After Harvey: Helping Houston Recover and Build Resilience

Shell Oil Company has a major corporate and operations presence in Southeast Texas with close to 11,000 local employees. About 1,000 staff were personally affected by Hurricane Harvey, from completely flooded homes to forced evacuations to power outages.

The community response was swift and comprehensive, focused on helping Houston and other parts of Southeast Texas recover, rebuild, and become more resilient in the face of future disasters.

The goal was to help the community recover. Shell has been through massive storms along the Gulf Coast before. The level of experience was such that former Shell Oil President Marvin Odum was named by the mayor of Houston as the city’s Chief Recovery Officer after the storm. In the past, Shell also applied lessons learned to support the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s creation of Quick Recovery Guides for local chambers and businesses.  

Shell leveraged this knowledge of where the post-disaster need is greatest, who can help most efficiently, and how to marshal its own volunteer resources, to quickly share their expertise, funds, and manpower to address the region’s needs.

As Shell supported the broader community, Shell also was very instrumental in assisting its own affected employees. Through these measures, Shell was able to make a significant difference in lives of those affected by the storm and increase the community’s resiliency.

Shell's social responsibility is fundamental to its business and license to operate. Responding in a disaster – especially of this proportion – was both instinctual and strategic, arising from its core values.

Shell’s success is intertwined with its community’s success. Shell knew that by helping the community recover quickly, they would enable its businesses to return to providing needed fuel, and that by helping its own employees Shell would free up other resources to assist the broader community. Shell knew that by contributing its resources – including funds and volunteers – Shell would continue to leverage its strength in the community and its employees’ sense of pride to be part of Shell. What Shell didn’t realize was that many of its affected employees would then turn around and volunteer to help other employees as well as their neighbors. They were proud of their company, but Shell was even more proud of them.

Senior leadership was involved in an immediate and ongoing basis. At the request of the City of Houston, Shell loaned a senior executive to support the recovery effort, and loaned three floors of office space rent free to the city for six months.

Shell also contributed more than $2 million in recovery/rebuilding funds, primarily donated to existing organizations that Shell knew from experience would be able to use the funds quickly. This included $1 million to the American Red Cross and $250,000 to the local United Way.

Shell also mobilized its own employee volunteers. A core group of 300 employees contributed over 2,000 extra volunteer hours and many others participated even though they or family members were dealing with their own impacts. Employees assisted at shelters, supported call centers, volunteered at the Houston Food Bank, and provided personal support to communities across our eight-county region.

In addition to the leadership actions described above, Shell contributed to the city’s recovery by giving from all parts of its organization. Many of its response efforts were rooted in Shell’s expertise in crisis response and health and safety, such as providing its Incident Command site as a Red Cross shelter for 200-500 people for three months and loaning portable six-inch pumps from its Deer Park Manufacturing Complex (which helped to save several hundred homes in a nearby neighborhood). Also, Leaders at Shell’s Louisiana operations assembled hundreds of personal protection equipment packages – including safety glasses, work gloves, face respirators and coveralls – to send to Texas so that their fellow employees personally impacted by the storm could safely work on flooded homes.

Shell found an unexpected way to apply its energy expertise to the recovery effort. Shell partnered with Feeding Texas to provide a Shell-owned food truck, (previously developed to demonstrate sustainable energy technologies) to distribute approximately 3,700 hot meals at 15 locations; the food truck was later donated to the Houston Food Bank. 

Shell’s employees did more than don yellow Shell-logo shirts and volunteer; they also raised $4.6 million in donations through the employee disaster match program.

And Shell supported its affected employees through their recovery with extensive (and as far as Shell know, unequaled) benefits that included short-term salary continuance until they were ready to return to work, a temporary living supplement (note that flood insurance does not include this), company funding for home remediation services, and interest free loans.

Beyond the immediate response, Shell focused on resiliency through its ongoing support of the mayor’s recovery initiative, which has worked to identify longer-term flooding solutions, and through its sponsorship of and involvement in a post-disaster tour of affected Texas communities organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

Shell’s contributions helped lessen the impact of Harvey on the community and its own employees, and are continuing to help make the community more resilient.

“In the community, Shell staff have helped out so many in need that people are flagging down anybody wearing the company pecten symbol to say thank you,” Shell CEO Ben van Beurden wrote in a LinkedIn article on the storm.

The community impact of its immediate response actions is difficult to quantify beyond the numbers of those who were sheltered at its facility or who benefited from the Deer Park water pumps. The $1 million donated to the Red Cross was one of the largest donations received by the organization, and helped address the immediate emergency needs of 575,000 households severely affected by Harvey; the additional $1 million in donations supported efforts by United Way, the Mayor’s Hurricane Relief Fund, and other area nonprofits.

Beyond funding, the most lasting impact was created by its six-month support of the city’s recovery program, which has driven such initiatives as home repurchasing programs, updated building standards, and waterway improvements that will make the city more resilient to future flood events.

Of the 1,000 Shell employees affected, nearly all benefitted from one or more of the employee recovery benefits Shell put in place. In particular, hiring professionals to provide cleanout was a step above and beyond what other employers offered. This assured that safety measures (one of Shell’s key values) were in place, and helped to expedite getting employees back into their homes.

Shell’s support for hurricane recovery continues.

Based on learnings from the hurricane tour, Shell redirected $25,000 in 2018 literacy funding to support four damaged Corpus Christi schools that also took in students from harder-hit neighboring districts.

Shell’s Heroes of Houston multi-media campaign recognized local Harvey heroes who went above and beyond in their efforts to support the community.

The donated food truck will become part of the food bank’s emergency response in a disaster. Meanwhile, it is being used to serve hot meals in summer to children in areas without access to other summer meal programs. The organization notes that the “generous donation… will definitely help us impact child hunger and nutrition.”

Shell’s Harvey response builds on its previous experience and learnings will continue to shape future plans. Most important takeaway is the importance of long-term resilience and Shell will incorporate that focus in its social investment strategy.

Vice President, Shell Oil Company Foundation; Director, Workforce Development and Diversity Outreach, Shell Oil Company