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Monday, 29 October 2007 23:29

Hurricane Andrew: The Human Side of Hurricane

Written by  Richard Arnold, CDRP
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1992 has been a horrible year for disasters of all kinds. Earthquakes, riots, floods and now hurricanes have caused unprecedented damage. Unlike the Chicago Flood, business’ biggest disaster ever, Hurricane Andrew wreaked a terrible human toll. I visited south Florida recently, and was shocked to see many residential areas are still piles of rubble.

Although many businesses suffered physical and financial losses from the hurricane, the vast human crisis has complicated recovery plans. Even relatively unaffected companies with recovery plans in place have struggled because their employees were hit so hard by the disaster.

The hurricane missed the Miami business district by 20 miles, sparing many businesses from the destruction. South Florida’s residential areas, however, have been completely levelled. Many residents are homeless, even more have been stripped of basic resources.

These victims are understandably more concerned about their families and their survival than they are about their jobs. People are looking for a place to live; most are too traumatized to do anything else. This vast regional disaster underscores the responsibility companies have to their employees when developing contingency plans.

Rodney Hargroder presided over a successful recovery at Premier Bank in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Hargroder learned, “We had a basic assumption in our disaster recovery plan that staff would be available for recovery, but we had some no-shows at the Emergency Operations Center. At one point, we had one person staffing our data center.”

For companies in south Florida, personnel problems were worse. Organizations could not communicate with or even locate many employees. Bell South’s first priority after the disaster was finding employees and helping their families recover. By mobilizing corporate emergency resources, Bell South tried to meet the survival needs of its employees, providing food, supplies and crisis trauma counseling.

Bruce Blythe, president of Crisis Management International, coordinated counseling efforts for Bell South. According to Blythe, Bell South engaged in an extensive effort to help its employees and their families deal with the traumatic stress from the disaster. For weeks after the initial disaster, Bell South continued to provide support to its employees.

All the people and companies affected by the hurricane will feel the impact of traumatic stress for months and even years to come. Those companies who provided direct support to their employees, however, are well ahead in their recovery planning.

In an unusual resolution to a personnel crisis, Arby’s corporate office “borrowed” the person who had set up their Florida data center from another company. Vic Anderson, currently with Haverty Furniture in Atlanta, wrote the disaster recovery plan for Arby’s Florida data center, but it had not been tested. When the hurricane knocked out windows, power and air conditioning at the Arby’s data center, they asked Haverty to “loan out” Anderson to supervise their hot site recovery in Atlanta.

Two civic groups who provided assistance throughout the recovery were the Brotherhood Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention of Memphis, Tenn., and the Texas Baptist Men of Dallas, Texas. These two groups were already moving into Florida and Louisiana preparing relief efforts as the hurricane was approaching and later responded to the devastation in Hawaii. These relief and recovery teams used Global Water Technologies’ water purification systems and power generators in conjunction with mobile kitchens to provide for people in emergency situations.

A growing number of organizations are developing corporate-wide contingency plans which address regional disasters and personnel emergencies. A safe data center is of little use if no one is there to run it.
Lessons learned from yet another disaster can help us all to be better prepared for the future.

Richard Arnold is Editor-in-Chief of the Disaser Recovery Journal.

This article adapted from Vol. 5 #4.

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