updated 6/1/2011 9:17:10 AM ET 2011-06-01T13:17:10

FORT WORTH, Texas, June 1, 2011 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- A perfect storm is brewing: U.S. companies have less tolerance than ever for downtime, while weather experts predict a higher-than-average hurricane season along the Gulf of Mexico, with the biggest risk in Louisiana and Texas.

Companies located in disaster-prone regions like the Gulf spend considerable time and expense on IT infrastructure and insurance to ensure business continuity when a hurricane strikes. The huge disruptions caused by hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Wilma – with economic losses totaling more than $139 billion – jolted many companies into action.

Still, the human element is often ignored in companies' disaster plans – in particular, housing. Where do mission-critical employees live during the days, weeks, and even months when their own homes are flooded or without power? Where do their loved ones go? 

Executives and key employees need to be housed near a company's recovery site to ensure business continuity, but few companies plan for this.  Why pay for a block of hotel rooms inland when you're not even sure where a hurricane will make landfall, and how fierce it will be once it hits?

Michelle Lowther, principal of Continuity Housing and an expert in disaster housing and logistics, knows what can go wrong when companies forget the human element in their emergency plans.

For the past five years, she's helped steer companies based in New Orleans, Houston, and other cities through several hurricanes, securing hotel space with favorable terms, handling group meals and chartered transportion – even getting dog biscuits for stressed-out pets [M1]  .

One Gulf area bank has relied on Lowther's services for the past five hurricane seasons. During Gustav and its aftermath, she moved 226 of the bank's employees to hotels in another city where the bank's disaster recovery site is located.

Lowther continues to help this bank and other companies plan ahead so that they don't have to scramble for scarce hotel rooms if a disaster strikes. She ensures that they avoid the escalating hotel costs that can occur during disasters. She protects her clients from the obligation to pay for rooms that go unused because a hurricane changed direction at the last minute.

Last spring, when the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig caused the biggest offshore oil spill in U.S. history, Lowther was called into action with her team from ConferenceDirect, a meetings management firm.  Lowther led a 29-person team that set up housing for logistics command centers for a large company involved in the incident. Over the past 12 months, her team has negotiated contracts with 72 hotels in nine cities and secured accommodations for thousands of workers, including front-line staff, rescue workers, U.S. Coast Guard, and international news media.

By negotiating favorable contracts and staying on top of hotel inventories, Lowther's team saved this client untold hours and more than 17 percent of the contracted room expense.

"Companies have enough to worry about during a disaster without having to think about housing," she says. "We leverage our strong relationships with hotels through ConferenceDirect to negotiate very favorable terms and guaranteed room availability if a big hurricane hits. 

"With that worry off of their plates, companies can focus on core issues such as safety, communication, and business continuity," Lowther says. To learn more about planning for housing during disasters, visit www.continuityhousing.com and www.youtube.com/continuityhousing .

Media Contact:
Margaret Ritsch, APR

This information was brought to you by Cision http://www.cisionwire.com

The following pictures are available for download:

[Image] Michelle Lowther

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