SGS US Employees Scramble in Response to the Devastation Caused by Hurricane Harvey
In September 2017, Hurricane Harvey became the largest natural disaster in US history, affecting 13 million people in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky. The category 4 storm hit Texas on August 25, 2017, leaving 250,000 people without power.
The following day, Harvey moved onto Houston, remaining there for four days. Two reservoirs overflowed and the highways became waterways – approximately 30 percent of Houston's Harris County was flooded. On August 29, Harvey made landfall a third time, hitting the coastal cities of Port Arthur and Beaumont Texas, on the border with Louisiana. It dumped 26 inches of rain in 24 hours and flooded Port Arthur, a city of 55,000 people. Then, on August 31, an Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas caught fire when the storm disabled the cooling equipment and chemicals ignited as temperatures rose. Finally, on September 1, Harvey dropped 10 inches of rain on Nashville, Tennessee, with flooding forcing 39,000 people out of their homes and into shelters. Much of Harvey's damage came from massive rainfall.
Thankfully, no fatalities of SGS employees or their direct families were reported. However, approximately 30 SGS employees in our Oil, Gas and Chemicals (OGC) business in the Houston area were directly affected, with their homes flooded and their vehicles lost. Other employees from SGS Petroleum Services Corporation (PSC); our Environment, Health and Safety (EHS), Transport and Minerals businesses; and our Operational Integrity (OI) team were also affected. The SGS facility in Deer Park was closed for almost a week due to severe weather conditions. Other SGS facilities on the Gulf Coast were closed as conditions worsened. In fact, all local employees were affected either directly due to water damage or indirectly, by effects on families, friends, and local businesses.
Our senior management team recognized the severity of the storm early on. Advanced planning allowed them to secure supplies, vehicles, fuel, and a block of hotel rooms for use after the storm. Operations were closed a few days before impact to allow employees to properly prepare, with skeleton crew remaining present at some operations. However, many of our clients also shut down their operations, helping to make our operations more feasible. The management team established a daily routine for information gathering, communication, and mobilization of resources. Social media pages and email campaigns were created as communication channels.
Throughout the disaster, management accounted for all employees and allowed them to stay at home. Supervisors checked in daily with their direct reports to account for their safety and identify their needs. Shelter needs were assessed and hotel rooms were provided for employees to use as temporary housing on an as-needed basis. A command center was established for distribution of relief supplies, including cleaning supplies, water, food, baby items and hygiene products. Care packages were assembled and distributed by SGS employee volunteers, and three rental vehicles were made available to employee’s families. Management met daily to discuss relief efforts, including ensuring that employee’s immediate financial needs were met and gift cards were provided to employees’ children. They also ensured that employees were paid during the temporary closure of our operations.
SGS partnered with The Giving Circle (TGC) to provide rebuild assistance. TGC provided a safe, non-profit option for monetary donations specific to Hurricane Harvey Relief efforts. News of the partnership was shared across social media and email channels, and many employees contributed. SGS also partnered with a local church and the City of Pasadena to set up a volunteer center where incoming workers were sheltered and fed, and had access to a shower trailer.
As part of cleanup operations, the homes of three employees were completely gutted, re-insulated and re-sheetrocked. The homes also had joints taped and new hot water tanks and doors installed. Funds were provided to assist with additional home recovery, including the rebuilding of a new roof for one home. We provided contractors for two homes, while TGC provided sheet rock, mud, insulation, tape, and gift cards. Many other SGS volunteers removed debris and wet items from several homes before mold could set in and make them uninhabitable. Several truckloads of extra supplies were donated to local shelters and distribution centers in the Houston Area – providing relief to a local community where our employees live and work.
Management and designated staff checked in with affected employees for the first several weeks, and most of their needs were met within this timeframe. Donations collected by TGC, including the SGS Corporate donation, totaled CHF 24,100 (USD 25,000). Several SGS employees also donated flights to TGC rebuilding specialists, allowing them to travel to Houston and help with the recovery.
In addition to senior management teams in SGS USA and SGS NAM providing tremendous support, hundreds of other employees across our business lines volunteered locally to help their peers and community.
“I believe SGS helping during this time of need sent a clear message to all employees that SGS as a company, led by the senior leadership team, cares about employees. Many employees have stated how impactful it was for them to see the senior leadership team help clean out homes or bring much needed supplies to affected employees who were in need.” Carl Parker, Operational Integrity Training Specialist
“One new OGC employee that worked for the competitor before joining SGS said, ’I have never worked for a company that has taken care of their employees like this and I am so proud to work for SGS.’” Kathy Mills, OGC HR Director
“I know I work for a special company that truly cares for its employees, not because of what I have heard or been told, but because of what I have seen with the response to Hurricane Harvey.” Paul Hernandez, US OI Director
“We stood in our colleague’s home and literally had to rip out everything – mementos, furniture, the walls, everything. Nothing was salvageable. It was devastating to see their entire life carried out to the curb for trash pickup …. There was no shortage of concern for our colleagues from a regional level. People were messaging from all over asking what they could do to assist.” Kristi Brells, SGS NAM Vice President OI, Strategic Transformation and US Minerals