In the early morning hours of Sept. 14, Hurricane Ike made landfall in Texas, leaving a swath of destruction in its path that stretched from the Gulf Coast to the Upper Midwest. As facilities in the Houston area impacted by Ike continue to rebuild and power is restored, facility professionals — who ensure functionality of the built environment — are proving themselves indispensable in the recovery process.

Following a major hurricane, facility managers are usually first on the scene to assess damage, talk with insurers, and find contractors to initiate repairs and restore the workplace as quickly as possible, said Herman Kluge, CFM®, president of the Houston Chapter of the International Facility Management Association.

“The single most important thing for people who are enduring the after effects of a catastrophic event is the restoration of order — the return to normalcy,” Kluge said. “That is the primary goal of the post-event facility professional, to provide a stable background and work environment so business can restart as quickly as possible.”

That task isn’t always easy. For Sereniah Breland, support services director for the City of Sugar Land, Texas, it means ensuring the city’s 51 public facilities have the resources they need. She cites restoring power, getting cost estimates, working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and trying to maintain a fleet of 290 vehicles — all while keeping the city’s emergency operations center running 24 hours a day — as challenges she faces.

“The hat that I wear during a hurricane is that of a resource getter. Whatever it takes to get them, I get them,” said Breland. “Our top priority is the first responders. You have citizens that are irate because they don’t have power, and we certainly understand that, but if we don’t have our first responders, then we can’t assist our citizens in need.”

However, where there are challenges, there are also rewards. For Craig A. Battle Jr., director of facilities management for the United Way in Houston, these come in the form of helping people through the state-sponsored 211 Call Center, which is run out of a Houston United Way facility. In the four days following the storm, 211 took in approximately 24,000 assistance calls.

“We answer calls for the entire state, so my main thing was to get the building and the computer room up and running. Dozens of nonprofits go through our server room,” said Battle. “A lot of facility management is about contacts and who you know. I called in many favors to make sure we were a priority, to make sure that we had everything up and running by whatever means necessary. We serve people who are in need. We provide those services.”