Cable Operators

Rebuilding Louisiana

8/27/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

When Cox Communications’
emergency-preparedness team
visited New Orleans in the summer
of 2005 for an annual test of disaster preparedness
and recovery plans, no
one knew how important and fortuitous
that training would be.

Three months later, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast,
devastating everything in its path and, combined with levee
failures, decimating entire swaths of the city, some of which
have yet to be rebuilt.

“We had to start living that book right away. It was no
longer just an exercise,” Cox Communications president Pat
Esser said.

The first thing Cox did after the hurricane struck was
make sure all its employees were located and safe.

“We knew we needed to take care of our employees first,”
Jacqui Vines, senior vice president of Cox Louisiana and
general manager of the Baton Rouge system at the time, said.
“It all goes back to our core values of taking care of our employees
so they can take care of our customers. And that is
exactly what happened.

“We had so many unsung heroes at Cox during this disaster.
They helped save lives and they worked even when they
didn’t have a place to stay,” Vines added.

Once everyone was accounted for — no employees were
lost, but some workers’ family members died in the storm,
according to Esser — Cox went about finding shelter for its
displaced staffers.

Many employees ended up in Baton Rouge, which also
suffered damage, but not to the same extent as New Orleans.

“We had three or four employees [from New Orleans]
show up to work in Baton Rouge right after the storm to help
rebuild the system there, even though they didn’t have anywhere
to live and their homes
in New Orleans were gone,”
Vines said.

“People who didn’t know
where they were going to
sleep were coming into work.
One guy got into his duck
boat and was saving people
in New Orleans before the
National Guard told him to go
home.”

Some 700 New Orleansbased
Cox employees were
set up in a Baton Rouge airline
hangar to begin the
planning phase of the reconstruction
of the New Orleans system, which was all but destroyed
over that fateful Labor Day weekend.

“The first thing we did was tell everyone that we were rebuilding,”
Vines said. “We weren’t leaving the city. So many
other companies were leaving and we were telling people
we were staying.”

Not only did that reassure employees who might have
worried they weren’t going to have jobs, it helped encourage
residents who had evacuated to return to the city, she said.

“It all goes back to the governor,” Esser said of Cox Enterprises
founder James M. Cox.
“When he started (or bought)
a newspaper, he always made
sure it was part of the community.
This was no different.”

In New Orleans, not only
did Cox have to wait for the
power company to turn on its
signal to customers’ homes, it
had to wait for many of those
homes to be declared safe and,
in many cases, be completely
rebuilt.

In some cases, those homes
have still not been rebuilt and
Esser doubts they ever will be.
Cox lost an estimated 100,000 customers due to the storm
and its aftermath.

Within nine months, Cox had totally rebuilt its system in
the Crescent City. The company ended up spending some
$550 million to rebuild its New Orleans network. It spent
about $1 billion statewide to repair and upgrade its network
following subsequent hurricanes, including the particularly
pesky Gustav in 2008, Vines said.

To reinforce its dedication to the community, Cox opened
a customer-care center in New Orleans a couple of years after
the hurricane.

Cox has applied lessons learned from the experience to
help other systems and divisions prepare for possible disasters.
Things that no one would have thought of before became
part of the company’s recovery plans, such as bringing
in doctors to give tetanus shots to all employees, setting up
day-care centers for employees, securing housing for staffers
who had lost their homes or couldn’t access them and
even setting up meals.

In New Orleans, the new network also has allowed Cox to
offer its customers services it probably would not have been
able to deliver for some time, given the age and bandwidth
restrictions of the legacy plant, Vines said.

Today, the system in The Big Easy is one of Cox’s fastestgrowing
operations, in terms of revenue-generating units.

March