Friday, September 30, 2011

How We Do it in Texas

Now that the smoke has cleared, and we have our wits about us, it is interesting to share stories of courage, perseverance, and accomplishment that are emerging from the Tri-county Wildfire in Montgomery, Grimes, and Waller Counties of Texas during Memorial week, 2011. 

The following stories were sent to me through two trusted sources; one of those sources has a neighbor with an amazing sister named Kenna.  

On Memorial Day, when Kenna saw the huge column of smoke over [their] homes, she left a birthday party at [a] neighbor’s house to meet with her friend Tara at the Baseball complex in Magnolia, Texas.  Kenna called the owner of the complex and got permission to use the warehouse there as a staging area for donations for the fire fighting effort.

Kenna and Tara put a notice out on Facebook that they were going to be taking donations on their Facebook pages.  That night, as they were setting up tables and organizing, KPRC-TV/News 2 Houston came by and saw the activity, investigated, and left with their phone numbers and a list of suggested donations.

The Facebook notice propagated faster than the fire.  
By dawn they had 20 volunteers, bins, forklifts, and donations were pouring in.  My source stopped by with [her] pitiful little bags of nasal wash and eye wash, and was amazed.  There must have been 20 trucks in the lot, off-loading cases of water, pallets of Gatorade, and people [were] lined up out the door with sacks of beef jerky, baby wipes, underwear, socks,... you name it.  

School buses and trailers from many counties around were there off-loading supplies, with students forming living chains to pass stuff into the bins for transport to the command center and staging areas.  If the firefighters had requested it, it was there.  

What do you give the guy out there fighting the fire that might engulf your home?  
Anything he or she wants.  
Including chewing tobacco and cigarettes.

Kenna moved on to the Unified Command Post at Magnolia West High school.  
She looked at what the fire fighters needed, and she made calls and set it up.

Mattress Mac (from Houston’s Gallery Furniture) donated 150 beds.  
Two class rooms [at the high school were] turned into barracks, kept quiet and dark for rest.  

The CEO of HEB Grocery donated 2 semi-trailers full of supplies, and sent a mobile commercial kitchen at no charge to feed all the workers, but especially our firefighters, 3 hot meals a day. 
(I personally happened to be driving along the Sam Houston Tollway, and noticed the semi-trucks and mobile kitchen enroute to the scene.) An impromptu commissary was set up, with anything the firefighters had requested available at no charge.

As exhausted firefighters (most of them from local VFDs with no training or experience battling wildfires) and workers came into the school after long hours of hard labor, dehydrated, hungry, covered with soot and ash, they got what they needed.  They were directed through the commissary, where they [received] soap, eye wash and nasal spray, candy, clean socks and underwear, and then were sent off to the school locker rooms for a shower.   

HEB then fed them a hot meal, and they got eight hours' sleep in a barracks, [followed by] another hot meal, another pass through the commissary for supplies to carry with them out to the lines--including gloves, safety glasses, dust masks and snacks...and back they went.

One of the imported crew from California came into Unified Command and asked where the FEMA Powerbars and water were.  He was escorted to the commissary and started through the system.  
He was flabbergasted.  
He said FEMA never did it like this.  
Kenna replied, "Well, this is the way we do it in Texas.”

Fire fighting equipment needed repair?  
The auto shop at the High School ran 24/7 with local mechanics volunteering alongside the shop students and the firefighters, fixing the equipment.   

Down one side of the school, the water tankers lined up at the fire hydrants and filled with water.  Down the other side there was a steady parade of gasoline tankers filling trucks, dozers, cans, chain saws, and vehicles.  

Mind you, all of this was set up by two Moms, Kenna and Tara, with a staff of 20 simple volunteers, most of them women who had sons, daughters, husbands, and friends on the fire lines

Someone always knew someone who could get what they needed--beds, mechanics, food, space. Local people using local connections to mobilize local resources made this happen.  
No government aid. 
No Trained Expert.  

At one point the fire was less than a mile from the school, and everyone but [the] hose volunteers were evacuated.   
The fire was turned. 

The Red Cross came in, looked at what they were doing, and quietly went away to set up a fire victim relief center elsewhere.  
They said they couldn’t do it any better.

FEMA came in and told those volunteers and Kenna that they had to leave, “FEMA is here now.” Kenna told them she worked for the firefighters, not FEMA.  
They were obnoxious, bossy, got in the way, and criticized everything. 
The volunteers refused to back down and kept doing their job, and doing it well. 

Next FEMA said the HEB supplies and kitchen had to go, that [it] was blatant commercialism.  
Kenna said they stayed... and  they stayed. 

FEMA threw a wall-eyed fit about chewing tobacco and cigarettes being available in the commissary area.  Kenna told them the firefighters had requested it, and it was staying.  
It stayed. 

FEMA got very nasty, and kept asking what organization these volunteers belonged to; all the volunteers told them, “Our community.” FEMA didn’t like that and demanded they make up a name for themselves. One Mom remarked, “They got me to my boiling point!” ...and suddenly the group was christened, “212 Degrees” 

FEMA’s contribution? 
They came in the next day with red shirts embroidered with “212  Degrees,”   insisting the volunteers had to be identified--never realizing it was a slap in their face:  
Your tax dollars at work--labeling volunteers with useless shirts, and getting in the way.

The upshot?  
A fire that the experts from California (for whom we are so grateful there are no words) said would take two to three weeks to get under control was 100% contained in eight days.  

There were so much equipment and supplies donated, three container trucks were loaded with the excess to [provide enough to] set up a similar relief center for the fire fighters in Bastrop, Texas. 

The local relief agencies have asked people to stop bringing in donations of clothing, food, household items, and pretty much everything else, because they only had sixty displaced households to care for, and there was enough to supply hundreds.  Again, excess [was] to be shipped to Bastrop, where there were 1,500 displaced households. [Some] wished [they] could send Kenna, too, but she had to go back to her regular job.

Two things to keep in mind from this amazing saga: FEMA stands for “Federal Emergency MANAGEMENT Agency,” and the verb in that acronym is key: management. 
FEMA answers to Congress, and so it can be inferred that FEMA’s real purpose is to manage public opinion of Congress’ response to disasters. 

This is better grasped when you remember FEMA’s performance following Hurricanes Katrina and Ike (and recall how Houstonian’s responded to the need of displaced New Orleans storm refugees by opening up the Astrodome.) There are people still waiting for FEMA “relief” in our area from Hurricane Ike. Obviously, FEMA’s management of public perception of Congress is about as effective as their “management” of the aforementioned natural disasters.

The second thing to remember is to never underestimate the grit and determination of Texas’ Moms, and their friends and neighbors.That's how we do it in Texas!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Profiles in Success: Knapp Chevrolet

How might your business survive if the Government were to dictate the terms? Some would argue we’re already at that point…but not long ago, a Houston-based auto dealer was facing the prospect of laying off workers and closing its doors because of government intervention in its industry.

Knapp Chevrolet is a family-owned and operated business that has operated at the corner of Houston and Washington Avenues since December, 1940. December 6th, to be exact. Third-generation owner Bobby Knapp recalls how the euphoria of their new showroom opening literally evaporated overnight when America was pulled into WW-2 by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the next day. Not good for sales?

Knapp Chevrolet's first customer
The Knapp’s hunkered down, and worked even more diligently to provide service to Houston Chevrolet owners thru the war years. The Dealership blossomed.

Integrity and honesty were the keystones of the Knapp family’s business plan, underpinned by a strong work ethic and an unwavering faith. Houstonian's flocked to the dealership.

In 2009, General Motors filed for bankruptcy, and in the reorganization process, identified dealerships across the country that would be dropped from the GM franchise. Knapp Chevrolet  was on the list for de-listing. 

At stake was not just the livelihood of the Knapp family of over 80 mechanics, sales, and clerical staff in Houston, but other smaller dealerships across the country that were being similarly dropped by GM’s “rationalization” plan. The sad irony was GM’s decision to drop the Knapp dealership came after the closure of two Chevrolet “super-store” dealerships in the area, and would further diminish GM’s market share in the Houston area.
Mr. Knapp went to Washington to address Congress. 

The combination of Bobby Knapp’s powerful, reasoned testimony, and an outpouring of grass-roots support swayed GM’s decision makers, and Knapp Chevrolet was “re-rewarded” its franchise.

Integrity and honesty have been the keystones of Knapp’s  business philosophy. 
Persistence pays, as well, as it turns out. And with a fourth-generation Knapp now working his way up through the business, future generations of Chevrolet owners will also be able to rely on the Knapp brand.