This weekend, the Weather Channel’s coverage of Hurricane Gustav will trump the U.S. Open at my house. While I watch the burgeoning storm, I’ll be thinking of my friends on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, as well as my own level of preparation. As I currently spend much of my time on the nation’s most populated island—that of Manhattan—I am reminded that I, too, could directly experience the Atlantic hurricane season before it ends on November 30. Two little known facts:
1. According to the Census Bureau, 53% of the U.S. population lives in a county within 50 miles of the coast.
2. Less than 7% of households are ‘Red Cross Ready’ for a disaster or an emergency (Source: Red Cross and Harris Interactive poll, 2007).
I am keenly interested in these statistics based on personal experience. In 2005, I had the opportunity to observe the physical devastation and economic effects of Hurricane Katrina firsthand: I spent two weeks in Biloxi, Mississippi as part of a relief team from Dartmouth College. During this time, I worked with college students and volunteers at Hands On USA to establish a temporary career center in a makeshift relief services facility. It was almost four months after Katrina, and we worked with a city council member, Bill Stallworth, to develop workshops for survivors. We made phone calls to over 200 local residents, put up numerous flyers, and talked up the program at the facility before our programs. Still, we had very few takers: most residents were completely overwhelmed with insurance claims, decisions on how to salvage what remained after the storm surge, and finding long-term housing. (One take-away lesson: winter coats are appreciated starting in late November; a holiday season coat drive has a bigger chance of making an impact than unsolicited physical donations sent immediately after the storm.)
During Katrina, I learned that re-booting your career after a natural disaster can take months depending on your situation. That being said, here are a few critical steps that can exponentially decrease your down-time.
- Develop your own personal business continuity plan: if your phone or e-mail service is provided by a local business, have a back-up plan. Two strategies: keep your phone number through the U.S. Portability Number act, and forward your e-mail from a local provider to an account maintained by a larger host (i.e. Gmail, Yahoo!, AOL).
- Keep all of your forms of original identification with you—and make copies. You need more than a driver’s license alone to establish identity with the Federal government; at a minimum, make sure you will be able to complete the I-9 Employment Eligibility form required by all U.S. employers.
- Know your company’s emergency contact plan and procedures. Don’t rely on local phone service or e-mail; have a back-up plan for communication so that your employer doesn't think you are a "lost cause."
- Store electronic copies of your resume and recommendations using secure on-line storage providers.
- If you evacuate and have room, pack at least one professional outfit—even if you don’t need it for interviewing, you will be glad you have it later if your personal belongings are affected by the storm.
This advance work will speed up the process if you need to file claims or apply for new jobs after the storm. If you need career assistance in preparing your resume and applying for new jobs—keep an eye on websites including Career Hub for updates on available services. After Katrina, a group called Volunteers for Careers was formed by a network of career professionals and associations to provide free services to hurricane survivors. The organization is dormant for now, but will be reactivated "should critical needs arise." Stay tuned.