A flooded ranch near Beaumont after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Ga. firms scrambling to handle aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

Several Georgia businesses who have been pitching in to help east Texas recover from Hurricane Harvey now find themselves making preparations for a closer and possibly more powerful storm, Hurricane Irma.

“We’ve been tracking it for a number of days now,” Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft said of Irma, which some forecasters now project will hit south Florida Sunday morning.

Severe Weather Team 2 Meteorologist Brad Nitz has an update on its track Tuesday night.

He said the Atlanta utility may ultimately send power line crews to Florida to help repair damage if state is walloped by the Category 5 storm, but first the company has to see whether Georgia’s power grid takes a hit.

“The track could come through Georgia, or with its size, affect Georgia,” said Kraft. Crews won’t move until the storm has passed.

Other businesses in Georgia find themselves in the same boat.

Crawford & Co., an Atlanta company that dispatches independent claims adjusters to disaster sites for its insurance company clients, has been working around the clock for 17 days, even before Hurricane Harvey barreled into Texas.

Now the company is scrambling to bring into overseas workers to respond to another possible disaster in Florida while also looking at its own recovery plans if Irma damages or knocks out power at its headquarters.

“We’re definitely calling it the perfect storm for the industry,” said Rohit Verma, Crawford’s global chief operating officer. “This situation is unique in terms of damage. It is unprecedented.”

Meanwhile, other companies are still sending donations or gearing up to provide recovery services in Texas.

Teleperformance, a call center operator, said it’s looking to immediately hire 500 new employees, including at a unit in Augusta, to help handle calls to federal aid programs from people affected by Hurricane Harvey.

The Salt Lake City-based company said the temporary positions will last one to four months, at its offices in Augusta; Sandy, Utah; and Dallas and Edinburg, Texas.

Atlanta-based First Data Corp., one of the world’s largest processors of payments by credit and debit cards, has set up a center at a Houston hotel to help small businesses bounce back from Harvey’s flooding.

The company sent an executive vice president, Dan Charron, and a van “packed full of supplies,” said a spokesperson, to provide free mobile payments devices and installation to Houston-area businesses.

First Data said it is now drawing up plans for a similar response to Hurricane Irma.

“The lessons of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and Superstorm Sandy remind us that one of the most crucial steps toward recovery is to help small business owners open their doors and start serving their customers,” said First Data Chief Executive Frank Bisignano.

“Whether a business needs to replace a payment device damaged in the storm, or set up shop in a temporary location with a mobile payment reader,” he said, “we hope that our efforts can help impacted businesses get up and running quickly.”

Storms like Harvey and Irma are what keep Crawford & Co. in business.

The 9,000-employee company has a network of about 5,000 independent adjusters, 2,000 drone operators and 35,000 assistants in calls “lookers,” who can be dispatched anywhere in the U.S. or around the globe to assess damage and forward estimates to insurance companies.

“This is the kind of thing our company is built for,” said Verma.

But two huge back-to-back storms will be a strain for the company and the insurance industry, he said.

Crawford set up temporary command centers in Austin and Houston to oversee a squad of several hundred claims adjusters and drone operators. They will be there for months.

Now the company is making similar plans for Florida. It is booking hotel and car reservations in Florida and looking for a site to set up two temporary command centers.

Verma said the company is now recruiting English- and Spanish-speaking adjusters from its units and partners in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, India, Hong Kong and Mexico to supplement its U.S. network.

“At this time our legal team is working feverishly on visas” and other paperwork, he said.

And just in case Irma veers too close to Atlanta, he added, the company also has picked out two alternate temporary headquarters sites — in the Midwest.

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AJC Business reporter Russell Grantham keeps you updated on the latest news about major companies, CEOs and public utilities in metro Atlanta and beyond. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

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