Public Relations Tactics

Companies Taking Care of Business and Employees in Harvey’s Wake

October 2, 2017

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Record-setting floods from Hurricane Harvey, which damaged or destroyed more than 300,000 homes in southeast Texas, tested business leaders who see themselves as caretakers for their workers and civic leaders in times of crisis.

As The Wall Street Journal reported on Sept. 8, Houston is home to more Fortune 500 companies than any American metropolis except New York City. According to one informal poll, flooding has substantially affected about 10 percent of employees’ homes in the city of 2.3 million people.

Local plants and refineries will likely return to full operation long before employees’ lives are back to normal. For now, managers said they’re giving staff time off to help take care of their homes and families.

Chemical company Covestro suspended production at its Baytown manufacturing site after the hurricane prevented many workers from reaching the plant. The company created a drive-through station where employees can pick up bleach, plastic tarps, gas and other emergency supplies.

Covestro assigned scores to workers with flooded homes to determine how much assistance they need from their employer. Level 1 signifies an estimated recovery time of less than one month; Level 2 means recovery could take up to three months and temporary housing is required; and Level 3 indicates total losses demanding up to six months of recovery and shelter.  About 40 percent of Covestro’s roughly 150 employees who sustained damage were at Levels 2 or 3. Javan Williamson’s home was flooded with five feet of water, and his family’s ruined belongings were piled on the sidewalk outside. Co-workers are helping clean up the house. The company also gave the family a car to borrow and is providing them with a furnished apartment for three months.

Occidental Petroleum is housing displaced staff in hotels, and giving out interest-free loans and $5,000 grants to help repair its workers’ homes. When water service failed in Beaumont, Texas, Exxon Mobil used a fleet of 36 helicopters to fly in water for employees and their families. BP, which has 5,000 employees in Houston, closed its corporate campus after the main office tower flooded. Many of the oil company’s employees are temporarily working from home.

Reno Castillo, one of Exxon Mobil’s roughly 23,000 workers in Texas and Louisiana, was among those who remained at its Baytown refining and chemical complex to help shut it down safely during the storm. He and others wound up stranded at the plant for days after floodwaters cut off access. He eventually got home to find his house flooded with two feet of water. Exxon hired a crew to rip out the drywall and clean up the house.

Occidental Petroleum estimates that more than 400 of its workers had to evacuate their homes, and about half of those homes suffered damage. As Harvey deluged the company’s Houston-area facilities, CEO Vicki Hollub used a company app and spreadsheet to track the whereabouts of about 3,000 employees in the storm’s path. “We were trying to make sure we hadn’t missed anybody,” she said. Greg Beaubien
 

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