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For Marriott International, Hurricane Sandy was a pretty small event. But it was another opportunity to test the response plans put in place after Hurricane Katrina, which hit the company hard.
"There's no comparison" to Katrina, says Lenny Jachimowicz, global vice president, engineering and facilities management, Marriott International. This time, "we didn't have hotels that were shut down for weeks at a time, and we recovered fairly well."
In recent years, the Northeast has become more of a trouble spot. Between blackouts, earthquakes and back-to-back years with hurricanes in an area that usually doesn't have hurricanes, the Marriott team has had multiple opportunities to keep refining and reinforcing the strategies put in place both before and after Katrina.
The first priorities, says Jachimowicz, are the customers and employees. And with an event like Sandy, there's always the possibility that you'll have to evacuate properties. In some cases, that may mean having to evacuate before the official order comes out in anticipation of not being able to get people out after the storm.
"That was a big lesson from Katrina, where we had people trapped in hotels for days," he says.
Other lessons learned from Katrina include the importance of having security and operations staff available. A hotel may come back online before guests are allowed to come back, but leaving it sitting empty with no heating or air conditioning is just asking for trouble. At Marriott, there's an individual plan for each hotel that is regularly tested; while some decisions will be made at the corporate level, most of the responsibility rests with the individual hotel's general manager.
Ultimately, says Jachimowicz, it's important to remember that no matter how solid your plan is, there will always be variables. So, when it comes time to put the plan into practice, flexibility is key.
"We can't control what we can't control," he says. "We can't control flooding, we can't control loss of power from the power companies — (if) they shut down, they shut down — but when things do come back on, we go into action."
— Casey Laughman, managing editor
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