Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina
September 14, 2015

Six disaster response lessons from Katrina and other storms

Wells Fargo’s Perry Hilzendeger highlights the disaster response lessons the company has learned from Hurricane Katrina and more over the past decade.

Shirlee and James Anthony climbed aboard the Wells Fargo Mobile Response Unit for one reason: to help get their lives back to normal after the floods in Houston.

Within an hour, Wells Fargo’s Janette Magana had helped the Anthonys get everything they needed to secure Wells Fargo’s endorsement on their insurance check so they could begin repairs of their flood-damaged home.

The Anthonys are among more than 240,000 mortgage customers we’ve helped in the past decade in the wake of disasters such as Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast, Superstorm Sandy in the Northeast, tornadoes in Oklahoma, wildfires in Colorado, and, just this past May, the floods in Houston.

Six disaster response lessons from Katrina and other storms
Six disaster response lessons from Katrina and other storms
Six disaster response lessons from Katrina and other storms
Six disaster response lessons from Katrina and other storms
Wells Fargo’s Janette Magana (left) assists James and Shirlee Anthony after the 2015 floods in Houston.
A decade after Katrina, Home Lending’s Connie Wright (left), Kim Smith-Moore, and Hugh Rowden volunteer to help rehab homes in New Orleans.
Katrina 2005: A local TV station updates viewers about recovery efforts in Mississippi near one of our reopened banks.
Wells Fargo's mobile ATMs feature hydraulics that lower the machines for use by any customer plus satellite and cellular connectivity.

Our work with these homeowners ― 56,000 customers in Katrina alone ― has highlighted six things necessary for companies to do to help their employees, and communities, bounce back:

  1. Meet people face to face. There’s nothing like personal contact — a handshake, smile, and reassuring voice — in times of crisis. In recent years, we’ve met in-person with nearly 12,000 customers at disaster scenes, helping cash insurance checks, processing claims, and finding other ways to speed recovery. We deploy trucks that act as mobile ATMs and weather/emergency information centers. We get customers access to cash for food, water, fuel, and other needs when power is out and electronic payments won’t work.
  2. Open an official help center. In the early days, we set up in reconfigured buses, converted stores, and restaurants. Today we have our Mobile Response Unit, a central help center and mobile office staffed with specially trained team members and expanded capabilities that allow us to quickly provide local disaster-relief services along with our banking stores and retail mortgage branches.
  3. Communicate in every way possible. From mainstream media to social media, we’re using every means available to reach customers. Most recently, we began using texting, specialized online banking messages, and other web-based tools to get critical information to customers about disaster relief in their areas. Our online “Get Help with Disaster Recovery” resource center answers common customer questions, provides key contacts, and more. Our Home Mortgage customers can also visit the payment assistance site, call 800-678-7986, or visit a HUD-approved counselor.
  4. Volunteer and give. While we’ve fine-tuned our response efforts, we know it takes long-term assistance to help victims fully recover. That’s where volunteering can make a big impact. Earlier this summer, for example, our team members helped rehab four homes in New Orleans in a community service day tied to the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Team members volunteered 1.74 million hours to their communities. In addition to time, it’s important to contribute financially, too. We donated more than $1.4 million to the American Red Cross in 2014, including money to support disaster relief. And since we began allowing customers to join our support of Red Cross relief efforts in 2007, they’ve donated $4.1 million at our ATMs.
  5. Be prepared. Just as individuals need to be prepared before disasters strike, so must companies. That means planning and fostering teamwork to prepare and respond quickly, like we do through our Enterprise Incident Management Team, the Regional Banking Incident Management group for our banking store network, and business continuity plans in our businesses. This year, we also partnered with the American Red Cross to develop a new quarterly webinar series for managers on preparing for disasters.
  6. Take care of your people so they can take care of others. A top priority in any disaster is ensuring the safety and well-being of our Wells Fargo team members. Our Employee Assistance Consulting group works to help them recover — including immediate emergency support, emotional counseling, and links to government aid and our own internal WE Care Fund emergency-aid grants for those facing severe financial hardships. We take care of our own so at the same time they can help their communities recover.

I hope we never see another Hurricane Katrina or a Moore, Oklahoma, tornado or any other disaster, but we stand ready to help when they do occur. As someone once put it, “When disaster strikes, the time to prepare has passed.”