HRO Disaster Recovery

The Hurricane Katrina disaster, like others before it, should make any HR executive stay up late and worry about disaster recovery.

by Jay Whitehead

It was October 17, 1989, and the sun was getting low over San Francisco, a beautiful late summer evening. Los Angeles Dodger announcer Vin Scully would famously call it "a perfect night for baseball." I was in section 22 of Candlestick Park, eagerly awaiting the start of the Bay Bridge World Series game between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s. ABC Sport’s Al Michaels could be heard on hundreds of small TVs and radios stadium- wide doing pre-game commentary. His voice echoed in the big stadium and added to the World Series ambiance.

At 5:04 p.m., I had just returned from the concession stand, and was about to sit down. Suddenly, the stadium jerked. Then a rolling bounce rippled the field like a giant green hotel bedspread flapping in the wind. The stadium scoreboard went dark. The radios and TVs went silent. The Oakland A’s players, who had been warming up on the field, ran to their dugouts, sensing danger. Then, in a panic, they ran back out onto the field, joined by 20 or 30 Giants players and coaches who scurried out from their subterranean locker room. An A’s player, who I recognized as the catcher, jumped into the stands to retrieve his terrified wife and children, sitting several rows up from the field. Local fans, many of whom were veterans of earthquakes, knew better than to stay in the reinforced-cement stands. By the hundreds, paying customers started streaming onto the field, fearing an imminent aftershock and the old stadium’s collapse.

A life-long Californian, I too decided to leave my seat, knowing that an earthquakes first tremor is often not the largest. As I descended the motionless escalator, a man I recognized as Los Angeles Times sports columnist Jim Murray was huddling with several others talking about aftershocks and whether their hotel would still be standing. Before the crowd started figuring out that a massive quake had just aborted the game, I decided to leave the stadium. As I was halfway down the stairs, I heard a bullhorn announcing the obvious. Big quake, no game.

Next to where I had parked my car, I came across a curious scene. George Zimmer, founder of men’s clothing chain The Men’s Wearhouse, famous for his tagline "I guarantee it," had perched a battery-powered TV atop his car. I stopped to watch. The TV showed the Oakland Bay Bridge, my way home, had collapsed. San Francisco was on fire.

As twilight approached, we looked across San Francisco Bay at the Oakland Hills. Normally brightly lit, they were all dark.

There I was. No bridge home. Ultimately, it took me three days to get there. When I arrived, my sumptuous penthouse on the banks of Lake Merritt was damaged beyond repair. The only choice was to abandon it. I called the bank and told them they were free to call the insurance company for a settlement. It took me, an affluent, relatively well-educated, well-employed, and well-connected Caucasian, more than six months to get on my feet again.

Fast forward to Hurricane Katrina, which hit Louisiana and Mississippi as this issue went to press. How many hundreds of thousands of organizations and their employees will be saved or sunk by the quality of their employers’ or their employers’ HRO providers disaster recovery systems? The difference between adequate and inadequate backup can be the difference between life and death. I, for one, know that at the time of the 1989 quake, had I not been employed by a company that planned ahead, my family would have relied on charity for recovery.

We in the HRO community have to watch Katrina closely for lessons. For those of us unaffected, we can only say "there but for the grace of God go I." For those of us impacted, we can only say, thank heaven I planned for this. Or worse yet–Holy moly! I did not plan, and am I ever in trouble now.

Tags: Consultants & Advisors, HRO Today Global, Professional Contribution

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