Gulf Coast casinos faced big challenges after Katrina hit. If they were lucky enough to have their hotels standing and their barges floating, they still had to cope with power and communication breakdowns, missing employees, business interruption and local politics. The way they managed these issues largely could determine whether individual casinos--or entire companies--survive.
"All your phone service is wiped out, you don't have power," says Tim Hinkley, president and chief operating officer of Isle of Capri Casinos Inc., explaining the grim situation after Katrina bulldozed through Mississippi. "We were flying blind for a 24-hour period of time as a company. But we're able to get things back on line and continue our operations." Hinkley attributes some of his company's success to its catastrophe management plan. Isle of Capri had plans to respond to storms as strong as Category 4.
Such plans are essential if companies want to say in business, says Bill Boyd, chairman of Agility Recovery Systems. "If you're a business and you have a disaster," says Boyd, "60 percent of businesses won't be there in two years." When Agility briefed its clients following Katrina, for instance, it helped them determine which departments needed help first to hasten the recovery.
Clients then were found office space in safe locations, with power, communications, computer and server hardware, and anything else necessary to make them a viable, active company.
All of this activity is focused on recovering the businesses as close to their original sites as possible, which is "much better for a long-term stable recovery," says Bob Boyd, president and CEO of Agility.
For the Isle of Capri, when the storm approached, the first stage of its emergency plan was launched. It focused primarily on evacuation and protecting lives. After Katrina roared past, the next stage was to assess damage, both to property and people.
To track down its 1,150 employees, the company announced, on the Web and on local radio, that it was handing out checks at its corporate offices on the Monday and Tuesday a week after Katrina made landfall.
The operation provided financial support to its employees, Hinkley explains, but it also served as a "good central clearing point"--for information collection and dissemination to and from employees to help employees, for example, with housing, insurance and counseling.
Isle of Capri also assessed its property. Its Biloxi-based corporate office, though it served as the makeshift check depot, was not viable. The backup office at Vicksburg, Miss., had no communication capabilities. So executives temporarily moved to Bossier City, La. They moved back to Biloxi only late in September, when the town regained power.
The storm had an impact on all six of its Gulf casinos. Both their Vicksburg and Natchez, Miss., facilities had to shut down, largely because of power outages.
"There was just a real uncertainty from a customer standpoint as far as what was happening," says Hinkley. "We had a real lull there for about two and a half, three weeks."
For their Biloxi casino, of course, the lull has been much worse. The building itself survived the storm without major damage, but Hinkley would not say on when the casino there would be back in business. "Obviously," he says, "we've got plans as to how we can get back up operating very quickly, but we're going to need help from the state to do this."
October 15, 2005
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