Weathering the Storm

Hurricane Harvey Brings Co-Workers, Community Together

By Maria Hoover (Winter 2017 Edition)

BKD bills itself as One Great Firm, and that solidarity was easy to see in late August when Hurricane Harvey stormed ashore and submerged much of Houston, Texas—one of the communities the firm calls home.

Dubbed by area media as a “once-in-an-800-year storm,” Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane and lingered off Texas’ Gulf Coast as a tropical storm. The storm dropped more than 50 inches of rain over a four-day period, making it the wettest hurricane in U.S. history.

Ready to Help

As the rains continued to pour down on Houston, BKDers from around the firm started asking how they could help those affected. In early September, CEO Ted Dickman announced a two-pronged plan for collecting donations for displaced employees and other hurricane relief efforts.

“We’re not just a team, we’re family,” Ted says. “We take care of our own, and some of our BKD family members desperately needed assistance in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.”

The personal donations from those around the firm—coupled with donations from the BKD Foundation—totaled more than $130,000. BKD partners matched the first $40,000 and kept on donating. Organizations receiving these donations were identified as those leading the regional relief and recovery efforts: The American National Red Cross Hurricane Harvey Fund, United Way Harvey Recovery Fund, Houston Food Bank Harvey Disaster Relief and Convoy of Hope Hurricane Harvey Response.

The firm also used charitable crowdfunding website YouCaring to directly assist BKDers affected by the storm. Employees raised more than $28,000 for their Houston colleagues.

Houston Managing Partner Kimberly McKay, who coordinated BKD’s response on the ground in Houston, had encountered tragedy before Hurricane Harvey. She moved to Houston from Colorado, where wildfires threatened her home.

“With the wildfires, we had 50 minutes to evacuate,” she says. “With a flood, there’s more advance notice, which can be good and bad. A flood can give people false hope that they can stay in their homes. Ultimately, Harvey paralyzed the city because people could no longer drive on the roads and had to take boats.”

Kimberly was able to get out of the city before it was too late. After traveling three hours to Waco, she worked with BKD’s National Office in Springfield, Missouri, to account for every Houston team member and make sure they had access to needed resources.

Meeting Needs

For Campus Recruiter Lindsey Leitch, financial support from BKD colleagues meant she was able to keep her family—husband Brad and dog Madden—together after floodwaters forced them out of their home.

The Monday after the storm made landfall, the Leitch family lost power to their home. Lindsey says she wasn’t worried at first because they’d stocked up on food.

But the water kept rising. And rising.

“At one point, water surrounded our house like a moat. There was even a jet ski going down the road,” she says. “We spent the day helping people get out of the neighborhood, went back to our house and realized the water was getting close."

After moving what they could to the second story of their home, Lindsey and Brad had one shot to get out before they were stuck.

“We tried to move most of our things, but we did lose several possessions,” she says. “Once your home has been flooded, anything the water touched is contaminated and should be thrown out. It also leaves behind a terrible stench that lingers on everything.”

They stayed with Brad’s co-workers for a week and a half after the storm, but Lindsey says the financial assistance from BKD was instrumental when they turned to Airbnb for lodging.

“No one really wants to take in a 100-pound Doberman for too long,” she says. “I thought I’d have to drive the dog back to North Carolina and leave her with family while we figured things out.”

Manager Suzy Han, who’s lived in Houston for 11 years, had to be evacuated from her neighborhood by boat.

“We lost all three of our cars,” she says. “Kimberly sent us an email letting us know people had places if we needed somewhere to sleep, but I knew we needed a rental car after we got out. I took my laptop, sent her an email and a co-worker was able to find a rental car right away.”

Flood Time Off

For the first two days, the Houston office remained open. Team members were advised to only come to work if they were positive they could make it safely. Otherwise, they were to work from home or take PTO.

However, due to the enormity of the flooding, firm leaders decided to close the Houston office for the entire week and give employees FTO—flood time off. That allowed time for city infrastructure to be restored.

“It’s hard to work from home when the water is creeping closer to your home,” Kimberly says. “You can’t really work when you’re worried about the safety of your home, friends and family.”

That time off was a relief for Lindsey, who was relatively new to the firm and hadn’t accrued much PTO.

“I was completely shocked,” she recalls. “I went into the office because I didn’t know what else to do. Kimberly walked by and told me I had more important things to do and to go take care of them. I think for me—coming into a new state, a new city and a new job—that’s where I really saw the true colors of BKD shine.”

Rebuilding Efforts

As the city worked to return to normal, BKD team members did the same. Employees tirelessly volunteered their time to help friends, neighbors and strangers rebuild their homes and clean out flood-damaged items.

Lindsey, Brad and Madden were able to get out of their lease after the flood. Because so many people were looking for rentals, they decided to go ahead and buy a new home instead. Suzy and her family closed on a new townhouse that’s actually closer to the office. Following repairs, their flood-damaged suburban home will be put on the market.

Suzy says her experiences with the storm also opened her eyes to new opportunities in her community. She now serves on the board of Mercer Botanic Gardens.

“I’d never heard of them, but the gardens were nearly destroyed by the hurricane and flooding, and I’m helping with their fundraisers,” she says.

When asked about the lingering effects of Harvey, Kimberly shares something she heard from Anna Babin, CEO of United Way of Greater Houston: “We saw the worst of Mother Nature, but we saw the best of human nature.”

She added: “Even three months later, the city is still recovering from Harvey. We have BKDers who still aren’t back in their homes, and we’re just now seeing our clients get back to normal.”

 

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