Wal-Mart is often the first on the scene at weather-related disasters, and with good reason. This mega-size retailer uses its massive scale and nimble logistics operations to be ahead of the disaster in most cases. But the retailer says that state of preparedness doesn't just happen overnight.
“Our company meteorologist has been watching Isaac since it was a tropical storm. We began planning our moves last Wednesday from our central command center in Bentonville. Liaisons from the Red Cross and Salvation Army are posted in our command center and we have a disaster recovery team in route to Louisiana at this time,” said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Dianna Gee.
Gee, is also en route to Louisiana and spoke to The City Wire via telephone today (Aug.28).
Wal-Mart closed 30 stores in the gulf region this morning (Tuesday, Aug. 28) around 11 a.m. to give its associates ample time to reach safe ground ahead of Isaac’s expanded landfall around 9 p.m. tonight.
Gee said Wal-Mart tries to keep stores open as long as possible to give local residents time to stock up on supplies, but not at the expense of the safety of its own workers.
“Our first priority is the safety of our people, but we know community residents also depend on us to get the supplies they need before and immediately after the storm passes. We have to be there on the ground working to make sure the stores are up and operational as soon as possible,” Gee said.
The retailer’s disaster recovery team en route to Louisiana is equipped with third party electricians and safety management personnel who will be working to get stores back online as soon as the storm passes and flood waters recede.
“We are stocked with ample dry ice that can also keep perishables cool while electricians get generators going and ultimately electric power is restored, “Gee said.
She said the recovery team also includes merchandisers, human resource personnel and logistic operators.
All but two of the store closures are in Louisiana and Mississippi — in the direct path of Hurricane Isaac — which has been downgraded to a Category 1 storm with wind speeds between 74 and 95 miles an hour, according to the National Weather Service.
Gee said there is a second command center in Hattiesburg, Miss., for the Wal-Mart logistics and rescue teams who will work with state and local governments to get needed supplies distributed throughout the affected region.
“Trucks are loaded and ready to move out when needed, but right now we are in holding pattern staying in close contact with our command center in Bentonville who’s closely monitoring the approaching storm,” Gee said.
She said distributing supplies to those community most impacted is the third prong of Wal-Mart’s disaster protocol.
“Our logistics team is a well-oiled machine, as we have trucks on the road at nearly all times. This allows us to get supplies into areas very quickly and assist other agencies such as the American Red Cross,” Gee said.
Jeff Patrick spokesman with the local Red Cross chapter says the agency is already cleaning up in Florida and has mobilizing disaster workers, emergency vehicles, mobile kitchens and relief supplies to the Gulf Coast states where Isaac is expected to make landfall near New Orleans this evening.
Dozens of Red Cross shelters are on stand-by and more than 50 pre-positioned support trailers are ready with supplies, according to the Patrick.
The latest weather estimates say the intensity of Isaac has slowed but the outer bands of the storm is dumping large amounts of rain along the Alabama coastline moving westward. Isaac is expected to cause serious flooding throughout the region and the threat of tornados is also high as the storm moves inland.