Having the right partners and the right plan gets you through a crisis. That travel industry truism was put to the test when a Texas-based electric and natural gas provider responded to a hurricane and subsequent floods that swamped Houston.
Employees who reconnect power for the utility’s customers were themselves victims of the storm. So were the local BCD Travel agents who help the company’s travelers get where they need to be and make sure they have a hotel when they get there. But they all kept going, even as more than 50 inches of rain drenched the fourth-largest city in the United States for days in the summer of 2017. Hurricane Harvey was what meteorologists and insurers call a 1,000-year flood.
With travel assistance from tenacious BCD agents, the utility’s crew completed 1.3 million power restorations in just a few days. They got desperately needed hospitals, water treatment plants and public services up and running again.
“With your support, we overcame unprecedented flooding,” the utility’s president and chief executive officer wrote in a letter to BCD’s CEO. “Our emergency operations plan was in effect for 14 days, and our community would have faced a much longer outage duration if not for the timely service provided to us by BCD Travel.”
Preparing for the unimaginable
That plan—updated and practiced by BCD and the utility every year—made it possible for the teams to keep working, even in a previously unimaginable storm. They knew what to do and understood the lines of command and communication. They were clear about what information had to be shared and when.
“It was the depth and breadth of the plan that kept us all together,” said Missy Ziemer, who was the BCD global account manager for the utility when the storm hit. “We had to be 100% accessible to the utility’s crews, and we’d already thought through how to make that happen, regardless of the circumstances.
“We pulled resources from other BCD teams. We had many layers of potential support to draw from, if we needed them. But our own local agents in and around Houston persevered and provided most of the service,” she said.
Agents were resourceful. Those without power sat in their cars, recharging mobile phones so they could keep working, recalled lead agent Sherma Bennett. Some who were forced to evacuate got to higher ground and then logged right back in.
“We were able to support the crews while we also lived through the disaster,” Ziemer said. “They were putting their lives on the line to get critical infrastructure back up. Those crews go in before anybody—before the Red Cross—to get electricity on so everyone else can do their jobs.”
Applying lessons learned
The rains finally stopped, but the work kept coming. About 10 days after Hurricane Harvey made landfall for the last time, Hurricane Irma hit Florida. Crews who were still reconnecting lines in Texas packed up and headed east to fulfill their first-responder duties to assist other utilities in restoration efforts. Seventy-five crew members in 40 trucks rolled out to destinations as far away as south Florida. BCD agents made sure the crews had a place to stay, something to eat and somewhere to park their trucks en route and on the drive back home.
BCD and the utility applied experiences from 2017 to their 2018 emergency operations plan, most recently during Hurricane Michael, which made landfall in the U.S. on Oct. 10.
“Nobody imagined a scenario in which we would get 50 inches of rain. But it happened, and we made it through because we were prepared,” said Jodi Renz, a BCD vice president who oversees the travel management company’s partnership with the utility. “BCD Travel proved we’re scalable, flexible and responsive—well beyond the expected scope.”
Is your corporate travel program ready for a crisis? The Traveler Security Program Assessment from BCD Travel helps you grade your preparedness and make improvements to protect your travelers and your company.