Hurricanes Create Horrific Situation for Relogistics, Employees Rise to the Challenge
Crisis Management: Dealing with two major storms in less than a month, Relogistics provides a blueprint in how to respond to customer and employee needs in the middle of a natural disaster.
By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 8/1/2018
Late summer of 2017 was a challenging time for Relogistics, one of the nation’s largest pallet and container management companies. Headquartered in Houston, Hurricane Harvey directly impacted the company’s operations as one of the worst storms in recent memory hammered the Gulf region. Shortly thereafter, the company’s Florida operations were put to the test by Hurricane Irma. Both natural disasters created an opportunity for the Relogistics staff to demonstrate why some of the biggest retailers and product manufacturers in the country, rely on the company to ensure on-time pallet management.
When a natural disaster or other horrible event strikes, pallets are needed to help in recovery and response efforts because pallets move the world. That is why a good pallet provider needs to care for its employees and mobilize them to respond.
Mike Hachtman, president of Relogistics, wrote in a letter to all employees, “The pictures you see on the TV cannot fully describe the impact of this flooding on the residents of the fourth largest city in the nation. The cleanup and restoration efforts will take months, if not years, and the emotional impact will last even longer.”
The good news was that no Relogistics employees were injured or died in the storms although a number were displaced from their homes or experienced significant flooding. In addition to donating $10,000 to the American Red Cross to help families in the Houston area, Relogistics also provided a $500 bonus to each affected employee to help with immediate housing, clothing, and food needs. The company also worked with the area Humane Society to store dog and cat food for distribution to needy pets and displaced animals.
Besides management jumping to lead and help others in need, employees also did what they could. A group of Relogistics employees from Louisiana and Texas traveled to Houston and other affected areas to help out. Many employees contributed to a company fund that raised $7,500 and was matched by the company, an effort Mike Hachtman felt was critical not only to helping people get back on their feet but also to remind employees that “we are all in this together.”
The Louisiana area employees also collected food and donations from area food banks to send to those impacted by Hurricane Harvey. One Relogistics manager used his boat to help stranded people in the Houston area make it safely away from the rising flood waters. Other employees donated their entire paychecks to the effort in Houston. All 55 employees in the Houston area made it to safety.
Kristin Kopp, director of communications for Relogistics, commented, “The Southeast region (Florida and Georgia) raised money to help employees in the affected Houston area, not knowing what lay ahead for them just a week later. And, in return, the other regions reciprocated the same generosity to Florida and Georgia when Irma hit. We were very proud of how our employees came together during this time of adversity, whether they were directly affected, or not.” Relogistics matched every single donation that came in. For a more complete review of how Relogistics employees responded to the crisis, see the social media posts on page 43.
Kopp emphasized the urgency of the situation, “We knew we needed to act fast and be as responsive to our people as possible.” She added, “Mike kept tabs on employees during the hurricanes and the immediate aftermath, communicating hourly with local managers even while his own home was flooding. Employees came first.”
Hachtman traveled to the Houston, New Caney and Sealy facilities to give each employee – whether directly impacted or not – money to help with immediate needs as soon as roads were open. Hachtman told the employees, “If you don’t need this, I am sure you know somebody who has been effected.”
The company used social media, such as Facebook, to communicate its fund raising efforts and to share on-the-ground information. Hachtman provided regular email updates internally to cover weather, operations and personnel issues as well as to spread hope and keep everyone’s spirits up.
Relogistics Helps Major Retail Customer Respond to Storm Challenges
As a pallet and container management provider for major retailers in the U.S., Relogistics held a critical position in the logistics effort. Hachtman wrote at the time to Relogistics employees, “our customer has executed a major realignment of 405 stores, involving 13 distribution centers… It is imperative that our employees in these 13 buildings understand the gravity of our work and that providing empty trailers to our customer is vital to their efforts in getting needed food, water, and supplies to people across Texas and Louisiana.”
Through the process, Relogistics provided 2,418 whitewood pallets to various stores, free of charge, to help out with the relief and supply efforts. For example, the Sealy, Texas distribution center west of Houston remained open as employees processed trailers as quickly as possible to allow their customers to utilize those trailers to get needed supplies to stores.
Retailers worked furiously to keep products moving to customers aided by suppliers, such as Relogistics. This plan affected operations in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and even Tennessee.
Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast August 25, 2017, with winds topping 130 mph. By Thursday, August 31, it was making its way northeast across Louisiana as a tropical depression with winds up to 20 mph. Hachtman met with representatives of one customer at their corporate headquarters on August 30 to focus on ways to solve DC realignments due to the storm. Keep in mind that parts of the Houston area received almost 50" of rain over the previous three days, which is the equivalent of seeing 54 feet of snow in a blizzard in terms of transportation disruption. The west side of Houston, where the Hachtmans live, received 38" of rain. Almost a year later, the Hatchmans finally moved back into their home.
Relogistics Staff Faces Second Storm Crisis in Hurricane Irma
As if one major storm in a season is not enough, the Florida operations were disrupted as Hurricane Irma caused significant damage and flooding in September. It was also the most intense hurricane to strike the continental United States since Katrina in 2005. The storm left 50 billion in damages in the United States and cost 92 lives. Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys on September 10th.
Hachtman reported that as of September 13th all Relogistics Florida locations continued operations. He added, “We have determined that six Relogistics employees have significant damage to their homes as a result of Hurricane Irma. Each of these employees will receive $500 in emergency assistance.”
Just like in the Texas hurricane, as soon as weather permitted, Hachtman visited all eight Florida locations to personally thank employees and provide financial relief to all employees as a thank you for their hard work during the storm. The company made another $10,000 donation to the Red Cross to help those impacted by Hurricane Irma.
When dealing with a natural disaster, you have the business side of the challenge as well as the personal impact because employees are directly affected. Survival comes first and then business. But you can’t ignore business for very long when your company is a critical part of the logistics supply chain.
Kopp suggested, “Everybody was feeling the aftermath. Other locations, even a couple states away, who were not affected by the storm worked overtime processing trailers to make up for the loss of productivity in the Houston area sites. Our goal was to help our customers get products on the shelves as quickly as possible. Our workforce really stepped up.”
Lessons from the Storm
1.) Leaders Are Made for Adversity: Even while his own home was flooding, Mike Hachtman worked to rally the employees to stay safe and do their jobs. Local and regional managers helped employees as they could. Hachtman visited local sites as quickly as possible.
2.) Communication Brings Reassurance and Guidance: You have to establish an open way to communicate in a disaster. And that is when technology allows you to communicate to many people all at once. Relogistics used its website, Facebook page as well as e-mail and cell phones to get information from managers who were on-the-ground in affected areas.
3.) Ensure Employee Safety: The company’s top priority was to ensure the safety of its employees, both those on the job and those who were away from work. Managers communicated to understand how each employee was doing.
4.) Be Responsive to Customer Needs: Relogistics played a critical role in helping with the disaster response. One of their largest customers realigned its network to deal with flooding, road closures and transportation difficulties. Relogistics worked closely with them to supply personnel, trailers and pallets.
5.) Help Employees Rebuild Their Lives: The company raised money to directly help affected employees and gave them immediate funds to help before respective insurance policies could remedy situations.
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