The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Aftermath of HurricaneSandy

Nothing brings out character like a crisis.  And this is as true for businesses as it is for individuals.

Our recent super-stormSandy is a case in point.  I live in the bull’s eye area of the storm, in New Jersey, so I’ve had the opportunity to see (again) some of the exemplars of business reaction.

The Good:

Every once in a while, businesses large and small do something so right it’s hard to believe.

For example, Verizon.  Without power for extended periods of time, most of us were living on our cell phones, calling about emergencies, checking on neighbors, reassuring those outside the area that we were safe.  Minutes, hours, get eaten up fast.  And Verizon regularly gives its mobile customers the extra time, beyond contract, to get through the emergency.

For example, Chase.  Of course in this electronic age, more and more people do on-line banking and rely on ATMs.  So Chase cancels ATM fees for the emergency and extends payment due dates.

For example, local merchants.  One little convenience store in my area lost power with the rest of us.  So, obviously, his credit card terminal wasn’t working.  He let customers walk out of his store with hundreds of dollars worth of goods, saying they should come back and pay when the power is restored.

The Bad:

One of my favorite storm-related stories comes from an insurance company that put out a robo call before the storm hit.  They informed customers that if we lost telephone service and had a claim, we should call 877-…-….  Yep.  That’s helpful.  So if I have a claim and no phone, I can just go outside and yell 877-…-….   That should get me prompt service.  (And what is frightening about this is that you just know someone in that corporation is very proud of his “customer-centric”, pro-active response to the emergency.)

Then there are the gougers.  Everyone’s seen them.  The businesses large and small who see these emergencies and their aftermath as a way to pad the bottom-line, to make their year.   The tree services, for example, who feel free to charge what the traffic will bear because when you have a tree through your roof you don’t have a lot of negotiating room.

But the best story I’ve come across here comes from the Glenpointe Marriott.  This hotel charged top dollar for those escaping the storm.  Fair enough.  Business is business.  But it also took the opportunity to charge an extra $13.00 per night for Internet access.  Then, they lost power; and everyone was sitting in a room with no light and no heat.  Wait for it:   Marriott actually charged its guests for the night in the dark room – and for the Internet access they didn’t have.

The Ugly:

It just doesn’t get any better than this:  Regulated utilities.

As soon as Sandy’s path was projected, days before its effects were being felt on the East Coast, Virginia Power announced that it expected not to have power for its customers until November 5.  PSE&G (in northern NJ) at least had the grace to wait til the storm hit before announcing power wouldn’t be restored til the 5th.

Are you sensing a pattern here?  By coincidence, the 5th was the day before the election.  Hmmm.  You don’t suppose do you, that the utility company executives didn’t want to face the wrath of politicians in states where people couldn’t vote?  Remember, these estimates were made before the devastation of the storm had even begun or damage assessed.

What was interesting, too, was that for days after the storm, the FedEx trucks were running throughout northern NJ, the post office was delivering mail, UPS was making deliveries, even the bottled water company trucks were running around.  The local DPW workers were out clearing debris.  The cable companies were out checking for trouble spots.  The only trucks not in evidence were those from the utility.  There wasn’t a PSE&G truck to be seen.

But we know PSE&G was working.  The functioning newspapers carried the utility company’s public notice of a rate increase request.  Yes, during the clean up, while the devastation was being assessed, while they were too busy to get to the vast majority of customers with no power, they got their public notice filed.  That they could get done, but they utility company executives (who have unlisted numbers) were too busy to get to, or even talk to, hospitals, nursing homes, police departments, and municipal governments.

And let’s talk about the politicians.  Michael Bloomberg couldn’t be bothered arranging food and basic materials to those on Staten Island who lost their homes and were without heat, food, and clean water.  He was busy trying to keep the NY Marathon on track.  What the heck, the police had nothing better to do than protect and monitor the proposed course.  And the huge generators dedicated to providing heat and electricity to the media tent couldn’t have been better used elsewhere.  After being excoriated in the press and by the public, Bloomberg gave in and cancelled the marathon.

And many of the runners gave their time to bring supplies to those in desperate need.

Compare that to Bette Midler and crew who continued with their star-studded fancy dress ball to raise funds for more green and open space in NYC.  Don’t worry, Bette, all those homes that were destroyed have given NY a great deal more open space, on Staten Island anyway.  I’m sure the people who were devastated have no need of the $1.5 million you raised.

And I feel really good that Gov. Christie and President Obama made the obligatory trek to survey damage.  It gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling to know that Obama opened the government coffers, and he and Christie exhorted bureaucrats to cut through red tape and get the job done.  Then, of course, they went back to work – Christie putting out gas rationing and Obama putting in more campaign appearances.  But it was nice that they both congratulated each other on a job well done.

Meanwhile, those devastated remain so.  People are without heat (and the temperatures are dropping below freezing at night).  Old and infirm people are trapped in their apartments with no food, being cared for by good Samaritans.  Infants are without formula.  Homes have been destroyed.  Communities demolished.

Every crisis becomes a test of character.

I will leave it to you to decide who passed – and who didn’t.

(BTW, I’m sure many of you have stories of your own.  I’d like to hear them.)



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