A Mammoth Mess
And there were other things that ANI had not been prepared to implement, such as a structured strategy for extended communications with employees in the event of a massive shut down.
The storm’s intense winds knocked out power at ANI’s aquarium. Backup generators struggled to maintain the facility’s life-support system, but in the end, most of the 10,000 aquatic animals in the collection died. Established tree canopies — outdoor ceilings, so to speak, formed when the leaves from different trees meet — at the research center, Audubon Park and Woldenberg Riverfront Park were severely damaged, as well. The zoo was in a bit better shape, as only a few animals in its collection were lost.
After the storm hit, ANI’s parks became satellite operational centers for first responders. And though the zoo, aquarium and research center all are located on or adjacent to the Mississippi River on some of the city’s higher ground, the nature center was under water, as were many areas in New Orleans.
Within a week, ANI scrambled to find remote office space in Baton Rouge, La., setting up temporary offices where it could get operations back on track. Staff had been evacuated and were spread out across states, with some people in Baton Rouge and others in Texas, such as Web master Denny Juge, who was in Austin, and Conkerton, who was in Dallas.
ANI receives very little city or state funding for operations. Historically, most of its funds have been self-generated from front-gate admissions, food and beverage sales, catering and the gift shop, and membership. Hence, most of its fundraising had been aimed at raising money for new exhibits or other capital projects.
But with its facilities in need of repair, its staff off site, its membership base scattered across the country and dealing with life-and-death issues of their own, and its admission gate closed, ANI realized that its fundraising focus needed to change. The capital campaign was temporarily shelved, and the organization looked at its options. Though ANI had a Web site in place and sent monthly update e-mails to constituents, its site was fairly passive and had not been a major fundraising channel. But with phone lines, including most cell phones, down, and the postal system disabled, the Internet was the only viable way to rally support.