Deja Vu

August 25th, 2017

[In 2008, Hurricane Ike took direct aim on Houston. The morning before it struck, I wrote my newsletter about awaiting a hurricane. Here we go again. In the next 12 hours, Hurricane Harvey is going to hit the Texas coast. I think now would be a good time to share my thoughts from nine years ago.]

Fluffy white clouds flow by outside my window, drifting in the breeze among brilliant blue skies. Two squirrels chase each other up and down pine trees in our front yard, playfully tossing bark onto the green lawn below. High-pitched screeching sounds emanate from their tiny mouths, the only noise from an otherwise silent cul de sac.

It’s 9:00 a.m. CDT on Friday, a beautiful September morning. A little more than 375 miles away, in the heated Gulf of Mexico the waters are surging, fueled by the swirling winds of a hurricane. In 15 hours, the center of Ike will make landfall on the Texas coast – most likely near Galveston – 80 miles from our home on the northwest side of Houston.

Residents of Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida deal with this uncertainty often, and you’ve seen the damage a hurricane can bring. In the decade we’ve lived here, only Rita three years ago this month caused as much anxiety as this storm. That time, the nation’s fourth largest city evacuated. For us, it was an 18-hour journey to travel 275 miles to family in Fort Worth. Four days later, a four-hour drive returned us to our untouched home.

This time we’re riding out the storm. Over the past two days, Ike has taken a more northern path. What was projected on Wednesday to be a direct hit Cat 3 appears to be losing strength and tailing to the right. The majority of Houston may end up on the clean and less severe side. Nevertheless, 75 mph winds could throttle our home for eight hours. It will be a long night. Power will be lost. Many will suffer damage.
. . . . . .

I provide executive coaching for several high-level leaders at the company that services electricity and gas transmission in our area. By coincidence, I had scheduled for Thursday a shadowing exercise – in which I observe the client interacting with others and provide immediate feedback.

Arriving on the 46th floor of their downtown office building, I knew it wouldn’t be my typical experience. The first thing on the agenda was a conference call in which leaders throughout the organization – from the CEO to the person in charge of catering – discussed and fine-tuned plans for Ike. They will operate with an “all hands on deck” approach until the storm passes, then things really get intense as they restore power, which could take three weeks in some places.

The key to recovering from a situation like Ike is to establish procedures far in advance. Their 2008 Emergency Operations Plan was finalized in May, weeks before the beginning of the hurricane season. There was a dry run that month and a real test a few weeks ago that resulted in no damage when tropical storm Eduordo fizzled.

As my slow-reacting neighbors scampering around to find water, non-perishable food and gasoline are experiencing, you don’t get ready for a hurricane when it’s knocking on your door. The same goes for preparedness in your business. When it comes to planning for your future – whether strategically, emergency or exit strategy – don’t wait until the moment arrives to start thinking, “What do we need to do?” The time for those thoughts is today.

I’m not sure how the next 24 hours will progress, but the sun will return soon. Residents will repair, rebuild and re-energize. Plus, I’ll finally get around to visiting the local lumberyard to buy boards for our windows. No sense worrying about winds and flying objects when the next hurricane arrives.

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