Monday, Aug. 29, 2005, was a day none of us on the Gulf Coast will ever forget. My family and I had evacuated New Orleans ahead of Katrina, as had the majority of our staff. As the full scale of the disaster became apparent, the immediate focus was on our employees; many were unaccounted for in the days following the storm, and finding them was our top priority.
Once we determined that all staff members were safe and sound, we went to work contacting our 250-plus members with updates and the latest industry information. The goal of maintaining our strength as an information source for members never wavered, even without physical office space.
BuildingOnline, our Webmaster, launched new home pages for both the Southern Forest Products Association (SFPA) and the Southern Pine Council, providing a fast, efficient mode of communication. Satellite offices were set up with members and industry allies alike; the American Forest and Paper Association in Washington, D.C., kindly shared office space with me, while other staffers set up shop at the Southern Pine Inspection Bureau in Pensacola, Fla.; Elder Wood Preserving in Mansura, La.; and Timber Products Inspection in Conyers, Ga. The outpouring of assistance was overwhelming.
When we returned to our office in early October, we homed in on what we as an association could do to better prepare for future storms. This spring, we initiated an aggressive raised-floor construction education campaign called “Build to a Higher Standard.” (Our association directly reaped the benefits of this construction method: Our building was constructed 4 feet off the ground and suffered zero flood damage.)
The reasoning behind the program: With new building codes in development across the region, something other than slab-on-grade construction should be used. Raised-floor homes are cost-effective and offer increased flood protection, better insurance rates, and lower maintenance costs. This construction method is even more attractive when paired with pressure-treated wood products that provide long-lasting resistance to decay and termites.
In early August, the Gulf Coast Rebuilding Summit provided a forum for wood industry coordination to ensure that rebuilding efforts specify and feature wood products. Sponsored by the Wood Products Council, representatives from the SFPA, APA–The Engineered Wood Association, the American Wood Council, the Canadian Wood Council, and the Southern Pine Council took part.
These are small but significant steps. We're all still looking for ways to gain a foothold and be of service to the devastated communities. The ones who can rebuild will look to the industry for new designs and better products. As an association, we pledge to do our part by remaining active in communities going through the rebuilding process; we've already begun by participating in seminars and community development meetings across the region. The rebuilding process will take years, but our path remains clear: Strong, consistent education programs are needed to point the way. The Southern pine industry is well-positioned for this task and, working together and using lessons learned, we will rebuild right and we will rebuild strong. —The Southern Forest Products Association is based in suburban New Orleans. Together with the Southeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association, it funds the Southern Pine Council.