When Disaster Strikes: Work Your Plan and Count on Your People

Oct. 27, 2008

New Orleans , LA. “Live” from the 10th Annual Trade Show, Convention & Golf Tournament of the Louisiana Life Safety & Security Association to let you know: New Orleans is OPEN for business and looking for a few good technicians. I ventured south in November to attend the show, visit with some dealers, manufacturers and distributors in search of the new technologies being installed as the Crescent City rebuilds.

Travel is always better when you are with a native who speaks the local lingo. That's why I teamed up with the Ragin' Cajun himself, Merlin Guilbeau, executive director of the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA). Guilbeau hails from Lafayette , LA which he affectionately calls the Heart of Cajun Country. The more people I met who were evacuated to Lafayette where the residents welcomed them with open arms, the more I realized just how big that Heart is.

What also became evident is how our industry implemented evacuation and business continuity plans as well as putting aside competitive issues to band together. One security dealer integrator who was significantly affected by the destruction of Katrina was Spencer Smith, president of Alarm Protection Services, and a First Alert Dealer out of Metairie , LA.

Smith had evacuated to Houston but was in constant contact with long time friend Larry Comeaux, chairman of Acadian Security Plus, also a First Alert Dealer, out of Lafayette , LA. He told Comeaux how his building was severely damaged by what is believed to be a microburst. It blew his roof off and forced the back wall of his building to collapse into the parking lot.

Comeaux immediately called a realtor and secured a four bedroom home for Smith and his family in Lafayette . He provided his conference room and a private office to him and ordered five additional phone line systems so that Smith could get back to business. Comeaux's generosity and support came through when needed the most; however for Smith the worst was yet to come.

On Tuesday, reality hit. The building was heavily damaged. Employees were scattered with no way to reach them and the customer base from New Orleans to the Mississippi Gulf Coast was gone!

Over the next few days with the help of only four techs in the field, Smith was able to dispatch crews via text messaging. He finds out that five vehicles are lost to flooding. Over one third of his customer base is unreachable.

A year later he talks about some best practices that came out of this disaster, such as: a better plan to transfer lines before a storm hits; and taking and keeping a more accurate inventory of what you have as well as what it will cost to replace.

Smith adds, “A better understanding of what essential equipment to take with you is critical. Have a copy of your insurance policy. Make sure you know where your employees will evacuate to and have their contact information.

By leveraging his existing relationship with another First Alert dealer and with the NBFAA, Smith was able to rise above the storm. As far as the renovated APS building, it now has a new 140 mile-an-hour rated metal roof and the entire building is insulated with foam. Smith has installed new technology in his building including cameras and automated lighting.

The support that we received was overwhelming, Smith concludes.

To read about others in the security industry directly affected by Katrina, go to www.securityinfowatch.com/dealers--look to the “columns” section of that page.