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.

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?

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