FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
US Sailing Communications Manager
This August will mark the fifth anniversary of one of the most devastating natural disasters to ever strike U.S. soil. On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina left a trail of destruction in its path throughout the Gulf Coast. The SYC suffered the same fate as many other establishments in New Orleans, especially those who reside close to Lake Pontchartrain.
High winds and heavy flooding, including four feet of water greatly damaged the SYC. In the hours following the storm, a fire broke out and completely decimated the club. Countless trophies and priceless, historical artifacts were destroyed. The fallout from this catastrophe sent reverberations throughout the club’s membership base, staff, and local sailing community.
Before the storm hit, the SYC had a staff of 75 employees. The club did their best to retain the core of their staff. Commodores Ewell “Corky” Potts and Hjalmer Breit, general manager Tim Fitzpatrick and others were left with an enormous task of communicating with members, assessing the damage, taking inventory, and developing short term and long term plans for a new facility.
Shortly after the storm hit, the SYC held board meetings in neighboring towns outside of New Orleans. The club’s leadership needed to make the necessary decisions on how to keep membership together, communicate with them and ensure them that they had a plan to arrange for a temporary facility to be erected and eventually build a brand new club.
A committee was organized to take on the project of setting up a new interim modular facility on the front lawn. By the end of March 2006, the facility was up and running. This forward progress allowed the club to hire back most of their employees.
Commodore Potts was optimistic about the future of the club after the interactions he had with members. “The interim facility was erected from the overwhelming support of our members. They were so positive,” said Potts. “Any help that could be rendered was made available. There was no doubt we were rebuilding the club.” As one would imagine, a substantial number of members lost their homes. Remarkably, the club lost only 40 of their 1,750 total members.
This support was evident when the club and its members decided to move forward with hosting the 156th annual SYC Closing Regatta from the front lawn with no facility. Less than two months after the storm hit, over 400 total sailors participated in one of the oldest regattas still regularly contested in the U.S.
“It was important to show membership and the entire sailing community that we may be burnt out, but we are not dead,” Potts explained. “We wanted to make the most of what we have and move forward. We wanted to provide an outlet for them. This was an emotional time for everyone.”
Potts was quick to point out the generosity of the sailing community throughout the country. The New York Yacht Club and Newport Harbor Yacht Club donated trophies to SYC so they could rebuild their trophy base. Other clubs and organizations provided funds and various signs of support. “The most moving thing to me was that the employees of the New York Yacht Club gave up their Christmas funds and sent thousands of dollars to Southern Yacht Club employees,” Potts mentioned tearfully.
The SYC was properly insured through The Burgee Program, which is managed by Gowrie Group. They immediately opened the communication lines with Gowrie and Chubb Insurance, and collected everything that was made available. The club was faced with sky-rocketing construction costs in New Orleans, and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) requirements added to the increase in expenses. However, this did not affect the unwavering commitment from their members.
The SYC hired two local contractors to handle the project. The new clubhouse opened on September 12, 2009 with a number of FEMA standards implemented for this new facility. The structure is clad in cement plaster and metal panels with large expanses of high impact glazing to withstand high wind and water velocity conditions. The first floor was built 22 feet above sea level for flood protection.
There are a number of impressive features associated with this new complex. The building’s enclosed area is approximately 33,000 square feet, with an additional 13,000 square feet of open space beneath the structure for outdoor dining, entertainment, and sailing instruction. The enclosed area consists of dining and banquet rooms, administrative offices, meeting rooms, a fitness center, and a bar. A large cupola sits on top of the clubhouse to serve as a beacon to sailors on Lake Pontchartrain. The complex also includes significant parking improvements, an outdoor six-lane competition pool and children’s pool with landscaped decks.
When asked what he learned from this process, Potts had a few suggestions for clubs who are preparing against a disaster or simply interested in rebuilding their club. Potts cited the importance of organizing a Hurricane Preparedness Committee to create an effective and practical evacuation plan customized to fit your respective club. An evacuation plan should include a chain of command with contact information and a list of resources such as weather radio station outlets and where to find yacht club updates online. The plan should also include a pre- and post-storm timeline that details assigned responsibilities for club personnel.
Potts suggests that clubs should create a Building Committee that is separate from the general Governing Committee. “Our general Governing Committee was too busy with rebuilding the club,” added Potts. “Our sailing activities didn’t always get the attention they needed during this time.” Ideally, the Building Committee would include appointed staff and members with construction and/or engineering backgrounds.
The SYC generously shared their own evacuation plan with US SAILING for our members to use as template or reference.
Southern Yacht Club Evacuation Plan
Because of its geographical location, the Southern Yacht Club is subject to hurricane conditions and rising waters from Lake Pontchartrain. To minimize damage and injury, timely warning must be given to permit precautionary measures to be taken. The club manager has advised that the “critical” time period is 18 hours. This plan establishes the hurricane conditions and actions to be taken in the event that the SYC is subject to a hurricane.
To implement the plan, the chain of command will be the following:
1. 2009 Chairman of Hurricane Preparedness Committee - Julian Richards
2. Co-Chairmen of the Hurricane Preparedness Committee - Tom Long
3. Commodore - Jim Wade
4. Vice Commodore - Dwight Leblanc
5. Secretary/Treasurer - Merlin Wilson
6. Club Manager - Tim Fitzpatrick
7. Club Assistant Manager - Walter Nata
- NOAA Weather Radio
- www.southernyachtclub.org will communicate SYC updates
By June 1st and beginning of Hurricane Season:
Harbor & Navigation Committee Chairman:
- Make sure by June 1st a letter is sent to each member having a boat in the dry storage area alerting them to the fact that they will be expected to move their boats out of the dry storage yard in the event that New Orleans and the SYC is threatened by a hurricane.
- H&N Committee will meet with SYC’s harbor master and sailing director to review the necessary requirements that will be needed to secure all dockage, equipment and buildings in the harbor area.
- Maintenance Committee will meet with maintenance employees and review all necessary steps to secure the building and the premises, and insure materials are available to board up and secure the club and pool area.
Hurricane Watch (36 Hours):
- Race Committee H&N Committee, Flying Scot Committee, 420 Committee, Junior Activities Committee, and fleet captains will start evacuation of all SYC owned boats, and will notify all boat owners in the dry storage area to start evacuation of their boats. Floating docks will be moved to back harbor and all other boats will be removed from wet slip. Patrol II will be secured in wet slip.
- The fleet captains will be notified by the SYC Sailing Director.
- Swimming Pool, Grounds & Maintenance Committee and H&N Committee will start to secure all equipment, and insure that all items damageable by rising water, are removed to a high and safe area.
- Tents will be taken down as necessary.
- Designated personnel will board up windows on the North side of the club.
Hurricane Warning (24 Hours):
- Club manager and designated personnel will start to store and secure all furniture and equipment from the downstairs area and move it to the second floor area.
- Trophy Committee-all trophies will be moved out of their cases, and secured in such a way as to prevent damage by wind or rain. An inventory is to be maintained of any items that are removed from their display cases, or that are removed from club property. Club historian is to direct storage of historical data into cartons.
- Unclaimed art will be packaged between sheets of bubble wrap and moved to secure location.
- Boxes, bubble wrap and cartons are to be kept on hand by manager.
- Club manager with employees’ help will move all liquor, canned goods, etc. from low shelves to the highest shelves available to prevent contamination from rising water. All file cabinets, computers and office machines should be moved or raised.
- H&N Committee should nearly be completed with evacuation and storage of all club owned boats. Scots on trailers should be removed from club property.
- 17 Whaler will be moved to a protected location in back canal.
- Golf type carts and tractor will be driven to secure site on other side of hurricane protection levee.
Within 12 hours of Forecasted Hurricane Landing shore:
- Commodore, Hurricane Preparedness Committee Chairman, along with the club manager or assistant manager and designated personnel will make a final survey to insure that the club property, jib, and jib hoists have been properly secured. Pull all electrical main switches on 1st floor and turn off gas.
- Photograph completed preparations and club condition prior to departure.
- Commodore-Hurricane Preparedness Committee Chairman, club manager or assistant manager will make appropriate arrangements to safeguard the club property during the hurricane and/or post hurricane period.
Post Hurricane Period:
1. Contact Insurance Committee
2. The commodore and designated personnel will survey area of responsibility to determine the extent of damages.
3. Photograph all damage visible, dockside and the club house.
4. Preliminary damage reports will be submitted by the club manager and the chairman of the Hurricane Preparedness Committee to the commodore.
5. Coverings will be removed from all areas and put in a storage location by maintenance people.
6. Office equipment, file cabinets, supplies, trophies and inventory will be returned to the club and proper locations by manager and staff.
7. A final summary report will be submitted to the Hurricane Preparedness Committee to the Governing Board on significant observations made and major actions taken during and following the hurricane. Include a list of volunteers.
8. A final report showing funds expended and final cost data for this period will by the secretary/treasurer and given to the SYC Governing Board.