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Hunkering Down

Hunkering Down

As Hurricane Florence barrels into the southeast coast, distributors in Texas who dealt with Hurricane Harvey share hard-won tips on what to expect.


This week, all eyes are on the nation’s southeastern states as they contend with Hurricane Florence, a slow-moving “monster” storm that’s packing 100+ MPH winds and is expected to drive record storm surges and cause potentially catastrophic flooding to a several-state area for a number of days.

Perhaps no one understands the challenges presented by such storms better than those who dealt with the fallout of 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, another catastrophic and slow-moving storm that wreaked havoc on the Houston area.  Below, two Texas-based distributors who experienced and responded to the wrath of Hurricane Harvey – Dave Thomas, lighting sales manager at Facility Solutions Group (www.fsgi.com) in Corpus Christi, and Greg Hochheiser, district vice president at Graybar (www.graybar.com) in Dallas – offer their top tips to help distributors in southeastern states navigate Hurricane Florence as safely and smoothly as possible.

  • Have a Plan – “You’ve got to have a plan,” advised Thomas, who noted that an approaching hurricane gives you time to organize and prioritize. “The immediate concern is ensuring that your employees, their families, and their homes are safe.”

    Hochheiser agreed. “Start early, make sure that you have a contact number for each employee, and create emergency plans that begin with employee safety,” he said.  “Then engage your firm’s local leadership team(s) and ensure that they take an active role in implementing the plan.”  He recommended conducting a daily meeting with all managers before and after the storm to assess employee safety, facility status, and general conditions in the area (as news reports may not give the full situation).  “Each manager must be responsible for confirming the safety of their team as soon as possible,” he added.
  • Expect the Unexpected – “Our area looked like a war zone, with boats stranded in parking lots, cars and RVs turned upside down, and electrical services ripped right off the sides of buildings,” recalled Thomas of the devastating impact that Hurricane Harvey’s powerful winds and flooding rains had on the Houston area. “Electricity will start going down hours ahead of the storm and the main floors of many buildings and residences will end up getting flooded from the storm surge.”

    Hochheiser said that he and his team were surprised by how prepared area businesses actually were.  “Perhaps based on experiences they’d had from past disasters, many businesses in Houston had already moved critical power and systems to higher levels,” he said, “so while those customers had outages, they weren’t devastated by flooding to their critical equipment.”  Many roads were flooded and impassable, however, and for the area’s tens of thousands of residents, “it was about getting structures dry as quickly as possible before mold could take over in the heat and humidity,” Hochheiser said.  “There was also a run on commodities such as gasoline and power-related products like generators, plugs, fans, copper, etc., and contractors were in extremely short supply to do the actual work.  Under those circumstances, our area also sadly saw its share of scams.”
  • Expect Strong Support from Utilities and Federal/State/Local Resources – “We were impressed by the strong presence of representatives from federal, state, and local agencies like FEMA, the Red Cross, etc.,” said Thomas, who added that utilities from all over the country were also onsite and waiting to help as soon as the coast was clear. “In our area, local utility AEP created a ‘city’ with food and facilities for their field workers and 1,200 line trucks,” Thomas said.  “They were very prepared, organized, and focused on ensuring the safety of both their own people and the customers they were serving.”
  • Help Where You Can – According to Hochheiser, local DIY chains throughout Houston helped address the shortage of key commodity products by bringing in lots of additional inventory, as did the teams from Graybar and fellow distributors. “Our branch in Beaumont, TX was cut off due to flooding, so we started by bringing in basic supplies from other locations for employees and families, including temporary power and miscellaneous commodity products like fuses, pipe, wire, tools, fittings, batteries, and even pallets of water,” said Hochheiser, adding that distributors need to work around the particular dynamics of their emergency.  “In our case, logistics and moving things around were the most difficult given the flooding, but with their fleet of trucks and solid knowledge of area roads and logistics overall because they’re out delivering to these communities every day, distributors are perfectly poised to help navigate challenges during disasters.”

    Thomas agreed.  “Be prepared to support the area by hooking up temporary electricity when the power is restored,” he said.  “We have a permanent generator to power our building so that we can communicate with our branches and help transfer products where they need to be.”
  • Have Faith – “Disasters like these can be traumatic for victims, like PTSD,” Thomas confirmed. “There are still piles of debris and homes being torn down throughout the Houston area and you still see remnants of Hurricane Harvey everywhere.  But it’s heartwarming to see so many volunteers come out to help who are so selfless.”  For distributors and communities dealing with difficult conditions throughout the southeast, “just know that you’ll get through it and that things will get better,” he said.

    Hochheiser agreed.  “Everybody’s thoughts and prayers are with the residents of the southeast to be safe, and these emergencies and disaster situations tend to bring out the best in everyone,” he said.  “From our experience, these types of events turn everyone’s focus to the care and well-being of people, families, and properties, and in our area they brought everybody closer.  In the face of these challenges,” he concluded, “you’ll come out stronger on the other side.”
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Susan Bloomis a 25-year veteran of the lighting and electrical products industry.Reach her at susan.bloom.chester@gmail.com.

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