Tracie Hayes has equipment rental in her blood. A 26-year industry veteran on the Gulf Coast, she specializes in “onsites” — rental operations based at the refineries they service. Hayes is responsible for two onsites six miles apart in Sulphur and Lake Charles, Louisiana. Both refineries are owned by the same petrochemical customer in an area known as Pipeline Alley. “I love the work,” she says. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

tracie hayes headshot
A big difference between Hurricane Laura and prior disasters, says Tracie Hayes, was the scale of United Rentals’ response: “They could handle anything we needed.”

Hayes has plenty of experience with violent weather, but the damage caused by Hurricane Laura in August 2020 stands out as particularly disorienting. “Laura was a Category 4; it was the biggest storm I’ve been through in my lifetime. I wasn’t planning on leaving at first, but then there was a mandatory evacuation and I went to Shreveport. I’m glad I did. I lost my house.”

The water surge didn’t reach Sulphur 30 miles inland, but the wind came with fury. In addition to losing her house, one of Hayes’ onsite offices was completely destroyed — months later it’s functioning, but still needs furniture. “Everything takes longer at the plant right now because of COVID,” she notes. “There are strict guidelines about trucks going on and off the premises.”

This time it felt different

As Laura moved closer to landfall, Hayes went through the checklist for hurricane preparedness: “I have a roster of all my employees, and I make sure I know where they’re evacuating to,” she explains. “We tie down the equipment, and so on. We’ve been through these steps so many times before. But this storm felt different.”

When Laura made landfall on Wednesday, Hayes was safely inland, but says, “I couldn’t sleep or eat, I wanted to get back. I knew it wasn’t going to be good at the house.” Her two customer operations also weighed heavily on her mind. Although Hayes and her district manager talked three times a day, “nobody knew what was going on back home. And with the power and phones out, I couldn’t reach the customer to see how hard they were hit.”

Forty-eight hours of waiting was enough for Hayes. On Friday, she put chainsaws in her truck to clear branches from the road and made her way back to Sulphur, only to find the roof of her house peeled off and the customer sites unsafe to enter. “That was a bad day,” she says. “But then my district manager called and said there were campers heading our way. I was amazed that they would put themselves out like that to help us.”

Customer service hit the ground running

Soon, the Emergency Response Team arrived. “They got here so fast and they helped us tremendously,” Hayes recalls. “That was the difference before and after the ERT was established — between this hurricane and the earlier ones. Before, you knew the company had your back but you weren’t sure when or how the cavalry was coming. Well, the cavalry came with Laura, and they really came through for us.”

Because both of the onsite facilities were without communications, the ERT rolled customer calls to a nearby Texas branch. From there, the fleet was sourced and dispatched. Hayes says the ERT took care of managing the inbound equipment, while her team worked directly with the plants on the recovery efforts.

“Thank goodness they had that capability and organization, with the procedures ready to go,” she says. “I wouldn’t say it was a cakewalk for any of us. But it would have been so much harder if we didn’t have the ERT to take that off our shoulders. And it all flows forward — if someone helps you that much, you want to help someone else. It’s part of the culture of our company.”

With her locations getting back to normal operation, Hayes reflects on what it means to have United Rentals standing with you as you do a job you love. “I can’t imagine another company responding with so many resources in an emergency,” she says. “I hope I don’t have to go through this again, but if I have to, I know United will be there for me.”

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