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Collaborator II

You don’t know when a disaster is going to strike.  The day usually starts like any other day. Disasters come in all shapes and sizes - natural and man-made, personal tragedies, workplace related events and others, and if you’ve ever experienced one you know it changes you.  Many thoughts run through your mind such as, “Why is this happening to me, are my loved ones safe, where do we go and what do we do?“ Afterward, you reflect on what more you could have done to prepare, because once the disaster strikes, the time for preparation has passed.  The following account of the Leidenheimer Baking Company’s response during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 illustrates my point and teaches some valuable lessons.

Sandy Whann is the president of the family owned-and-operated Leidenheimer Baking Company founded in 1896 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  As a lifetime citizen of New Orleans, Sandy has become adept at hurricane planning through the years. When the hurricane alert was issued on Saturday, August 27, this veteran immediately put his family emergency plan into effect as his wife and two children prepared to leave the city. Sandy remained near his bread production facility to keep a close eye on his company and keep production working at a minimal capacity. With his family out of the city, Sandy now focused on his employees and their families.

On Sunday, after meeting with his upper management, Sandy uncharacteristically decided to shut the bakery down, secure its exterior, gas lines and doors and encouraged his employees to prepare their own homes and loved ones for the storm and potential evacuation. After most of his employees had left, only Sandy, his plant manager, and chief engineer, all of whom play key roles in the business's preparedness plan, remained in New Orleans.

Once Sandy and the others had completed their assigned duties in the emergency shutdown, they left as well. While driving to meet his family in Baton Rouge, Sandy was struck by the unusualness of the event, particularly because the drive, which normally takes one hour, took seven hours.

"Things were very different this time around," said Sandy. "But in the gridlock I still made the most of the little time we had before the storm hit. Having an emergency preparedness plan helps you focus your priorities and helps you know what you need to be doing with the limited time you have in any situation."

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En route, Sandy checked with his insurance provider, accountants, legal consultant, and spoke with customers to keep them abreast of the situation and the affect of his shutdown on their supply of baked goods. Sandy's business evacuation kit played a large part in his success. Sandy's kit included: financial and payroll records, utility contact information, updated phone lists for his customers and employees, back-up files and software, as well as computer hard drives. Well before the evacuation Sandy placed the kit in a mobile waterproof/fireproof case that could be taken with him at a moment's notice. As part of Sandy's written plan, he set-up a satellite office for the company in Baton Rouge where he made contact with his bank, forwarded phone lines, and was receiving mail within two days.

Sandy breathed a sigh of relief that his family and his company had escaped a major disaster. Fortunately, Sandy was able to return to his plant within a week of the storm. When he returned, he saw widespread damage. The roof had severe damage, there was no power, no usable water, and no one was permitted back into the city except the National Guard.

Despite caring deeply for his business, the most important thing to Sandy was his employees and he felt fortunate that all of them were safe. In summing up his experience Sandy said, "Katrina was severe enough to teach even us experienced hurricane survivors a few new things about emergency planning."

I hope we can all learn a few things about organizational and personal preparedness and focus a little more during National Preparedness Month on building a more resilient society for all of us. Contact me at and @pnpotter1017