Before and after a disaster

Jun 04, 2018

Planning and preparation are crucial if you want to take care of your people, take care of your clients, and get your firm back to doing business.

Hurricanes, bomb-cyclones, catastrophic floods – a well-considered plan for crisis and post-crisis operations can help your business weather the storm in more ways than one. Last year’s Hurricane Harvey, for example, was shocking even to a region that thought it had already seen the worst Mother Nature could serve up. While longer-ranging issues – why the region flooded where it flooded, how we should rebuild – will be years in resolving, the immediate imperative for area businesses was all about people. Who is safe? Who is missing? How can we help?

For RPS, the key to operating after a major weather event or other disaster is first ascertaining the personal safety and location of each employee; then determining who’s been impacted, and to what extent; then working to mitigate and resolve those situations to get our people back on their feet and get our teams, our offices, and our business back to business. To make this happen, leadership must have robust processes for contacting employees, handling systems failures, and responding to widespread electrical outages, building closures, and inaccessible streets and transitways.

Within days of Harvey hitting, RPS’ automatic notification system reached all 175 area employees to determine how each was affected by the storm and flooding, and to what degree. With the touch of a telephone button, an email, or a text response, employees could indicate the severity of the storm’s affects on them personally: no damage, some damage, or extensive damage. This gave us a clear idea of how our staff fared in the storm and provided a roadmap going forward of resources needed and how to deploy those resources effectively.

While the majority of employees reported none to minimal damage, some staff suffered significant impacts. Regularly scheduled check-ins were instituted to verify that all staff remained safe and that their needs had not changed nor their situation worsened. Once we determined the extent of need, within 36 hours RPS created a $100,000 employee relief fund. Additionally, we announced to RPS employees outside the impacted region that any funds they donated would be matched by RPS – this raised another $40,000. A fast-tracked process enabled employees-in-need to apply for this financial assistance quickly.

Throughout the week following Harvey’s arrival, RPS continued to contact employees regularly via our automated telephone/email/texting system to provide updates on office closures, street conditions, and the progress on restoring full RPS operations. This consistent contact and built-in redundancy had a three-fold purpose. It assured employees we were making headway on operations and tactical issues, let them know we were actively working to get systems up and running, and assured them we put them first, always. At RPS, our team is our No. 1 asset – the health, safety, and well-being of each employee is paramount. Minimizing uncertainty and instilling a sense of connection are important to maintaining staff well-being and trust.

Externally, RPS teams mobilized to bring food and other supplies to emergency responders in communities across the region. Additionally, we adjusted our social media outreach to reflect sensitivity to the crisis and utilized channels to impart important information. We wanted to let our communities and clients know that while we were working hard to restore our internal operations, we were also concerned with how our region was handling the devastation. All non-critical posts and updates were paused, and when operations were back up and running at functional levels, we issued a post that RPS in Houston was indeed back open for business.

What Harvey taught us. It was this planning and preparation – long before the first raindrop fell – that enabled RPS to maintain our mission of putting people first. It was these plans and processes that gave our staff the tools and resources they needed to get back to work, whether from the office, from home, or from a temporary satellite location. It was these plans – executed during a difficult time by our dedicated employees – that allowed us to return quickly to full operations, keeping our commitments to our communities and our clients, and keeping our projects on schedule.

Brent Christian, PE, is senior vice president, Infrastructure, RPS. He can be reached at

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