When Disaster Strikes: Lessons for the Alarm Industry

Louisiana dealers, distributors and product vendors talk about lessons learned, one year after Hurricane Katrina

The ADI branch in New Orleans was already about four feet off the ground, but that wasn't enough to get them above the flooded streets. They had at least six inches of water rushing through the location, not only damaging a lot of products, but also creating mold and mildew problems.

The amazing part of the story is that within 48 hours the branch was back in business offering curb-side service. In a trailer no bigger than a small school bus, five employees processed orders and went about the days tasks. According to Whitby, "the emergency plan that was implemented was simple: Family First. We located employees, secured our premise and then began to fill customer needs."

As soon as it was realized that all employees were safe, they turned their attention to getting back to business. Like Hattier's experience getting Sonitrol back up and running, Whitby said that text messaging was the key to communications.

"In business you learn that CEOs manage, but what Tom Polson demonstrated to us was what real leadership is all about and at a time when it was needed most," said Whitby "He was on the ground within two weeks assuring the entire group that he would do whatever was necessary to rebuild. Another great asset was that ADI's infrastructure was able to support distribution.

He said the storm taught the ADI crew what they would need to stock ahead of time in the stores that are located closest to landfall. It's the basic products like cable and wiring, and batteries, and even waterproofing products, that are most needed after hurricanes rip through an area.

"In terms of what we are selling, with homes being completely gutted structured wiring is a hot product," said Traugott. "Home automation and high end audio and video products are moving."

And while business is starting to get back to normal at ADI, Traugott and the rest of the crew remember the outpouring of support.

"During the aftermath of Katrina we never came into town without enough food, water and fuel," he said. "I want to personally thank all of the other ADI branches that overwhelmed us with boxes of new clothing for us and our families."

Getting Soaked in New Orleans East

A short trip over to New Orleans East had us visiting with Tom Pickral, founder and chairman of Home Automation Inc. (HAI). HAI had just moved into a new facility before Hurricane Katrina. What had struck Tom and HAI President Jay McLellan about this building was the brand new back-up generator and the five-acre lot next door for expansion possibilities.

But even with a new location, things still got wet. According to Pickral, "It took two weeks for the water to fully recede. Eighteen inches of water had come through the building with mold taking effect almost immediately. Everything had to be thrown out and all of the sheetrock had to be demolished and re-hung."

In terms of personnel, HAI had 52 employees before the storm. Fifteen of those employees lost their homes and cars, and only 42 came back after the storm. But that didn't' keep HAI down long, and Pickral is enthusiastic about the future.

"Today we are back up to 63 employees and have returned to our newly renovated building," said Pickral. Now, he says, the company is focused on training dealers in home automation technologies and in becoming certified dealers. They're rolling out whole-house audio systems and new central lighting control systems.

How the State Association Stepped up to the Challenge

When state members were unable to connect with each other for news and information they relied heavily on the state association. The one person who manned the office, the emails, and the phones (when they worked), was Gwen Clavelle, the executive director of the Louisiana Life Safety & Security Association (LLSSA). Gwen was based in the LLSSA office located Lafayette, which is about 250 miles west of New Orleans, an area that was largely unaffected by the storm, but which was in the scope of the original storm trajectory.

In preparation of the storm, Gwen started making back-up copies of all the computers in the office. She unplugged all electrical outlets, moved everything away from the windows, filled up her car's gas tank and waited to see which direction Katrina would turn.