Superstorm Sandy: What Happens When It Happens to You?

What if you weren’t simply a voyeur to a tragedy, but instead were living it first-hand?

What if you were a field general and you weren’t afforded any weapons? How would you react when Armageddon actually happened? What would you do?

This is what happened to us in New Jersey recently as a result Sandy.

Like many of you in this industry I am a take-charge guy. But what if there is nothing to take charge of? You see folks, planning for both before and after an emergency striking is so vitally important.

I wrote hypothetically in the first few lines above, but the "what if" does actually happen. Superstorm Sandy destroyed my state. Not just the coast--the entire state. You saw it on the news. And for us, we became the news.

What lessons can I share with you about this experience? First, you have to focus on the human element--business becomes very secondary. My office manager lost her home, her cars and all of her worldly possessions, and she is still coming into work every day. That, in and of itself, represents a profile in courage. Mind you, she did not live at the beach--if anyone thinks this disaster is strictly a beach event they are sorely mistaken. Some of my regional managers cannot see their homes because the National Guard won’t let them.

I have a community on the Raritan River, a good five miles from the Hudson Bay. In another clear profile in courage, my manager hauled 107 new appliances up to the second floor in preparation for Sandy because we had lost 48 units during Hurricane Irene in late August 2011 and they were just rebuilt.  

This same manager anticipated the storm surge, and put generators on stilts. What brilliance and forethought. But it was to no avail--the waves that came and landed five miles inland were higher than the stilts.

Less than two weeks after Sandy, we were hit by a Nor’easter and got a foot of snow. The damage has doubled. So for now, since this all started, our situation hasn’t gotten better, it has gotten worse.

By nature, we are problem-solvers. What do you do when the problems are so ominous, and the best of us simply do not have answers? You learn, you adapt and you overcome. I have seen people become desperate. Over the past few weeks, I have seen the best of human kind and the worst. When an emergency hits your area, which side will you fall on?

Do you in your business include worst-case scenario planning? My suggestion is you should. I have been reminded of them many times over the past few years. Tornados, earthquakes, hurricanes, blizzards: the worst-case scenario does happen—and never so as starkly as in this most current event.

Where do you start? And once you start, what are some really important things you learn? How can you infuse them into your business plan? We thought we were smart and had portable generators everywhere, ready to go. But are they useful when you cannot get gas?

Folks, it’s not all about business. First and foremost, it’s about human beings. You have to adjust your decision-making to comprehend and understand that it’s for both your residents and your employees.

Mike Beirne is Executive Vice President of The Kamson Corporation, based in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. Kamson operates approximately 90 communities and more than 15,000 units, throughout New Jersey and the Northeast.