New Orleans was the focus of headlines after Hurricane Katrina hit, but in its immediate aftermath, employees at the Cox system in Baton Rouge faced a mighty challenge, and did so with gusto. On Friday night, Aug. 27, senior managers at Cox’s Baton Rouge system went to sleep thinking they would be spared a direct hit from the monster hurricane. That changed overnight, and by Saturday Katrina was bearing down on New Orleans, about 60 miles to the south. Cox credits its success after Katrina to its business continuity plans, generated by corporate and revised during the past two years after lessons learned courtesy of Hurricanes Isabel and Ivan. The revamped corporate plan emphasizes taking care of employees immediately, so they can focus on servicing customers. "The plan we had in place for Katrina, and Rita for that matter…had the benefit of actual practice," says Claus Kroeger, SVP, operations, Eastern division. Baton Rouge had activated the emergency preparation plan in the days leading up to Katrina. This included fueling up trucks and 80 emergency generators and setting up better communication procedures with power companies and local emergency management planners. Cox Plans Were in Place For Katrina So when Katrina headed toward New Orleans Saturday, operations in Baton Rouge kicked into high gear. A team of some 35 managers was on call. At 4 a.m. Sunday, hours before Katrina lumbered in, GM Jacqui Vines was hunkered down at system headquarters with four of her senior managers, prepared to ride out the storm. Although the damage paled in comparison to the devastation visited on New Orleans, Baton Rouge took a hard hit, physically and emotionally. "Within a five-day period it was pretty intense in every direction," Vines says. Over the next several weeks, Vines and her team had to restore service to nearly their entire service area, wire dozens of sites for emergency organizations and shelters and respond to thousands of requests for new services from people and businesses that had fled New Orleans. Accomplishing all that would have been a tall order with a full staff, but Vines was several days away from locating all of Baton Rouge’s employees. Even as Baton Rouge tackled its emergency tasks while running day-to-day operations, it hosted 245 employees who eventually poured into Cox offices from New Orleans, almost as fast as the waters from breached levees drenched the Crescent City. "We had employees from New Orleans who showed up and wanted to work, but didn’t know what to do," Vines says. "We had folks with babies who thought they were going home the very next day. It was triage; it was a very intense time." Add to that the missing employees from New Orleans. It took more than two weeks to account for all New Orleans-based Cox personnel. "That was the worst part—not knowing everybody was safe," says Andrew Rice, VP of human resources for Cox Greater Louisiana. "We knew we could help people if we could find them." The first to arrive from New Orleans weren’t evacuees, though; at least they weren’t at the time. Before Katrina hit, the senior management team from New Orleans had enacted its emergency plan, and early Sunday headed to Baton Rouge, where they set up a command post. "Every single one of them needed complete access to their systems," recalls Ramin Rastin, VP of information technology for Cox Southern Louisiana, which includes New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette. Besides all the other complications, New Orleans’ data center was completely flooded. Rastin’s task was to try to re-create it. To do so he needed the New Orleans plant maps and backup tapes. Fortunately a Cox bucket truck dispatched from Baton Rouge made it to New Orleans before the National Guard closed roads. What the engineers found when they arrived at Cox’s Airline office in Metairie made things even tougher: a fleet of Cox trucks submerged in the basement. Rastin ordered about $300,000 worth of servers from vendors Cisco, Dell and Ciena. The servers and other equipment were either trucked in or delivered by charter jet. It took a team of eight engineers working around the clock for four days in Baton Rouge to re-create the New Orleans data center. Restoring Service By Tuesday, David Butler, VP of technical operations, was overseeing a team of about 275 technicians, including 100 from New Orleans, who began restoring service and wiring shelters and emergency offices. Strategy sessions were held every day for two weeks at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. to sort out priorities and assess plant status. About 25% of Butler’s staff was tasked to wire shelters and government agencies. Cox Business Services was also getting record requests for installs with the influx of evacuees and businesses into the city. As a result, Business Services had a record revenue month in September. The commercial services team worked 21 days straight without breaks, VP, business services, Leigh King says. "It took every hour of every day to respond to all our customers’ needs," he adds. "Our customers’ businesses shut down if they don’t have their phones or Internet working." Certain CBS customers, including hospitals, fire departments and government agencies, had agreements calling for guaranteed service restoration within a certain time period. Those customers took priority, followed by requests from about 20 agencies at roughly 60 sites. King had to bring in contractors to supplement his small team. Cox rented about 25 RVs to house the additional workers. As of this writing, they are still being used. On the residential side, most service was restored by Sept. 6, about nine days after the storm hit. But it took several more weeks for all nodes to be repaired. From Recovery to Growth In the immediate aftermath of the storm, Baton Rouge’s population of less than 230,000 has doubled. As many as 20% of the 235,000 evacuees who took refuge in shelters, hotels, apartments and private homes will remain in the city, the Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce estimates. Another 60,000 to 90,000 will remain long term, eventually returning to New Orleans. And those new residents need telecommunications services. Pending installs have jumped to 5,000 to 6,000 from 800 to 1,200, Vines says. King at Cox Business Services says demand remains heavy. Stress Test With employees working for days and weeks nonstop, stress became a factor. Cox corporate reacted by flying in counselors and a doctor, who set up in the Baton Rouge HQ. Also flying in that first week was Cox CEO Jim Robbins, chief people officer Mae Douglas, CTO Chris Bowick and corporate communications chief Ellen East. The four greeted employees and toured shelters. A weekend Family Day bolstered morale and delivered an unexpected benefit. "It was the first time the New Orleans employees had come together as a group," Rice says. "It was cathartic." After the bulk of the work was completed, Vines encouraged every team leader to take time off. "I forced them to relax," she notes. A good recipe for us all. Cox Baton Rouge by the Numbers Employees: 619 (including Cox Media)
Miles of plant: 4,488
Homes passed: 277,062
Bandwidth: 750-860 MHz
Percent upgraded: 100%
Basic subs: 181,376
Basic rate: $8.98-$12.97 (regulated by franchise)
Digital rate: $6-$12
HSD rate: $39.95-$54.95
Telephony rate: $11.37-$43.95
HDTV channels: 15
DVR rate: $4.99 for DVR service; $9.99 for HD DVR
Ad insertable channels: 57 Source: Cox

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