A family frantically climbs onto an air mattress to escape their flooding home, their precious belongings floating around them. Water levels rise by the hour. Precipitation falls with force. Dams release water. Relief seems nowhere in sight.
That’s how some of our customers and employees experienced Hurricane Harvey in late August 2017, when historic rainfall was unleashed on southeast Texas during the four days the storm stalled there.
But when Harvey was still just a tropical storm developing in the Gulf of Mexico, our Comcast team in Texas was already preparing for possible disaster. They worked hard to establish communications with local governments, employees, customers, and the community at large. Their planning and strategies set a new standard for disaster response throughout Comcast NBCUniversal.
“As the waters rose, our employees rose to the challenge,” says Ralph Martinez, Comcast Senior Vice President for the Houston Region. “Even though our employees — every one of us — could not get out of our homes for four days.”
Most of the Houston area maintained Comcast service during the storm. Once employees were able to safely return to work, technicians went out in boats to keep Comcast’s facilities from going down. The majority of outages were in areas where electrical power was disrupted.
The preparation, communication, strategy, and recovery process for Harvey became a blueprint for the whole company — a blueprint that was, unfortunately, put to the test again too soon. From its hurricanes to its wildfires, 2017 was one of the most catastrophic years on record for natural disasters.
“There’s a saying, ‘When you’ve seen one hurricane, you’ve seen one hurricane,’ because they’re all different,” Martinez says. New lessons come with each storm.
Harvey brought more than 50 inches of rainfall in its wake. And two weeks later, Hurricane Irma tore through Florida, causing massive wind damage and far-reaching power outages.
Florida Region Senior Vice President Amy Smith put in place extensive storm preparations, which included establishing command centers to monitor our network and deploying fuel trucks outside impacted areas so that they would be ready to support our generators, trucks, and equipment. Additional tests were run on all of our electrical networks and backup power generators for our main facilities. Smith’s team prepared all necessary logistics to have our crews on standby to enter the field as quickly as possible after the storm. Our quick responses and hard work led to an outpouring of social media praise from our customers.
From coast to coast, the catastrophic floods, winds, and fires of 2017 united us, as people and as a company, with a new sense of resilience and pride. Throughout Harvey, Martinez had a guiding mantra: “We will come out of this better and stronger.” The recovery efforts and outreach during these events revealed that together we are Comcast strong.