Hurricane Katrina ruined
Hancock Bank's corporate
headquarters in Gulfport, Mississippi and destroyed or damaged 90 of its 103
branches, a few of the bank's executives
huddled outside and wondered how to get
through uncharted chaos without electricity, computers, records, or normal
police and fire protection.
They examined the values and mission stated in the bank's
1899 charter—to serve people and take care of communities. The bank had back up
files in Chicago,
but access would take time. Many Gulf
Coast storm victims had
lost everything—wallets, check books, and identification. Credit cards, even
for those who still had them, wouldn't work to buy food, gas or other
necessities. People needed cash, right then.
So the executives took bold steps to trust and help their
neighbors. They decided to give $200 cash to anyone who provided a paper IOU
with an address and social security number.
Three days after the storm, they opened 30 branches without lights or
phones, and in some cases without roofs. In some places they set up card tables
under tarps. They salvaged cash from flooded casinos, bank vaults and ATMs,
washed it, ironed it, and handed it out to people in need, whether they were
Hancock customers or not.
Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy reported this story in
Resilience, Why things Bounce Back.
hear Zolli tell it.
"Leadership and Mission in Resilient Organizations:
Hancock Bank as a Case Study,” by James Pat Smith, notes
the bank's 80 year-old chairman Leo Seal Jr. had emphasized for years that
banking wouldn't be possible unless 99 percent of the people were honest.
That sentiment guided Hancock COO
Hairston and CEO
George Schloegel as they decided to
distribute money and trust in community. They put $42 million into the devastated
Zolli and Healy write that social resilience often
flourishes where people have faced devastating challenges. Joe Nocera makes
similar observations in his New York
"Rebuilding on Their Own.” He tells
of visiting New Orleans
with Roberta Gratz, author
The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert
Moses and Jane Jacobs. Gratz, who was mentored by
Jacobs, owns a home in New Orleans'
Ninth Ward and is writing a book on the city's post-Katrina recovery. Gratz describes
people trickling back into the Ninth, where volunteer groups are still helping
to rebuild homes and neighbors are helping neighbors.
Nocera quotes Gratz's observation that
"cities change from the bottom up, block by block.”
New York's Rockaways, still
suffering from destruction of
Superstorm Sandy, a similar
ground-up rebuilding is underway. Habit for Humanity, nonprofits, and neighbors
are at work.
Government aid has helped
both places. But Nocera suggests the Rockaways will recover through the same ad
hoc-volunteer-dependent activities that are pulling New Orleans back from ruin.
After three years,
99.5 percent of unsecured cash distributed to Katrina victims was paid back to
Smith notes in the five
months after the storm 15,000 new accounts were opened, and over time Hancock's
deposits grew by $1.5 billion.
flourished, and its CEO
George Schoegel became mayor of Gulfport.
In 2005 a group of 600
New York firefighters went to New Orleans to help.
Now, Nocera writes, a group of New
Orleans firefighters have come to help in the
Rockaways to return the favor.