If coastal dwellers rush into a Home Depot and actually find the generator and plywood they absolutely must have, that’s probably due to the people in Room C4N.
That is the primary location in the Atlanta-based company’s “command center,” the fourth-floor operation where upward of 200 people have been working to shape the company’s response to two giant storms.
The goal is to make sure that the stores in the path of the storm get as much of the crucial products as residents need and to make sure that Home Depot employees are out of harm’s way.
Trucks will keep making deliveries as long as it’s safe, and when it’s not, the stores will close.
“The product is moving very quickly. There’s high demand,” said Peter Capel, Home Depot’s vice president of field merchandising. “If something runs out, it will be temporary.”
Behind him, the weather is on two large television screens at the front of the large auditorium. Scores of people sit tapping on laptops or murmuring into phones.
Capel said the company wants badly to provide residents and business owners what they need, but is also sensitive to charges of gouging.
“Once an emergency is declared, all our pricing is frozen, and we’ll keep ‘em frozen,” he said.
Home Depot has 154 stores, four distribution centers and about 35,000 employees in Florida, the majority in the southeast of the state, from the Miami area up the coast.
In Georgia, Home Depot has 90 stores, nine distribution centers and 25,000 employees, most of them in metro Atlanta.
The company divides its disaster response into phases: preparation, clean-up after the storm and recovery. Each requires a somewhat different mix of products, so there are different priorities for shipments now than there will be after Irma has done its work.
Sandbags, for example, are useful before a storm. Brooms are helpful during clean-up. Drywall could be key during recovery.
The command center opened about sixteen days ago, as Harvey bore down on Houston. It has never closed.
“We have never had to respond to two storms this big at the same time,” Capel said. “We are helping with recovery in Houston and prep in Florida.”
It is not just Florida that likely will be hit by Irma. While the storm’s trajectory remains uncertain, it is expected to strike Georgia’s coast, as well as South and North Carolina, after moving through Florida, according to Channel 2 Action News.
It will probably weaken, but still pack a punch.
And Irma isn’t the only storm out there in the Atlantic. Hurricane Jose, which formed behind Irma, is a Category 2 storm and is currently heading west toward the Caribbean.
Behind that is Hurricane Katia.