With Hurricane Isaac now bearing down on New Orleans, companies that learned hard IT lessons from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 are now waiting to find out if they are ready for the latest powerful storm to wallop the Gulf of Mexico.
Isaac certainly isn’t nearly as powerful as Katrina was back on Aug. 29, 2005, when that monster of a hurricane tore into Louisiana and Mississippi, leaving more than 1,800 people dead and destroying about $108 billion in property, according to government estimates.
But the effects of Isaac and this storm’s Category 1 winds of at least 75 mph are almost sure to cause problems for Gulf residents, as well as power outages and business disruptions for days and possibly weeks to come.
On Aug. 28, Isaac became a full-fledged hurricane as it approached the Gulf Coast, according to a news brief in The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune.
Now, as businesses and residents hunker down for the storm as it nears landfall, businesses that were hard-hit by Katrina learned some huge lessons and are in better shape to deal with the effects of Isaac, whatever the new storm brings, said Mark Lewis, president of the New Orleans-based Louisiana Technology Council (LTC).
“We’re a lot more prepared, not only in terms of levee protection in the city and what people need to know about what they need to do for a storm,” said Lewis. “And also from a business standpoint, we’re now a lot more prepared about what they need to do to protect their business data” since Katrina left so many businesses flooded, destroyed or out of commission for weeks, months or longer.
After Katrina, businesses learned a lot about the meaning and value of disaster recovery, said Lewis. “We’ve done a lot of education since then on disaster recovery,” he said. “It has become second nature.”
Before Katrina, many businesses hadn’t made adequate plans to keep running in the event of a disaster, but that mindset has changed in a huge way throughout the area, he said.
“You want to get back into business as quickly as you can after a disaster,” said Lewis. But that’s not necessarily the first thing they think about as dangerous conditions approach.
“Business people think of their homes and family” as disasters loom, he said. But they also need to look at business angles, which is where the LTC comes in to help.
Since Katrina, the LTC has been joined by other local and state agencies to hold regularly scheduled disaster recovery seminars and training sessions to help businesses prepare for the next emergency.
“The idea is to do outreach for LTC member companies to help educate them,” said Lewis. “There are about 20 to 25 economic development and business organizations working together to help communicate between private industry and government. They do disaster recovery drills and emergency preparedness drills for events such as chemical spills, terror attacks and storms.”
Louisiana has come a long way as a technology company destination since Katrina, said Lewis. “In 2006, we were ranked 49th out of the 50 states in terms of technology employment here,” he said. “Now we are ranked 32nd in terms of tech employment. There’s a lot to be said in terms of the new leadership from a technology standpoint in this area.”
Ironically, the approach of Hurricane Isaac caused the LTC to postpone a Disaster Recovery Seminar that was set to be held Aug. 30.
It will be rescheduled after the storm, said Lewis, because the threats of natural and man-made disasters always looms.
“Sometimes people get complacent,” he said. “But you need to prepare. That’s the key. You need to do drills on an annual basis, so that if something happens, you are ready to go and you have a plan in place.”
That was one of the important lessons learned from Katrina seven years ago and one that has not been forgotten by businesses across the area.
“You have to be prepared right now,” said Lewis. “If anyone wants to learn how to prepare, they ought to come down to New Orleans and learn from the experts.”
Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf with powerful Category 3 winds and high storm surges, which pounded the city and much of the Gulf Coast, breaching Mississippi River levees, knocking out power utilities, water supplies, normal municipal services and lots of other critical infrastructure that in many cases took months or years to rebuild. Katrina greatly impacted businesses that struggled to recover from the damage of flooding and catastrophic winds as they sought to get back in to operation.