Remembering Hurricane Katrina: Declaration Stories

August 29, 2015, marks the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which decimated New Orleans and other areas in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Because of Katrina — and later Rita along the Texas Gulf Coast and Wilma in South Florida — 2005 was a landmark year not only for us at Rentsys but for many of our customers as well. By year’s end, we had experienced 43 disaster declarations, some of which lasted for months or even over a year.

Steve O'Neal, a current account executive and former operations manager, spoke to us about some of the memorable declarations he recalls from August and September 2005.

Helping Keep Gas Prices Down

Command Center MRC
Mobile Command Center
Photo by Glen Boote
Off the coast of Louisiana, a critical oil terminal and one of its refineries lost communications after  Katrina. Connectivity was (and is) a key part of the crude oil supply chain, as each facility needed to be able to communicate with and provide refined products to refineries around the country.

By providing a Mobile Command Center equipped with satellite equipment, we were able to help the plants restore communications, which in turn led to a drop in gas prices. (Watch our video "Real Stories About Real Declarations" to hear more about this story.) 

Coping With Gas Shortages and Sleeping in Motor Homes

Spare fuel tank in front of MRC
Spare fuel tank for Mobile Claims Office
Photo by Glen Boote
Although gas production continued, supply was short in areas of the country that had been affected by Katrina. We witnessed the shortage firsthand during a declaration in Covington, LA, just 40 miles north of downtown New Orleans, where we deployed a Mobile Claims Office for an insurance company.

We’d come prepared with a gas tank to fuel the claims center, and because the mobile unit was deployed next to a gas station, people flocked to us looking for fuel when the gas station ran out. 

We had to conserve fuel ourselves, as our team and the client had each deployed motor homes to sleep in. (The hotels that were open were full, and at one point our crew was asked to leave a hotel in Louisiana when the highway patrol commandeered it as a command post.) Some nights there were as many as 10 people sleeping in makeshift beds on the floors and couches in the motor homes.

Giving People a Place to Cash FEMA Checks

Mobile Banking Center
Mobile Banking Center in Pascagoula, MS
Photo by Glen Boote

Steve had been working more than 20 days straight when a bank in Pascagoula, MS declared. The company’s entire first floor — along with most of the town — was flooded. FEMA was cutting checks for recovery efforts, but there was nowhere in town for people to cash them, so our client wanted to resume operations in a Mobile Banking Center.

Once the branch was open, the bank gained several new customers who opened accounts so they could cash their FEMA checks. Despite dealing with their own crises in the aftermath of the hurricane, the bank’s employees had returned to work to help provide this critical service to the community. (Some employees even resorted to threading rope through their belt loops because they had no belts!) Since air-conditioned spaces were hard to find, many staff members brought their family members with them to the mobile unit. 

Responding to the Aftermath

Unfortunately, Katrina was not the grand finale for the 2005 hurricane season. In September, Rita triggered one of the largest evacuations in U.S. history, and in October, Wilma struck South Florida.

Meanwhile, even as we responded to declarations related to each of these storms, we maintained our regular testing schedule. "You’re not going to reschedule our test?" our Northern customers asked in shock. We had DR coordinators deployed all over the country for declarations and tests, but we were still able to respond to every call within our normal time frame.

For many residents affected by Katrina and the subsequent hurricanes that year, recovery was not so timely. Even today, New Orleans is still recovering from the impact of Katrina.

Was your business affected by Katrina? How did you cope with the effects of the storm?

One Thing Your Cloud Provider Could Be Missing

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Your cloud solution could be missing something. We’re not talking about bandwidth, security or service level agreements (though these things are all important). We’re talking about customer service.

Often businesses evaluating potential cloud vendors are focused so much on tech specs that they don’t think about the matter of interacting with the vendor after the contract is signed. Sometimes this isn’t an issue if you’ve chosen a good provider. Other times, however, you might find that getting the support you need is like pulling teeth.

The following three categories can help you identify if a potential service provider will be a help or hindrance to meeting your data and application management goals.

Listening Skills

Are the cloud provider’s representatives trying to sell you services you don’t need, or are they dedicated to helping you build a backup solution that’s right for you? To get the most value out of your cloud solution, you need to make sure you’re not paying for products and services that you won’t use or that don’t do what you need them to.

Technical Assistance

What type of technical assistance does the provider offer? Support options could include self-service, phone support, on-site, in-house, outsourced or a combination.

It’s also important to know when assistance is available. Is the support provider — whether it be your vendor or a third party — only available during business hours? Is the company in the same time zone as you?  Be sure to find out what level of support to expect and make sure you’re comfortable with it.

Technician Certifications

Knowing who will be offering your support can be almost as important as knowing the type of support you’ll receive. If you’re using a managed cloud service, are the people who will be handling your data certified engineers? Even if you manage your own data, will you have access to qualified help desk agents to resolve any issues?

Working with the right vendor can make a world of difference in how effective your cloud solution is for your business. To read more about best practices for implementing a cloud solution, read this post.

[INFOGRAPHIC] Continuity Planning Among Midsize Businesses

Nearly all (92 percent) of today’s midsize businesses have a business continuity plan in place, according to The Hartford’s 2014 Midsize Business Monitor, the results of which were released in July 2015.

But this figure isn’t as optimistic as it seems when you consider that 33 percent of these plans are verbal, and less than a third of the documented continuity plans are tested. Check out The Hartford’s infographic to read more about how midsize businesses are faring when it comes to business continuity.

Continuity Planning Among Midsize Businesses Infographic

For more details on how testing could help midsize organizations improve their ability to respond to a business interruption, read our post "Four Reasons Testing Your Business Continuity Program Is Essential."

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