RAYNE – Can you imagine having to provide shelter, beds, and meals for hundreds –– even thousands –– of workers in the midst of a disaster?
Eric Thomas of Rayne can –– and has done so in the wake of several hurricanes.
Originally, Thomas embarked on his unique business by providing mass feedings in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
His capacity to do what was needed following Hurricane Katrina so impressed Entergy officials that they approached Thomas about providing “a turnkey” service as the firm brings in hundreds of workers to restore electrical power interrupted to its customers after a storm.
Thomas assembled his first turnkey operation following Hurricane Gustav in 2008, followed by the Arkansas ice storm in 2009, the BP Gulf oil spill in 2010, Hurricane Irene in 2011 and this year’s hurricane.
When Thomas talks about a “turn-key” operation it involves more than meals served in a tent. He and his workers must air condition the tent, set up tables and chairs, beds, and a way for workers to wash their clothes. Among the services listed on his calling card are camp management, housing services (tent cities, modular living quarters, bunkhouses, restrooms, showers, laundry facilities and R&R facilities, as well as demolition and debris removal –– all to meet Entergy’s goal of restoring electrical service to their customers as quickly as possible.
Following Hurricane Isaac in August, Entergy brought in numerous people to restore service to 80 percent of its customers.
Isaac wasn’t expected to produce the amount of damage it did, so the utility company had to quickly ramp up teams of workers.
Compounding the task was the fact that because both LSU and the New Orleans Saints had home games, motels were filled with fans.
At midnight Saturday, Thomas was asked to set up 500 beds by 10 p.m. the following night.
Suddenly aware that he didn’t have bed linens to outfit 500 beds, Thomas arranged to have a private Lear jet fly to a supplier in Raleigh, North Carolina, and pick up disposal linens and blow-up pillows. The jet returned to Baton Rouge, where it was meet by a helicopter which ferried the bedding supplies to Baker, La.
“It was just one of those things,” says Thomas, a man you might say who can “think outside the box.”
During the ten days Thomas says he provided facilities for workers to sleep in shifts on area football fields and parking lots. Logistically, over the 10 days, a total of 4,500 were provided sleeping accommodations.
Thomas admittedly takes tremendous pride in the fact that crews hired by his company, ManCamps, LLC, can quickly build a campsite. He estimates a crew of 80 is required to support every 500 disaster workers.
The ManCamps’ crews employs local people as cooks, truck drivers, electricians, and many temporary workers.
Asked how he developed the talents to oversee such a mammoth operation, Thomas cites the experience he gained in setting up construction camps in Texas for oil workers, when he was able to project a month’s worth of menus. He devised a three-day rotation for beds and laundry services.
“I took other oil field experiences, and transferred the model to emergency disaster sites,” explains Thomas.
Using a technique he called “hot sheet,” Thomas’ crews have changed bedding to provide up to 1,500 clean beds in a ten hour rotation system.
Thomas’ willingness to do whatever he must to meet the needs of workers struggling with the aftermath of a disaster was evident during Hurricane Isaac. Thomas dispatched a helicopter to the parking lot of a Lowe’s store to buy a needed air conditioner and to a Sam’s Club in New Orleans to purchase 200 additional steaks to serve workers one day.
Asked if he ever thought he would be managing such a diverse operation, Thomas admits, “I never, never dreamed this.”
When contracted to provide services, Thomas says his task begins with two telephone calls; one for food and a second to set up campsites.
He adds, “No one can believe what we can do,” when he describes his experience to friends.
“I don’t sleep much during a storm,” acknowledges Thomas.
He credits his good relationship with Entergy to an instance when he told company officials “they were paying him too much.”
He explains contracts are based on the number of meals and other services provided to disaster workers. Because sign-in sheets can be inaccurate, Thomas is developing radio frequency technology to monitors crew movements.
Outfitting workers with tracking bracelets, according to Thomas, can map movements down to five feet and “tells us if they’re eating twice.”
Thomas says all the technology is “all done to save money for a company.”
There are only seven similar agencies in the United States like Thomas’ ManCamps business equipped to do “turnkey” operations.
In addition to the work he does for Entergy, Thomas was called out to work in Atlanta City, New Jersey after Hurricane Irene and Delaware. He also has contract with agencies from Corpus Christi, Texas to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Knowing the unpredictable effects of Mother Nature, Thomas says he is always preparing for the next time. “Work is being done now for the next time,” is how he describes the extent of his planning.