When Disaster Strikes: Lessons for the Alarm Industry

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


"Until a hurricane makes landfall, no one is safe," said Clavelle. "I remember watching it on the Weather Channel. It seemed to be more like a typical storm than a major hurricane. The news was reporting that New Orleans dodged another bullet. Everyone breathed a sign of relief and started unpacking."

"When I came to work the next day I noticed immediately that the phones were not working. Never in my wildest dreams did I think we would lose phone service. I couldn't dial out and only occasionally could someone reach me. I didn't know it at the time, but this was happening throughout our entire state and continued for a good solid week. Cell phones were useless. 'All circuits are busy' is all you could get. The first day was horrible; I didn't know where anyone was. The news reports were getting worse. The images were heartbreaking."

"What many people do not know is that Louisiana residents immediately responded to this disaster. Father, sons and grandfathers hooked up their fishing boats and headed to New Orleans at the very first report of people on roof tops. Hundreds of boats were lined up ready and willing to help, but they were turned away. As each day passed, more volunteers drove to New Orleans only to be told that they were not needed. The loss of life could have and should have been prevented. We were there to help. We were willing to put our lives on the line. We could have have saved our own, but red tape stopped us."

"As the days went by, I would hear from one or two people and each had a report on a few more. It was horrible. What do you do when you have hundreds of people you know are missing? You pray. I suddenly knew what New York went through during 9/11. Disbelief, helpless, fear, grief, and anger -- all emotions were brought to the surface at the same time."

Clavelle immediately went into crisis management mode. She made lists of those she heard from directly or from second hand reports, and she made notes on where they were located. The NBFAA assisted by setting up a toll-free number hoping that people could dial in for information and their needs. During that time, Clavelle heard from many security companies in Louisiana and across the United States offering their assistance and for that she was grateful!

In fact, many were willing to provide jobs, homes and/or what ever assistance was needed. Clavelle was overwhelmed with daily emails offering assistance, however, with no phone service, she was helpless.

"During this tragedy, it didn't matter that you were competitors pre-Katrina," she said. "After Katrina, companies and individuals worked together to get the job done."

"The Office of State Fire Marshal, the licensing agency for our state, immediately took action to help us out. They suspended CEU requirements and allowed companies and individuals to obtain a license easier and quicker. [It was] a very rare move when you are talking about a governing agency, however, it is not so rare when you are talking about the people who work in and with our industry in Louisiana."

"There were many ordinary people who preformed extraordinary tasks during and after Katrina," added Clavelle. "Bonds were formed. Tears were shed. Hugs were available to strangers and friendships were sealed on the spot. This industry, as a whole, joined together, rolled up their sleeves and got busy rebuilding their lives and business one piece at a time."

"Our industry lost sleep, worked shorthanded and longer hours but we never lost heart. We can look back now and see that Katrina was merely a speed bump; the road block many feared never materialized and that I give credit to the people who live and work in Louisiana."

Ron Foreman, president of the LLSSA, said that this year's show was a sort of homecoming for many in our industry who lived through Katrina. He was excited about all the possibilities that the future holds for the LLSSA. The group isn't focused on the past. The LLSSA and its members are rebuilding for the future, and even talking about new ideas like an official ID card for central station operators that would allow them to return to work in the timer of disaster. If anything, it's ideas like that and the non-competitive offers of aid that prove that the people of our industry are stronger than any disaster.