I am not sure anyone that witnessed the destructive fury of Hurricane Katrina, and the slow descent into chaos that followed will ever be same. Even as New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region slowly gets back on its collective feet, the feeling of shock and awe will linger on.
Katrina was truly a disaster in every sense of the word. Certainly, this was a natural disaster of dramatic proportions. Few category five hurricanes have had as devastating an impact on a city, two states and millions of people. But in the days that followed Katrina's landfall, a human disaster unfolded as well. Bad planning, poor communication and inept management left thousands stranded and desperate, and hundreds more died unnecessarily. It is not just the mind-boggling number of casualties, but also the long-term effects on millions of displaced, unemployed that will be Katrina's long-term legacy.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the aftermath of Katrina has been the dichotomy between the haves and the have nots. We will certainly debate the racial and socio-economic implications of the fall out from Katrina for years to come, including the stark contrasts between black and white and rich and poor. What shouldn't be lost in the conversation, however is the contrast between companies that were prepared and those that were not.
The hospitality industry should be proud of the roll it has played and its ability to get people back on their feet. This even includes technology companies (See, Pay It Forward," page 58). Both the NRA (National Restaurant Association) and the AHLA (American Hotel and Lodging Association) jumped into action--as have many of the restaurant and hotel companies--to help get people working. It should also be noted that accusations of price gouging from hotels have been few and far between.
In fact, good corporate citizenship has been the rule. In New Orleans, hotels were pressed into service to house people through the storm, even after guests were evacuated. Afterwards, hotels and casinos have helped stage recovery efforts and the few restaurants able to get up and running have worked tirelessly to feed recovery workers.
Given the massive scale of the recovery, however, the most significant efforts from hospitality companies has been taking care of their employees' emotional and physical needs. Enough can not be said about the importance of having a disaster plan. The companies that were prepared, not only skirted damage, but probably saved employees' lives. Those that did not left their workers to the whims of Katrina. As the shock eventually wears off, let's hope more companies nationwide learn a lesson and are better prepared for the next one.