Time has a way of sanding down the edges of the pain and helplessness we endure in crisis situations. With all the media fanfare surrounding the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, my mind wandered back to a Z-News post I wrote (pre-blog) in those raw, emotional days following the disaster along the coast:
It’s the annual return to school here in North America. And, when you have an over-achieving daughter in an advanced English class that gives out homework over the summer...it’s like we never left.
Last night, I was proofing a paper she wrote in which she used the word “hardache.” I chuckled momentarily...and then put down my pen. She clearly had meant “heartache,” but her new word resonated off the page. And, I instantly thought of my friends along SouthCoastUSA. And, all of a sudden, my youngest daughter’s new word gave expression to what I have been feeling since Katrina’s landfall.
We don’t just ache. And, it’s not a heartache. It is, indeed, a hard ache. One of the hardest aches we’ve ever felt. With no less respect for this nation’s loss on 9/11...we have just lost (if for but a time) an American icon in the City of New Orleans. Destinations like Biloxi and Gulfport that were just last week celebrating the stunning rebirth of their communities. The parishes of Louisiana that may not have been top-line destinations...but they were home to thousands of good people. People like you and me. We’ve lost entire communities in the blink of an eye.
It’s a hard ache we feel as we helplessly watch the coverage unfold.
I ache for New Orleans CVB CEO Stephen Perry as I read his chilling updates on his Bureau’s website. He and his staff are almost completely cut-off from the world...and from each other. Thanks to the foresight of hosting the Bureau website in California (where there are precious few hurricanes), Stephen has been able to communicate through that site, creatively using a personal Yahoo e-mail account. His post last night elicited a hard ache:
"To our knowledge, all CVB personnel are safe. Virtually all were asked to evacuate and relocate. Those few who remained cannot be contacted or reached for the most part, but are assumed safe. Only those who evacuated are able to work with you at some level at this time. It is estimated that more than 90% of the CVB staff will have sustained major home damage or outright loss of their homes.
Longtime CVB Vice President Nikki Nicholson, who retired 18 months ago to buy a bed and breakfast in Bay St. Louis Mississippi has barely survived. Nikki attempted to stay and ride out the storm in her b&b, but the storm destroyed her home around her and she and her dog survived clinging to a tree until rescued.
I have continued to write updates to the website as I have gained spotty windows of internet access and will continue to do so as able. We apologize for any inadequacies of information and are doing our best to maintain communication with all emergency preparedness entities and with all travelers, meeting planners, and tour operators. Please work with our regional offices in the meantime. Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers. I am sorry we cannot speak personally to each of you who have important questions at this time."
And then, this: "CVB staff members are unable to communicate with or reach each other even though they have been dispersed to different locations because all are using area code 504 cell phones which are non-functional due to loss of the networks.
Any CVB executive team member who evacuated and is in a secure location, please email Mr. Perry (at his Yahoo account). Please include your location and a landline number and your status and safety update."
I don't know about you, but the thought of not knowing how or where your staff is in a time like this makes me ache even harder for Stephen as he valiantly tries to lead his destination through this catastrophe.
As we wish all our friends along the SouthCoast a speedy return to basic services and a sense of normalcy...a thought for the rest of us: Are you prepared for a crisis of this magnitude? Creating redundant web hosts in other areas of the country is a start (as the Alabama Gulf Coast’s Mike Foster suggested on a DMOU Teleseminar on Crisis Planning). But, what about your communication plan with members of your staff? Should we look to having mobile phone numbers outside our local exchange (after all, long distance is free these days)?
As we ache hard...we need to take notes to better prepare us all for future catastrophes. And then, we need to get out our check books. We’re real good about sending hundreds of millions of dollars to victims of the Tsunami. We need to be even better about helping our own...
You can make a donation to the American Red Cross or by calling 1-800-HELP NOW.