ASSISTING DURING A DISASTER How Travel and Transport supported employees and travelers affected by Hurricane Dorian

Hurricane Dorian devastated the Bahamas and swept through the southeastern US in August/September 2019. The storm had several of our teams activating plans to help affected employees and travelers, covering:

  1. Employee safety.
  2. Traveler assistance.
  3. Co-ordinating catastrophe teams.
  4. Managing developments in the Command Center.

Employee safety

The immediate concern was wellbeing. The Human Resources team quickly assessed which members of the Travel and Transport family were in Dorian’s projected path and issued hurricane-preparedness information. 133 employee-owners were potentially affected across four states. They, along with their managers, were kept in the loop about the storm’s path.

Traveler assistance

While the holiday weekend meant lower business travel volumes than normal, an estimated 4,300 storm-related flight cancellations were anticipated from Labor Day (Monday, Sept. 2) through Wednesday, Sept. 4 alone. Many advisors volunteered to work overtime during the weekend prior to help the After-Hours team, led by Senior Director Matt Gunkel and Director Teri Nolan. Matt and Teri held cross-state meetings with operations and account management ahead of the weekend to walk through plans. Call groups opened early the following Tuesday to ease pressure on the After-Hours team.

"With preparation and teamwork across the entire company, the weekend was a success,” Teri said. “We were able to not only assist those clients affected by the hurricane, but also make sure unaffected clients were serviced business-as-usual.”

Co-ordinating catastrophe teams

Amid an epic storm like Dorian the catastrophe (CAT) teams are handling travel and other disaster planning and response efforts for our insurance and engineering customers. As well as taking calls, the teams were busy securing blocks of hotel rooms in areas with anticipated impact, so teams could be sent in to do their jobs.

Operations Director Debbie Boyd, who leads the CAT teams, says it’s always challenging to predict how much support is needed, and exactly where, with the uncertain path and shifting strength of hurricanes. It often means booking both primary and secondary hotels, in case of power loss at one property. In this instance, preparations were made for Florida and then had to be reversed when the hurricane took a turn north.

“The intense part is getting the hotel reservations and managing all of those,” Debbie said. “Then once a hurricane hits, it really gets intense because it’s about deploying claims adjusters to where they need to go. It’s pretty dicey, because it all has to happen last-minute. The teams put a lot of dedication, time and empathy to get people where they need to go so they can help on the ground.”

This work continues after the hurricane too. For example, if an engineering firm client is contracted to rebuild infrastructure after devastation, Travel and Transport’s teams are maneuvering people for another six months, possibly up to a year. When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Dominica and the US Virgin Islands in 2017, Jennifer Upchurch, director, operations recalls the team getting creative and even booking houseboats for travelers to stay in.

Managing developments in the Command Center

In addition, Travel and Transport’s Command Center kept the company and customers’ travelers abreast of forecasts, related developments and the scores of travel waivers that sprung up, as typically happens when a major weather event like Dorian tracks toward land.

Manager Julie Porter and her team added the waivers to our Leap Advisor CRM so advisors had the information at their fingertips when working with an impacted traveler. They also send travel alerts to affected travelers, advising them to contact us to rebook or reschedule their travel.

The team participated in cross-company conference calls “to continually assess where we were at as a company, where the storm was, where it was headed,” Julie said. “It’s always a challenge when it’s weather. You don’t know what the impact is going to be, and there are a lot of questions we don’t have answers to, so we do the best we can with the information we have. It’s important to be agile and adjust as needed.”

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