When Tragedy Strikes – The Role of the COO or 2nd in Command

In the late afternoon hours of Friday, September 21st, 2018 I was watching live reports of a severe thunderstorm with heavy winds moving through our city. I had my 1-800-GOT-JUNK? truck crews on the road and they were definitely in the path of the storm. Luc was running operations on that day and I was shadowing with support.

At the same time as I was tracking the storm, operations manager Liisa Honkanen of Freshii Westboro was serving customers in their store. Little did either of us know that our entire city and surrounding communities would be hit with devastating tornadoes that have never before been experienced in our region.

As I watched The Weather Network’s live report about the intensity of the storm, I knew that my team needed me to carefully monitor the storm’s path and what they were predicting as high winds.

Within a few minutes though, the meteorologists were noticing patterns that indicated the possibility of a tornado. They watched how the winds and cloud patterns were changing and quickly alerted everyone who was watching that there was a very possible chance of a tornado.

Alerts were issued and tornado advisories were sent to every cell phone in the area. I alerted my team. They were in the path of the storm.

They joked that they were not close to the storm, nor would a threat of a tornado mean anything to them. Since the weather advisories had been reaching our cell phones since early summer, the threats previously issued meant less and less of a concern as most threats turned into non-occurrences.

But as I continued to watch the live stream, the Meteorologists’ insights grew graver. There was a real threat of a tornado, and possibly a second one.

My social media channels were lighting up with posts with high winds and damage to personal property. I alerted my team.

The meteorologists then started advising people in specific areas to take cover. Tornadoes were imminent. I posted online and I will always remember one of the comments from a friend, “Blah. Blah. Blah.” Little did we all know that this was going to be the real deal.

As the storm clouds continued to move across our city, more and more reports of damages were being shared online. Photos started to appear along with comments that this was the scariest storm they had been through.

I reached out to my teams.

“Take cover,” I told them. “You are within a few kilometers of the first cell and there’s another cell moving towards you too.”

In a few short minutes, my husband received a text that one of our truck crews was caught in the tornado. They were terrified and were reeling from the experience.

A few minutes later, social media posts were appearing with widespread devastation in many areas. Houses flattened. Businesses lost. People’s lives forever changed.

Within hours, the scope of the damage was evidently seen, but no one could predict the widespread impact it would have on so many. By morning, power was still out in most of the city. Traffic was snarled. People were left to fend for themselves.

Director of Operations, Liisa Honkanen of Freshii Westboro, stepped into action shortly after her neighborhood lost power on Friday evening. She could not let the fresh produce and food that she had prepared go to waste. Instead, she closed the restaurant and offered what she had to residents of the neighborhood. It was the first gesture that would separate them from others in the community.

The following morning, a cry for help went out. Her CEO, Karla Brione, put out a SOS for a generator. They were at risk of losing thousands of dollars of food if a generator could not be quickly found.

In a short amount of time, Liisa and Karla had two generators. Their three refrigerators had power and they could power up the Wi-Fi and extension cords to offer charging stations to people of their community. Within a few hours, the restaurant was up and running with a skeleton menu, power for locals to charge their phones and devices, and the best part, they brought community together in such a challenging time.

As for us, our truck teams were faced with an extremely challenging day. Elevators were down because of no power. Traffic lights across the city were not working, which brought traffic to gridlock on normally quiet streets. Clients and customers were impatient and lacked understanding in what the truck crews faced due to the damage from the tornadoes.

What Liisa did though, and what Korey did too, as our Director of Operations, and despite the challenges, is something everyone in leadership roles should do:

  1. Look for opportunities to work together: In both situations, there were challenges that were beyond their control. They could not fix what was not working but they could find resources and ways to circumvent what was a problem. For Liisa, generators were her saving grace. For our truck teams, coming together to help each other was key. They could not do it alone.
  2. Minimize losses: Both Liisa and Korey, as well as our truck teams, worked tirelessly to ensure the losses to the company were minimal. Each team member found ways to ensure clients were served and operations could continue, despite the challenges they faced behind the scenes.
  3. Focus on the greater good: In tough situations, it would be easy to forgo making any effort at all. Liisa and our team could have found the easiest route and took it. Instead both Liisa and the truck teams found a way, despite the challenges and the odds, to make it work for all. And they came together, in their respective teams, to make it all work.

In times of challenges and when tragedy strikes, you have to step up to the plate to make it work. You have to find the resources and the support to help you, and you have to take charge and lead the way.

Being COO and 2nd in Command means making tough decisions and showing up when it would be easier to not show up at all. To our Director of Operations, Korey, and to Liisa, Director of Operations at Freshii Westboro, we salute you. Thank you for being there for your community, your team and those who depend on smooth operations, including your CEOs and business owners. You are appreciated and may you know how grateful so many people are because you do what you do with commitment, love and dedication.

Do you have a story to share? Do you know a COO, a Director of Operations, Operations Manager, Executive Director, or business team who took charge during this challenging time? How did they show up? What did they do? Share their story and let’s recognize them too!

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