After November's catastrophic Camp Fire in Butte County, technological support for business owners was of much less immediate concern than survivors' need for food, water, shelter — but it has since become a key focus for public and private sector groups.

The deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history claimed some 85 lives, blackened 153,000 acres, destroyed 18,800 structures and caused billions of dollars in damage.

Less quantifiable was the effect on business in the area.

Linda Zorn of Butte-Glenn Community College District knew it was bad. She leads the Butte County Economic and Workforce Development (EWD) team in meeting business needs in the region.

With the goal of helping local businesses resume or maintain operations after the fire, Zorn contacted Stewart Knox, executive director of California's nonprofit Employment Training Panel (ETP). Established in 1982 and funded by an employer tax, the ETP has for 30 years been the state’s premier program supporting job creation and retention through training.  

Knox, in turn, saw a way for the private sector to help with the business recovery project.

“All  I did was make the connection with Salesforce for help,” Knox said. “They really stepped up and have assisted the county and the community college in setting up a system of tracking, etc.”

Knox’s contact at Salesforce was Senior Account Executive Jeff Vargas, with whom Knox had worked previously on contracts for ETP. Vargas was among those who brought the need to the attention of his company’s philanthropic arm, Salesforce.org.

Zorn picked up the narrative: “Butte College took the lead in working with Salesforce (a Customer Relationship Management software) to provide 50 pro bono licenses in addition to hours of technical support to get us up and running. Through the efforts of Butte College EWD, these licenses were donated for a 24-month term.

“The Salesforce CRM is an important component for the communication among the members of the Butte County Business Recovery Task Force,” Zorn added.

In a statement to Techwire, Salesforce said: “In the face of the devastation leveled by the Camp Fire, Salesforce employees stepped up in many ways and tapped into their Volunteer Time Off (VTO), including lending their pro bono skills or rolling up their sleeves in local shelters.”

The Camp Fire Multi-Agency Business Recovery task force “is leveraging Salesforce Sales Cloud to serve as the central CRM to track communication with the businesses owners and the coordination of available services,” the company statement said. “Thanks to the flexibility of the platform, each business' unique needs can be captured, and service providers are able to access the information on any device, anywhere, which is critical given the limited infrastructure available in the wake of the tragedy.”

In addition to Vargas, the Salesforce team for this project included Solutions Engineering Director Benjamin Ault and Lead Solution Engineer Mike Livingston.

“I just called my guys Ben and Mike and ran it by them,” Vargas said, “and immediately we all knew we just needed to assist.” The team met with the task force at the project start to better understand the scope of the project.

Zorn said Ault and Livingston "spent a significant amount of time onsite with this group and lending their pro bono configuration services.”

Said Vargas: “I just knew a lot of people had their lives turned upside-down, and being with a company like Salesforce gave me the opportunity and resources to help those that were affected.”