A Mammoth Mess
In August 2005, New Orleans’ Audubon Nature Institute was on the verge of beginning a $100 million capital campaign. Philadelphia-based development, marketing and management consultants Schultz & Williams had just finished a feasibility study for the organization, and all signs were “go.”
“I don’t think I ever saw so many positive signs for the success of a capital campaign,” Schultz & Williams President Scott Schultz says. “They were — they are — a beloved institution in that city. People really cared about it, people were really engaged. We felt very good about moving forward with this capital campaign.”
Then, on the morning of Aug. 26, “There was this thing in the Gulf,” recounts Laurie Conkerton, vice president for development for ANI. That “thing in the Gulf” turned out to be Hurricane Katrina, one of the costliest and most deadly hurricanes in the history of the United States, which devastated New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast.
Caught in the storm
ANI is a nonprofit organization that operates 10 nature-based facilities in New Orleans that collectively attract 2.2 million visitors annually. When voluntary evacuations were announced, ANI quickly made the decision to close
its facilities to the public. Staff prepared for the storm, securing offices and animal enclosures, putting computers in plastic bags, and moving files.
ANI had a disaster plan in place, which it reviewed annually. Every year, as hurricane season began, the organization would make sure it had things such as alternative sources of fuel and extra animal feed; it double-checked supply lines and sent copies of important animal records to a safe haven. It also had business-interruption insurance. But the plan was only meant to sustain the organization for a two-week period at most.
“We were set up for a normal evacuation, which is where you leave town for a couple of days, you come back, clean up and open up because the storm hasn’t come anywhere near you,” Conkerton says. “Our facilities had resources to function for two weeks without contact with the outside world. But I don’t think anybody imagined that we would be closed for two and a half months after a storm went through.”