What the hurricanes wrought

gree tree gazette logoSeptember 5, 2006 – From Slidell to Kansas City

When Hurricane Ivan hit Florida on September 16, 2004, it was a wake up call for Thomas M. Macon. “Holy cow, the devastation that a hurricane wreaks is incredible!” exclaims the Midwesterner who had a home in Pensacola, Florida at the time. “My neighbors lost everything. Our parish lost everything. You evacuate and come back to amazing devastation. Our dock was gone; my friends’ houses were gone.”

Macon is CEO of Grantham University, an online institution with students in 50 states and 26 countries. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, the school was located in Slidell, Louisiana. Just after Ivan, Macon announced, “Guys, we have to do something.” All university records were then digitized and stored on servers elsewhere. This action in 2004 saved Grantham’s bacon when Katrina came in 2005.

In January 2005 Grantham began establishing a satellite campus in Kansas City, Missouri. “We agreed that if another hurricane happens, we’ll have people who can operate everything temporarily from Kansas City,” he says. “Just before Katrina actually hit we began conference calls three times a day. Everyone in Slidell had been excused to evacuate, so they were calling in from Georgia, Texas, even California. The satellsure, emailite images showed Katrina. Finally I told our Slidell management team to report to Kansas City the following Tuesday, one day after Labor Day.”

Arriving anew in Kansas City, 23 employees and their families were booked into hotels that Grantham had readied. During the next few days, the reality of the situation began to sink in as they watched New Orleans on the news. Many of them soon learned that they had lost their homes.

Outreach begins

“The team had packed only for a two day evacuation,” Macon recalls. “But donations soon began flowing in. We had to rent four more rooms to hold all the donations. It looked like a mini department store!”

Employees continued to trickle up from Slidell. Eventually 60 families were living in the hotel, using 100 rooms. “Grantham University did everything possible to make our transition from a devastated Slidell, Louisiana, to Kansas City as painless as possible,” says student programs coordinator Tina Taylor. “We were allowed the time we needed to take care of personal business with our homes and families.”

Taylor and her daughter rode a bus to Kansas City. “Prior to Katrina, my work life was spent nourishing a newly formed team of student progress representatives. In my personal life, I was planning my daughter’s sweet 16 birthday party. Who suspected such a drastic change? We lost everything in the hurricane.”

Near the hotel, condominiums had just been built. Grantham rented condo units and furniture for displaced employees and paid their housing and utilities for six months. They even received move-in packages from Bed Bath Beyond that included irons, sheets, pillows, toasters and other household essentials.

Meanwhile, business continued at Grantham University.