7 Lessons from Sandy
John Odermatt writes on what Citigroup learned from Hurricane Sandy, and how you should prepare now for your next crisis event.
While coordinating Citigroup’s response to Hurricane Sandy last fall, I witnessed the kind of partnership and cooperation we experienced in New York City in the days after 9/11. It was an impressive example of what a comprehensive crisis response should be.
To ensure we had all the key players engaged as the storm approached, my team in Citi’s Office of Emergency Management activated our 45-member Crisis Management Team. From human resources and crisis communicators to facility managers and medical staff, we brought together crisis managers from all corporate functions, businesses and regions and got everyone talking to each other early.
Rising to the challenge
New York City’s mandatory evacuations of waterfront areas impacted more than 10,000 of our employees in three buildings. We increased the capacity of our remote networks to support the thousands of employees working from home.
To ensure seamless global markets coverage for our clients, we moved 1,600 trading, operations and support staff to contingency sites in New Jersey. Before the storm hit, we closed more than 350 Citibank branches from D.C. to Boston that were in the path of the storm.
The storm was one of the most significant crisis events in New York City since 9/11. My teammates at Citi rose to the challenge, going to extraordinary lengths to support our colleagues and communities. The East River’s storm surge flooded the basement of our building on Wall Street, damaging the electric infrastructure and requiring us to find new locations for the 1,900 employees who worked there.
Colleagues in Citi Security & Investigative Services went above and beyond in every way. They protected our facilities, delivered food to stranded employees, and even saved a stranger and his dog from the Hudson River’s rising floodwaters.
Citi’s response to Hurricane Sandy reinforced several best practices in crisis management:
Establish a command center
When you’re making fast decisions that really matter, there’s no substitute for looking people in the eye. Though dozens of colleagues joined us via phone, our core cross-functional team spent a week working from a conference room at Citi’s headquarters. Virtual meeting technology is an incredible tool, but there is something powerful about making decisions in person. In the months since Sandy, our relationships with colleagues across the firm have been strengthened by those hours together in the command center.
Foster geographic diversity
Our two primary crisis communicators lost power early in the storm, but teammates in un-impacted areas of New York City and in Florida kept employees updated. Citi campuses in New Jersey remained on generator power, providing a stable working environment for hundreds of Manhattan-based employees. Teammates in London helped highlight a New Jersey colleague’s need for special assistance.
Build and maintain relationships
Hurricane Sandy reinforced the importance of staying connected with government entities and industry associations. We gained valuable insights and perspectives from our tight relationships with New York City’s Office of Emergency Management and the Securities Industry & Financial Markets Association. Use your time between crises to build and maintain relationships so you can rely on a strong network when you need it.
Leverage new communication tools
Ways of communicating that once seemed indispensible now seem irrelevant. We never even activated our recorded emergency phone line, but we did use an automated notification system extensively, sending more than 350 customized emergency advisories via phone and email, with updates on everything from location changes to shuttle bus departures and building temperatures. Facebook and Twitter helped us inform customers of fee waivers, branch re-openings and the location of our mobile ATM.
Show employees you care
Times of crisis can be a powerful chance to support your employees. Our Human Resources team established a hotline for Citi employees who needed assistance after the storm. We managed 520 employee calls for help with basic supplies, pay, housing, returning to work and financial aid. Our security colleagues coordinated dozens of home deliveries in the hardest-hit areas, providing food, water and cleaning supplies. One employee called in tears to convey her thanks.
Practice, practice, practice
The old mantra “set it and forget it” doesn’t work anymore. Being a good crisis manager is like being a competitive athlete: you need frequent drills to help you stay on top of your game. Rigorous tabletop testing and role-playing scenarios are critical. In fact, we’d tested our backup trading capabilities the week before Sandy hit.
Ensure your plans evolve
Good crisis planning means monitoring the changing threat landscape. A hurricane striking New York City once seemed unthinkable. Preparing for new and different threats is a challenge when budgets are tight, but it’s still critical.
Make the most of the time after a crisis, when readiness and preparation are top of mind.
Use the opportunity to plan and anticipate what’s ahead.
Citigroup’s Office of Emergency Management and Fraud Surveillance Unit.
John joined Citi in 2004 after retiring as Commissioner of the New York City Office of Emergency Management, the culmination of a twenty-year career in public service that began with the New York Police Department.