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Friday, August 28, 2015

Commemorating Hurricane Katrina – A Letter from Merritt Lane

Letter from Merritt Lane, CBC President and CEO:

August 29, 2015 marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. There have been countless articles, new stories and events talking about the storm and its impact on our community and its citizens. Needless to say, we have all been through a lot whether as CBC employees or simply as New Orleanians and people who live along the Gulf Coast. It was certainly an extraordinary time for our company and I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the extraordinary resiliency of both our community and our company. In my view, despite the heartache, both institutions are markedly stronger than they were in 2005.

Fortunately for Canal Barge Company, Katrina’s greatest force was felt east of New Orleans, along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where we have very limited marine operations. We were able to hold up or move our vessels either west or north of New Orleans; we experienced downtime, but no damage to our marine assets. Also, most of our mariners did not live in New Orleans; in fact, most lived inland from the Gulf Coast, so their homes were mostly spared. As a result, the main effect of Katrina was on our shoreside staff—and it was very significant.

When our management team went home on the Friday night before Katrina, we were watching the storm tracking towards Florida. In the abundance of caution, we agreed to have an all-hands executive team conference call on Saturday morning at 10 a.m. By that time, the storm had turned, and New Orleans was within the “cone of uncertainty.” We activated our Hurricane Plan, and my family and I started packing. We packed three days’ worth of clothes. We also deployed several advance team staff members to Houston and Memphis so that we would have the necessary resources in place to manage daily operations.

Thanks to our well-executed Hurricane Plan, we were able to locate all of our employees by day 3 after the storm and make sure they and their families were safe. Canal Barge moved most of our New Orleans area-based employees and their families to remote office locations in Houston, Memphis and Baton Rouge, as well as our existing facilities in Sulphur, LA and Channahon, IL. We provided an uninterrupted payroll, and assisted with transportation, housing, schools and other basic services. We ran Canal Barge Company in this structure for about 110 days until we could safely return to establish normal operations in the New Orleans area once again. During the days, weeks, and months that followed Hurricane Katrina, Canal Barge learned the true strength of our relationships. Our people really made the difference, and our customers and vendors were equally supportive. Thanks to the professionalism and commitment of our mariners, we never missed a sailing or failed to meet a customer requirement, and our operation was incident-free. The confidence we gained from this experience has formed the foundation for unprecedented growth and opportunity for our company ever since.

The CBC story is compelling and worth both celebrating and using as a reminder of why CBC is such a successful organization. We were blessed with committed employees, a good game plan and leaders who were capable of and willing to lead. We proved the importance of both being prepared through planning and repeated training, and, most importantly, having a strong and healthy organizational culture. Coming together as the ‘CBC Family’ allowed us to focus on running our business while simultaneously helping our employees and their families in their time of need.

My greatest lesson learned from this experience remains: you need to run your business well every day, not just during emergencies. The fact that we had a good team who trusted one another and a culture that pulls together through both good and bad times really made the difference for CBC. I know from experience that if you take care of your people they will take care of you as well. Thank you all for making a difference at CBC.

Stay safe,

Merritt Lane