Saturday, May 30, 2015

What not to tell your employees during a weather emergency

Everybody has stories about last week's devastating floods, so here's one worth sharing. This is an actual text message that a local employer sent out to staff via an alert system Tuesday morning:
I'm aware that many of you are having weather related issues and it's affecting your ability to get to work on time. The most critical thing is your safety. If you can make it safely, please come to work. I would expect late arrivals for many. Otherwise I understand if you need an unscheduled vacation day.
I am obviously not going to identify the employer who sent this text or reveal how I learned about it. I just felt that this utterly tone-deaf message was worth sharing as an example of how not to manage one's employees in the event of a crisis.

Let's recap: Houston just experienced its most significant weather event since Hurricane Ike, with some parts of the city receiving over ten inches of rain in a matter of a few hours. Streets and freeways are flooded. METRO has suspended public transportation services, and HISD and other school districts have cancelled classes. Local elected officials have urged people to stay home.

Yet the folks who work for this particular employer are being told that they either need to show up to work or use a vacation day, i.e., one of those relatively scarce days that people like to use for, well, actual vacations.

Maybe this particular employer does not have the means to compensate absences caused by bad weather. And it is worth noting that at least these employees will be paid, even if it's through vacation time; there are a lot of hourly-wage workers who couldn't make it into work last Tuesday and won't receive any wages at all for that day.

But all that misses the point, which is the astonishing insensitivity of this message. Whomever wrote it not only seemed to have no empathy towards the plight of his or her employees (boilerplate blather about "safety" aside), but even managed to make the situation about him or herself: "I would expect" people to arrive late; "I understand" if people have to take a vacation day because the kids are at home, the buses aren't running and the mayor told people to stay off the streets.

And that's just for the folks who are otherwise safe at home. Imagine if you were standing in foot-deep water inside your home, or had to abandon your car in high water, and you received that text!

Instead of sending out such an uncompassionate message, why not at least acknowledge the situation at hand (flooded freeways, kids home from school, no local or park-and-ride buses) and express hope that nobody suffered any loss? Why not suggest that people try to work from home, if they're able to do so? And why mention anything about using an "unscheduled vacation day" at all? Just say something like "we will determine how to address your timesheet tomorrow" and leave it there.

Unfortunately, this is just another example of the fact that just because somebody is in a management position doesn't necessarily mean that they know how to "manage."

Oh, and one more thing about this text: it was sent at 7:55 in the morning.

The Rockets end the season on a (mostly) high note

The Rockets' comeback against the Los Angeles Clippers in game five of the second round of the playoff was utterly amazing: down by 19 points, and staring elimination in the face, they rallied to win that game, as well as the next two games, to become only the ninth team in NBA history to come back from a three-game series deficit to win.

That put the Rockets into the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 1997, where they once again found themselves down three games to the Golden State Warriors. Last Monday, once again staring elimination in the face, the Rockets rallied to win. Would they be able to pull off the improbable one more time and make it to the NBA Finals? On the 20th anniversary of the franchise's amazing 1995 championship run, no less?

Alas, no.

It's easy to play the "what if" game and wonder what could have been: if Patrick Beverly and Donatas Motiejunas had been healthy, if Dwight Howard had been better at the free-throw line, if John Harden had been less prone to turn the ball over...

It doesn't matter. The Rockets had a good season which ended at the hands of the best team in the NBA (I will be very surprised if the Warriors do not decisively defeat the Cavaliers in the Finals). After years and years of postseason disappointment - between the 1997 season and this one, the Rockets had only won one playoff series - the team finally lived up to their potential and made a deep run into the playoffs.

Hopefully they can take that next step in the 2016 playoffs.

Jeff Balke lists reasons for optimism. Matt Jackson ponders the franchise's offseason activity.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Deluge of 2015

I'm a native Houstonian, so I've seen a lot of heavy rain and flooding events over the years. But I'm not sure I've ever experienced anything quite like Monday night's deluge.
During the rain’s peak Monday night, Houston received nearly an inch of rainfall in just five minutes, and racked up nearly a foot in less than a day. The flooding in Houston was comparable to a landfalling tropical storm or hurricane. Water levels along Buffalo Bayou, which runs through downtown, eclipsed the level seen during Hurricane Ike in 2008, and was just shy of flooding during Tropical Storm Allison—the worst flood in Houston history—which dawdled over the city for six days in 2001 and inundated 70,000 houses.
(Full disclosure: I was living in Denton when Tropical Storm Allison occurred.)

I'm not sure how much rain I got at my house, but according to the rain gauge closest to my house, about 7 3/4 inches of rain fell between 8 pm Monday and 4 am Tuesday. It was an incredible amount of precipitation over a short period of time, and needless to say the City of Bellaire's drainage infrastructure was quickly overwhelmed.

My street flooded first. Then the water crept up to the sidewalks, then up to my yard, and eventually to my front porch. The threshold of my front door was a few inches higher than that, so I wasn't too worried about water getting into the house. But as the downpour continued unabated, the thought did cross my mind...

Here are some pictures I took of my front yard at about 1 am Tuesday. My camera's flash was useless (the light simply reflected off of the raindrops and obscured everything), so I took long exposure photos without the help of a tripod, which is why they're blurry. But these shots nevertheless provide a good idea of just how inundated my street became.

So much rain had fallen by the time I took these pictures that the waterline stretched uninterrupted from my doorstep to the doorsteps of my neighbors across the street.

You can see my little gardens in front of my neighbor's kid's blue truck and a few blades of grass sticking out from the water near the center of this picture. Otherwise my front lawn was completely underwater.

I caught a lightning strike while the shutter was open, which is why this picture is comparatively bright. The bottom of my tires are underwater, but thankfully the water never made it to my doors. Can't say the same for my neighbor's kid's blue truck, however; his floorboards got soaked.

When the rains stopped and daylight arrived, I stepped outside to take a couple more pictures. The water had begun to drain off by then, but it woulds still be a few more hours before the street was passable and I could make it in to work.

The good news is that the engine of neighbor's kid's blue truck apparently did not suffer any damage; the truck is still drivable. It remains to be seen what kind of harm the floodwaters did to my little gardens. That black thing at the left of the picture is somebody's water meter cover. It floated there and does not belong to anybody on my street.

My landlord contacted me Tuesday morning to make sure the house did not flood, and she was amazed yet relieved when I told her that the floodwaters managed to stay a few inches short of the front door. I didn't ask her if she had flood insurance; for what it's worth my neighborhood is in FEMA Zone "X" (the "500 year" floodplain) and flood insurance is not mandatory.

While my neighbors and I survived the flood unscathed, it's worth remembering that a lot of people didn't. The Chronicle's Eric Berger explains the forces that came together to create this mess.

And there's still more rain in the forecast.