In the Eye of the Storm

Article by:
Eric Keiles EO Philadelphia
Eric Morgan
EO New Orleans

Have you ever thought about taking a few hours to grab whatever you could from your house and business before high-tailing it out of town, not knowing when or if you’d ever return? Yeah, me either. But that is what I awoke to one memorable Sunday morning.

I live in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, one of the most interesting and culturally unique cities in the US… and one of the most vulnerable places on earth when it comes to hurricanes. On 28

August 2005, I awoke and turned on the television. Looking at the weather reports, I saw the most impressive storm churning in the Gulf of Mexico. It was less than a day away from New Orleans and packing winds of more than 150 mph. This Category 5 storm was coming right for us.

The standard operating procedure for a hurricane evacuation is to pack the essentials for about three days of work/life, just long enough for the storm to blow over. I grabbed a laundry basket of clothes, all the photo albums I could put my hands on and my dog. I also grabbed some work folders, my books for the class I teach, the back-up tapes for the server and my laptop. All vital stuff, and yet,

I was nowhere near prepared for what Mother Nature had in store. The magnitude of this crisis made me realize that that my marketing firm and the four employees on staff were in no shape to handle our clients’ needs remotely. I also realized that I wasn’t equipped to handle the internal operations that are required to ensure all of the staff’s needs are met. This unexpected emergency taught me that a business is never truly prepared for something like this.

However, there are steps that can be taken to mitigate the negative outcomes that may arise. For me, the following are the lessons we learned— the hard way.

Automation and access anywhere is a must
Hurricane Katrina made landfall one day before payday. Because we never used auto-deposits and because I failed to grab the company checks before I hit the road, payroll wasn’t going to happen. We are now on an auto-deposit system that allows us to execute payroll and other financial duties from anywhere with Internet access.

Remote facilities are critical
Evacuating with back-up tapes is pointless unless you’re able to find a server that utilizes the same back-up system. Learning this, we have since relocated to a remote facility that stores our server out of harm’s way. In addition, we have set up remote office locations for everyone to call home from time to time.

Web-based applications are required to prevent interruption
Most of the software applications on which we operated were run on individual computers with databases on our server. That is not an ideal infrastructure when the server is trapped in New Orleans without electricity. Today, every employee is equipped with a laptop and has full access to a suite of applications that we rely on daily, all of which are Web-based platforms.

Communication is not to be taken lightly
After the disaster, we collected the cell phone numbers and personal e-mails of anyone vital to the operation of our business (i.e., banker, lawyer, clients, etc.). If I had to leave town this minute, I can contact just about everyone through alternative means. Having multiple ways to contact key people is invaluable.

Plan for the worst, pray for the best
From here on out, we treat every potential disaster like it’s the real thing. Since Hurricane Katrina, everyone in my office has been given a large Tupperware cart. If a storm is approaching, everyone takes home their essential files, disaster manual and hardware as if they won’t be returning in the morning. Preparation is essential for success.

Daily reinforcement and support is powerful
One thing I managed to do well was keep my staff informed. Given the enormity of the situation, I’m sure everyone had questions about the future of the company and their careers. I immediately initiated a daily call into our conference number. By doing this, I was able to reassure my staff that the company was financially healthy and could work away from our office for a sustained period of time.

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