ROBERT TAYLOR FLED HOUSTON ON Friday, September 12, to avoid the wrath of Hurricane Ike. The fate of his home and his company was left in the hands of Mother Nature, and though Taylor, president of Bio Landscape and Maintenance, Inc., a Yellowstone Landscape company, had done what he could to minimize potential damage, there was talk of 120 mph winds, and there’s only so much preparation you can do in the face of that kind of weather. Friday, Taylor and much of his 200-plus staff evacuated.
The very next morning the hurricane hit, ravaging the city’s trees, flooding the streets and houses and causing a power outage the likes of which few Houston residents had ever witnessed. When Taylor returned the following Monday, he found that both his company and his property, much to his great relief, had been spared.
Not only was his company still intact (for the most part—it had lost 54 trees in its Galveston branch, and a few more trees plus one telephone pole collapsed in Houston), it was still getting requests to bid. The very day Taylor and his crews went back to work, they secured a $600,000 contract with the city to clean some of the roadways of all the debris left in Ike’s wake.
“We got lucky with that bid,” admits Taylor. “We got the email Monday night, right after we’d gotten back. If we hadn’t been able to get our email system up and running, we wouldn’t have even gotten it.”
Lucky is one way to put it, but preparedness would be a more accurate term. The day before Taylor and his staff evacuated Houston, they toughed out an arduous bout of overtime to ensure that Bio Landscape was as protected as possible. Every tree in the company’s tree farm was carefully laid down to prevent them from blowing over and breaking in half under the strong wind currents. All of their remote trailer facilities were brought indoors. Their vehicles were moved to the highest ground within reasonable proximity, minimizing any chance they might get swept away in the floods. Extra generators were purchased in anticipation of the power outages that awaited them the following week. All the key electronic equipment was moved from the first floor to safer spots, and in the calm before the storm, Taylor highlighted to his staff all the steps they needed to take to stay safe.
“I made a point of reminding them to stock up on water and get their own generators for their households,” says Taylor. “Any loose items that were in their yards they were told to store away.”
Before Bio Landscape closed up shop, Taylor had notices sent to all of their customers, informing them that the business was put on hold for the three-day weekend. Included in the letters were lists of emergency contact numbers, and any incoming phone calls the company would receive would be transferred to their corporate office. They may have rushed to get it done, but nearly every conceivable base was covered in time for Hurricane Ike.
Given the number of precautionary steps Taylor took for his company, it should come as no surprise that he wasn’t just acting on a whim. With hurricane disasters on the rise in recent years, Bio Landscape had its own hurricane response outline prepared. Following this outline to a tee, Taylor was able to keep his company intact.
Now he faces the aftermath. With power shortages blanketing most of the city in darkness at night, and many homes destroyed, in addition to an underfed workforce due to a lack of refrigeration for food, stress levels are high. Nonetheless, Taylor’s company is doing all it can to keep its business going and the morale of its staff up.
“You know when you’re on a plane and they describe what happens if the cabin loses pressure?” asks Taylor. “The first thing they tell you to do is put an oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on your children. We have that policy, too. We had to take care of our own before we could go out and start tending to clients again. I mean, when our guys got back, a lot of them had barely eaten in two days. So we started cooking, getting everyone well nourished again. That first night we were back, we served 200 people fajitas.”
The facilities, still suffering from power outages nearly a week after Hurricane Ike, were running on generators, allowing the staff access to well water, ice machines, etc. “We’re in surprisingly high spirits, given that we have no air conditioning,” says Taylor. “Thank the Lord we’ve been having a cold front recently.”
Crews can expect to work overtime in the coming weeks. With many properties damaged and roads still swept in debris, landscape companies have their work cut out for them. Bio Landscape’s Atlanta-based sister company, Piedmont Landscape, a Yellowstone Landscape company, sent crews to help.
“Sure, there’s a lot of work to be done, but that’s what we’re here for,” says Taylor. “I like to call ourselves the second responder. We’re not right there providing water and food and evacuation for everyone, but we’re right behind them, getting trees out of the way and helping the community get up and running again. We took a couple of punches, but we’re still standing, and we’re exactly where we need to be.”