, futilely, to find someone to clear the sewage from their basement this morning would care that some company is making a buck to do the work. They just want someone to do it.

So, is disaster recovery a growth business? There’s every reason to expect that Canadians will have more messes to clean up more often in the years to come. If you can provide an innovative, scalable, responsive and, ideally, affordable way to help people stuck in the worst of conditions—or, if we’re really thinking big here, tools and/or services that reduce the risk in the first place—I’d wager that your business prospects are rock-solid.

Deborah Aarts is an award-winning senior editor at PROFIT Magazine. Her coverage of opportunities and challenges for Canada’s entrepreneurial innovators covers HR, leadership, sales and international trade, among other topics.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com