Hurricane-affected firms struggle to resume work

NEW ORLEANS: PR agencies and pros working in areas impacted by Hurricane Katrina are struggling to communicate with staff and keep their businesses up and running.

NEW ORLEANS: PR agencies and pros working in areas impacted by Hurricane Katrina are struggling to communicate with staff and keep their businesses up and running.

The basic challenges that have stymied the region - shortages of food and water, as well as spotty phone and electricity service - have also hindered those efforts.

Most New Orleans PR firms have closed shop and moved to other locations, promising to post new contact information on their websites in the coming weeks.

Because service within area code 504 was unreliable, New Orleans-based Deveney Communication, for instance, set up a central toll-free number that would transfer callers to employee cell phones.

PR pros are also relying on text messaging in areas where it is difficult to maintain a cell phone connection.

Mary Mouton, president of New Orleans-based Mouton Media, evacuated to Houston, where client Tulane University had established a base. There the PR team and university officials are running a simplified website and blog, as well as conducting media interviews to reach students and university staff.

With regional media forced to flee their offices, Mouton noted that reaching local reporters is an ongoing challenge.

Gerard Braud, president of Mandeville, LA-based Braud Communications, noted that he has been "trying for a week" to find out how he could volunteer with the emergency operations center, but could not connect with anyone because of the lack of phone service.

But he also emphasized that blogs are the best ways to keep track of employees - especially when internal web servers fail.

"In every disaster, power is a major issue," he said, adding that organizations need a "crisis communications plan for the Dark Ages."

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