Hospitality Technology: When did you first formulate your evacuation plan?
Harry Barkerding: This all started last year when we dodged a serious bullet with Hurricane Ivan. At the last minute it moved away from New Orleans and we were spared totally. But for a week afterwards something didnÃ.‚¬t sit right with me.
Soon after I got the team together and asked, "what would have happened if the storm came here?" It was very, very difficult to convince our team that a disaster could happen. We could not even begin to put together a plan until everyone understood the risk. Once we got to the point that people recognized the potential, we had several meetings throughout the year to develop the plan. When we had a minor storm come through earlier this summer we had dry run. Friday before Katrina hit, it seemed imminent, and we decided to put the plan in action.
HT: Do you know the conditions of your employeeÃ.‚¬s homes?
HB: There are hundreds of thousands of people without homes. We have one miracle of one employee who doesn't have a shingle out of place, but one gal whose home was several hundred yards from the levee break was devastated. In my case and for two other employees, our houses are total losses. We have various renters that did not lose much. For many of us, we are still weeks away from even being able to return to our neighborhoods.
HT: Will you return to New Orleans?
HB: Emotions are running high and there is still a huge amount of unknown and confusion. As a business we are committed to remaining here in Dallas and we are probably going to re-establish in Austin, Texas. It is unlikely that we are going to return to New Orleans full time. There is so much that has been wiped out. I am a life-long, multi-generational resident of New Orleans. Rebuilding the city will be really, really, really tough.
HT: You are staying at Dave & BusterÃ.‚¬s corporate office, how helpful have they been?
HB: If I could ask one thing, it would be for everybody to play one game and eat one meal at Dave and BusterÃ.‚¬s in appreciation for what they have done for us. I contacted them a year ago when we first formulated the plan. I wasnÃ.‚¬t afraid to ask if they could host us, because their facility is quite abundant. Although no one really expected it to happen, everybody has been absolutely fantastic.
They have done tremendous things not only to support our organization, but also my people. They didn't need to do it to the extent that they are continuing to support us, but they have. I was in touch with VP IT Barbara Core when we were in transit, but when we pulled up there were probably ten people waiting there to help us. I don't know what I am going to do to repay them. What I want Barbara and the other people at Dave and Buster's to know is that I believe in the concept of "pay it forward." I may not be able to do it directly, but we will do something for someone else in their name.
Harry Barkerding is the founder and president of New Orleans-based Compeat Restaurant Accounting Systems.