Over the course of the last few weeks, an unprecedented succession of natural disasters has struck the Southeastern United States.

It has been more than 12 years since a hurricane made landfall in our country, yet in the span of a few weeks, Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma have both caused significant destruction, damage, and flooding in Texas and Florida.

One of the biggest challenges these storms present is the massive disruptions to the hourly workforce there. During the advance and landfall of Hurricane Irma in Florida, thousands of employees were cut off from their jobs as employers shut down hotels, shops, restaurants, and bars from Key West to Jacksonville.

The Atlantic reported on some of the challenges these storms present, from missed work to job protection status of those who need to flee for safety. In the wake of Irma, some companies even provided safety nets for their hourly workforce. Walt Disney and Universal Studios compensated their workforce for the time the park was closed. Local school districts also covered for contract workers, too. That’s a pretty extraordinary act for a segment of the American workforce that only one paycheck away from experiencing a financial crisis.

But, there’s also a very human element here. These storms forced many employers and their workforce to adapt and change off the cuff. The normal day-to-day business operations were completely disrupted.

Branching Out

For one crew at a Florida Pizza Hut, that was just the case.

Allison Harden is a shift manager at the Pizza Hut in Tampa. She’s been there for three years and together with the majority of her colleagues, Branch is the primary way they can view their schedules, swap shifts, and request time off.

One of Allison’s cooks initially found Branch and texted the link to her. Now, that discovery is a source of great pride for the cook. While scheduling is one of the primary ways her crew of nearly 30 employees is able to use Branch, the biggest impact she’s seen is the ability to connect to her employees.

Before Branch, the employees weren’t quite as connected. Now, they can send each other memes, photos, scheduling updates, and store updates.

“Now, with the messaging feature and the ability to share pictures and posts makes it really easy to stay connected with them,” Allison says. “It’s a way that I can do it outside a social network. Not everyone has Facebook and stuff like that -- so it’s good and work-friendly, safe for work.”

New Meaning for In-Store Communication

When Hurricane Irma’s landfall became imminent, their store’s communication thread took on new meaning. Instead of focusing on preparing for busy sports weekend staffing, Allison was readying her location and employees for the hurricane.

“Branch was an extreme help during that time,” Allison recalls.

“Before the storm, I was able to use Branch to post a hurricane safety checklist -- little tips like getting gas before the storm, things like that. It also allowed my store manager to communicate with the rest of the store about which days we would probably be closed.”

Their ability to communicate with staff went well beyond the normal daily operations that impact a corporation that has 16,000 locations around the world employing more than 135,000 people. Allison was able to use Branch to communicate to delivery drivers who were able to navigate and discuss the surprisingly volatile fuel shortages that impacted the state in the days before and after Irma.

“In the days leading up to the storm, delivery drivers were using it for posting locations of gas stations that actually had gas. That was a surprisingly big problem before that because not that many gas stations had gas. Branch really allowed us to function properly. And correctly."

If employees are the most crucial and priceless piece of our business than Allison was able to exemplify that at the darkest and scariest moments when the store was closed.

“During the actual storm, Branch allowed us to stay in contact and to make sure our team members were safe. We were able to figure out who had electricity, who did not -- safety updates like that. It really kept us connected during a pretty scary time,” she said.

Getting Back Up and Running

Nothing tests the already unpredictable nature of a restaurant’s daily operations and staffing more than a disaster.

Allison’s Tampa Pizza Hut was closed for two days, over the course of an entire weekend. And, as the state of Florida spent the time following Irma to recover, her staff was able to clean up, throw out old product, and prepare for a re-opening.

“Monday, we reopened,” Allison says. “We actually used Branch to assemble a small team of people to reopen the store.” One of their first tasks? They were able to prepare and give out free pizzas for their local community and the first responders who were helping the city get back up and running.