Using the power of media to help rebuild

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Not long ago, b-to-b news organizations' main job was to report the news. Since the arrival of the Internet, our function has become more complete, complex and dynamic, as we all add services for our subscribers.

Hurricane Katrina changed this model even more, as we added resources that not only further served our subscribers, but anyone affected by the disaster.

Even as Katrina was laying over $100 billion in damage on the Gulf Coast, our staff from Architectural Record, Engineering News-Record, Web services and marketing jumped into action to ask a very fundamental question: How can an information provider leverage its assets and expertise to help? The rebuilding effort is going to be huge, and we felt a responsibility to help the builders, property owners, architects, engineers, building product manufacturers, materials suppliers and workers who will shoulder this burden.

We were fortunate to have an online system in place, connecting our 17 public Web sites and the McGraw-Hill Construction Network, a database of more than 600,000 active projects the industry uses to find work, do work and manage business opportunities.

Using these platforms, we took it a step further to create a dedicated Web site, the Hurricane Recovery Information Center (HRIC) at

Working around the clock, our staff had the HRIC site up and running within a day of Katrina's arrival and solved two basic problems that the industry in the region faced: communications and information.

Our Hurricane Recovery Information Center served-and continues to do so-as a clearinghouse for construction-related information not only for our core constituency of contractors, architects, engineers, building product manufacturers, materials suppliers and large property owners, but also for those who traditionally are not our constituency, namely small property owners, insurers, emergency response and services personnel and construction workers looking for jobs.

Most important, the Hurricane Recovery Resources Directory on the HRIC Web site features more than 3,000 construction business/services listings online to connect architects, engineers, contractors and the property owners who urgently need their help. After Hurricane Wilma hit Florida a few weeks after Katrina, we added 20 Florida counties to the directory as well.

In addition to the directory, the HRIC site features exclusive news reports from the company's Engineering News-Record, Architectural Record and regional construction publication editors, podcast interviews with industry experts, ongoing analysis and an employment page to connect employers with skilled workers.

In December, we are also publishing a special edition "Hurricane Construction Recovery Report" for distribution to 50,000 select construction professionals and influencers in the Gulf states.

Furthermore, because the offices of many contractors, building owners and architects were literally wiped out, we had to provide resources for them not only to work but to retrieve basics like lost blueprints.

To accomplish this, we arranged for two 600 sq.-ft. mobile business resource centers to help architects, contractors and related industry members in the affected areas locate and review projects. The centers are equipped with hard-copy plans, copiers, telephones, fax machines and computers with access to building plans for new and renovated private and public projects from 2003 to now.

The final piece of this effort to help rebuild was to informing everyone about these vital resources. By reaching out to national and local Gulf Coast trade associations in construction and real estate, the news media and directly to companies, we got the word out successfully.

For more than a month, we worked in crisis mode-including daily Katrina staff meetings and conference calls involving personnel from coast to coast-to develop and refine our program to do all we could to help rebuild the Gulf Coast. The results greatly surpassed our expectations, with over 450,000 visitors going to for help and information, connecting industry professionals with each other to start the rebuilding process.

The Katrina experience proves that an information company can be much more than just a content provider. It can also be a driver for the rebirth of a devastated region.

Norbert W. Young Jr. is president of McGraw-Hill Construction. He can be reached at [email protected]

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