"Sun shines on Biloxi,
Air is filled with vapors from the sea
Boy will dig a pool beside the the ocean
He sees creatures from his dream underwater
And the sun will set from off towards New Orleans."
- Jimmy Buffett, "Biloxi"
Lyrics by Jesse Winchester
I've always equated summer with fun at the beach: water sports, barbecues, body surfing and sand dollars. I still do, but after spending two weeks in Biloxi post Hurricane Katrina, I've also learned to keep a close eye on the weather channel... After witnessing what a storm can do first hand (see bridge after storm surge on right), I will never forget that hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30.
Before I went to Biloxi, the idea of hurricane preparation generated a to-do list "as seen on tv":
- Buy plywood and board up windows.
- Stock up on clean water and flashlights.
- Have an emergency contact plan to meet your family.
My time in Biloxi taught me that this list was not enough. I went to the Gulf Coast two months post-Katrina, and I partnered with a group of students (at the time I worked at Dartmouth College), colleagues and other volunteers to create a temporary "job search" assistance center at a community relief facility. We advertised our programs on the radio, called over 200 people, and put up flyers everywhere--but we had very few takers.
We discovered that a majority of hurricane survivors had concerns that dwarfed their employment needs: housing, insurance claims, and a looming question of whether to rebuild or relocate. In a city where volunteers were putting up handmade street signs to "retag" neighborhoods two months after the storm, job recovery also took time.
Hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed by the storm. I'll never forget seeing the wreckage of Biloxi's casinos in particular: Many of them were built on barges that traveled over the street lights of Highway 90 and deposited on the other side of the Gulf Coast highway. They weren't let down gently.
Many businesses closed for months, others have never reopened. Some reopened in different locations, but not all employees chose to relocate. Bottom line: A hurricane can wreak havoc on your work life, even if your housing remains stable and intact.
So with that in mind, here is my annual "how to prepare your career for a hurricane" post.
Maintain contact with others through an e-mail address/phone number that is portable. Store electronic lists of contacts in e-mail accounts that have regular back-up. (E-mail accounts from local internet providers may not be as accessible as those provided by Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo!, etc.) Store copies of your resume and other important documents electronically (Google Documents and Microsoft Office Live Workspace are two options), and Ensure that you have enough identification to complete an I-9. Evacuate with one clean set of "interview" clothes that fits you well, and will help you get through gatekeepers in any official lines.
Solid contact information for your references.(Phone number alone is not enough; bonus points for having recommendations and information on sites such as LinkedIn.) Know your employer's back-up plan, and have cell phone numbers for company "emergency line" and at least three colleagues.
Fortunately, it's a rare summer storm that results in loss of contact with employers or employment altogether. But, just because it's rare doesn't mean that it won't happen to you. If you feel that there is only a remote possibility that you or someone you know will be personally affected by a hurricane--think again.
- Storms in the 2009 season may develop faster than usual. See this recent report from ABC News.
- Many of us live close to the edge. According to the Census, 1 in 2 Americans lives in a coastal county within 50 miles of the sea.
By taking these simple steps, you can make a jump start on "hurricane proofing your career." Are there any additional strategies you recommend?
If yes, share!
To Your Success,
P.S. If you'd like to volunteer with recovery efforts, I highly recommend Hands On Disaster Response.