The good that Hurricane Harvey brought in return for the devastation
The counselor I spoke to post-disaster told me journaling is a good way to heal. So here, I am, penning a story of one of the scariest yet most life-affirming times of my life.
Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas on Friday, August 25, 2017. Fortunately, I was on the road for client business when this took place. What made this unfortunate was that my wife and our two kids were stuck in our suburban home outside of Houston. Like many others, I watched the media coverage as Harvey poured over 51 inches of rain in a six-day span. An estimated 27 trillion gallons of water came down upon Texas and Louisiana, and from my vantage point, all of it seemingly collected in my little subdivision of Canyon Gate in Katy, Texas. This was the proverbial, ‘fitting a gallon of milk into a thimble’.
Not having the ability to return to Houston because the airports were shut down, I resorted to remotely communicating with my family via FaceTime. Across the screens, we experienced the increasing anxiety as the water, like a persistent stalker, slowly made its way to our house. Even more horrifying was learning that in order to prevent more flooding, our community had to bear the brunt of releasing two local reservoirs. When the flood water reached the halfway point on our driveway on Monday, August 28, my wife and two kids grabbed essential belongings and were boated out of our subdivision.
The 1,000-year-flood came with great devastation and a huge aftermath. It wasn’t until Sept. 1 that I was finally able to drive back to Houston from Dallas and be reunited with my family. The four-hour commute felt like a week to complete, as my mind raced back and forth between being very thankful my family was physically fine and the cold reality of trying to figure out all the recovery steps needed to get us back on our feet.
On Wednesday, Sept. 6, a full 10 days after the initial landfall, my family and I returned to our house. Our beautiful home of 17 years—which welcomed my wife and me back from our honeymoon, snugly nestled our two children when they arrived from the hospitals, hosted numerous birthday parties and family anniversaries, and acted as the de facto conference room for many of my successful business transactions—had been drowned in three feet of water and beaten to a pulp by an unforgiving, brutal hurricane. I was struck by the disheartening realization that a part of our family—the nexus of our family universe—did not make it out okay.
However, darkness cannot exist without the presence of light, and this is where the brighter part of the tale begins. Through gestures large and small, Accenture provided a community of comfort that far exceeded anything we could have possibly hope for.
Days following the storm, my colleagues in Houston began self-organizing and mobilizing to form what we began to call “Harvey Helpers.” Over 500 Accenture employees and their family members and friends came together and did what our company is known for; we organize, strategize and execute plans. They went to clean flooded houses, collected and donated goods and volunteered at shelters and food banks across Houston.
An Accenture crew of a dozen incredible human beings arrived at our house on Sept. 7. They rolled up their sleeves to help demo our house, removed trash and debris, brought supplies and equipment and provided guidance and support. Coworkers from all levels and practices came together and worked shoulder to shoulder to contribute whatever skillsets they brought to the table. I saw a managing director shoveling trash, senior managers advising on how to demo properly and throw out old appliances and consultants and analysts breaking down and building up equipment and walls. Over the course of two days, our terribly damaged home was stripped to its essentials, cleansed to the bone and set up properly to begin the healing process. In addition to the physical labor, these Harvey Helpers gave something much more precious to our family; they gave us hope that we would get through this.
When I initially picked up my family from the disaster, we had no place to go. Accenture gave us the hotel accommodation and flexible work arrangements so we could focus on the matters at hand. A managing director directly reached out and helped route me to the Accenture Charitable Trust fund, which collected monetary contributions made by Accenture and our own colleagues across the world to provide employees in need with immediate financial relief. This provided a substantial gift that we received within three days of application.
From afar, we also received an outpouring of support from the Accenture community—from the account team in New Orleans, which provided in-depth best practices with dealing on housing recovery and FEMA assistance and our New York colleagues whose client made a generous donation to the Red Cross and shared their learnings from Hurricane Sandy to my superiors who sent in gift cards to get me a fresh set of clothes.
How can you not feel gratitude and pure love when people, who have absolutely no obligation to help me and my family, came to lend a hand? How can you not be overcome by the humanity of your boss, your coworkers, your leaders and your company when they assure you by their actions that you don’t have to do this alone?
At Accenture, we talk about being authentic and “truly human.” You only have to experience it to know in your heart when your employer is truly human. This disaster was devastating in so many ways to so many of us, and yet, it allowed the truly human side of Accenture to shine through. For that, I am truly grateful.
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