In the Path of Wind and Rain, N.O. Businesses Rely on the Cloud

New Orleans 500 Survey June 2022

The inaugural edition of the New Orleans 500 is a collection of profiles of the city’s influential, involved and inspiring business leaders. Once a month, Biz New Orleans sends an email survey to all the leaders on the New Orleans 500 list to collect data and insights about topics important to the business community. This is the latest report in that series.

NEW ORLEANS —  March 2020 was the beginning of the great remote work experiment for businesses worldwide. The pandemic forced many organizations in New Orleans and elsewhere to learn how to get the job done even though their employees weren’t able to gather at a workplace every day.

Notably, the business practices that many New Orleans companies and organizations have developed over the course of that global health crisis have proved to be useful during hurricane season, a time when life as usual can be disrupted at any moment by the power outages and damage to infrastructure that accompany severe weather events.

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Virtually all area executives who responded to this month’s New Orleans 500 email survey said they have a formal hurricane plan in place for their business, and for many the key to the plan is to make sure that all employees are able to work remotely and that all important data is backed up either on the cloud or on a remote server somewhere out of the storm’s path.

Source: June New Orleans 500 Email Survey

The process has been simplified, of course, by an ever-evolving set of digital business tools and resources.

“Technology has made this a lot easier,” said Jeff O’Hara, owner of PRA New Orleans, a producer of events. “Previously, we would pack up the server, hard drives and other computer equipment and take it to a secure location out of the storm’s path. Now with everything stored in the cloud, it’s a matter of grabbing our laptops.”

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Marc Ehrhardt, president of the Ehrhardt Group, a public relations agency, expressed a similar sentiment.

“Each team member has their own laptop and contact sheets for other team members and client contacts,” he said. “We’ve shifted our documents and materials to the cloud entirely, so we can access what we need instantaneously from anywhere. Having these procedures in place and tested allows our team to focus on their families first.”

Robby Moss, president & CEO at Hartwig Moss Insurance Agency, said his company’s business continuity plans — which emphasize remote work — go all the way back to the post-Katrina days. 

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“Since that time, we have moved all mission-critical systems away from being housed in our physical facilities and moved them to the cloud or converted to SaaS programs (software as a service models),” he said. “Additionally, we most recently replaced our entire phone system to a VOIP/Cloud based system that allows us to maintain contact with our clients and insurers following a storm.”

Robert Steeg of Steeg Law said his firm has similar tools and systems in place. A big part of storm preparation, though, is making sure everything is running smoothly.

“[Our plan includes] checking on the back-up server/cloud service to make sure it is operating properly; distributing contact lists, vendor information and banking information to make it all handy in case we all end up working out of town; confirming the office call tree and messaging system for distribution of firm information and instructions; and placement of key hard-copy assets where they can be located and taken away on short notice,” he said.

‘Batten the Hatches’

Of course, some businesses’ hurricane prep is more complicated than grabbing laptops and hitting the road. Builders, for example, need to secure any active job sites and document them before any damage occurs.

“After making sure we know where each staff member evacuates to, we batten down the job sites and office, along with heavy photo documentation of pre-storm conditions,” said Ryan Mayer, owner of Mayer Building Company. “We let project owners know what we are doing with board up and photos and we hope for the best. After the storm … we try to be “boots on the ground” for all project owners by producing written reports, photos and emails to owners and insurance companies. We maintain a positive attitude, we use social media and emails to reach out and check on people first and then projects.”

Executives in the tourism industry, meanwhile, have the extra responsibilities that come with hosting visitors during the extreme weather season.

“It is important to take the time to verify contact information and vendor agreements in advance to allow clear communication and expectations on all sides in the event of a major weather incident,” said Jim Cook, general manager of Sheraton New Orleans.

“[We plan] schedules for the emergency management response cycle, schedules for organizational, divisional and department specific essential functions, equipment needed to support business and facility essential functions, and operational coordination with external partners to include insurance brokers/carriers and pre-qualified disaster contract providers,” said Michael Sawaya, president of the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center

Similarly, local bankers and nonprofit leaders have to help their clients prepare for potential disruption.

“Disaster recovery is a very important part of our business,” said John Zollinger, executive vice president and director of commercial banking at Home Bank. “We take it very seriously. We know that the community is counting on us to be available and open as soon as we can after a disaster. Access to your money is essential in the days following a disaster as one of four essential items, including fuel, water and food.”

Michael Williamson, president of United Way of Southeast Louisiana, sums up his responsibilities like this:

“As an organization focused on immediate response, relief and long-term recovery, we begin offering aid through pop-up relief events including food, supplies and financial/legal assistance to impacted communities.” 

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