SLIDELL, LA -- A full three years after Hurricane Katrina destroyed Cross Gates Family Fitness’ Lake Pontchartrain location in Slidell, LA, the facility reopened while its general manager nervously watched it weather Hurricane Gustav.

“We actually did pretty well,” says Dion Grossnickle, general manager for Cross Gates Family Fitness. “Not too much damage. We had some roof damage caused by the wind at our [main facility]. I have not been into the [Pontchartrain] club yet, but the good news is no flooding. We dodged a bullet with this one.”

The club was particularly worried about its flood insurance. The Katrina-destroyed club originally had no flood insurance, a lesson the owners paid for dearly when the club was destroyed after about seven inches of mud littered with snakes and debris washed in with a tidal surge during Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. After the storm, the club’s owner opened a temporary, 6,500-square-foot, fitness-only club across the street from that location in September 2006. The new club, which has been rebuilt in its original location, has flood insurance, but the policy didn’t go into effect until Sept..5. Hurricane Gustav hit on Sept. 1, causing tense times, Grossnickle says.

“But we were lucky,” he says. “We did empty the equipment out of the club and move it to our larger club, which is at a much higher elevation. Boy, was that a job.”

Cross Gates also had a solid communication plan in place for Hurricane Gustav, the result of another lesson learned after Hurricane Katrina. Grossnickle had the e-mail addresses and cell phone numbers of all 175 staff members so that they could be reached during an evacuation or after a storm, as typically only text messaging or e-mail are available forms of communication after a storm. Grossnickle stayed in Slidell during Hurricane Gustav and lost power the morning of the storm. After the storm, he text messaged one of the club’s managers who had evacuated. That manager then contacted the rest of Cross Gates’ staff members.

Key managers and Cross Gates’ staff members were back in the clubs by Sept. 3, cleaning and preparing the club to re-open.

“I can tell you that most of the team felt a little bit more at ease knowing what was going on while they were evacuated in different states,” he says. “And I felt very comfortable knowing that most of the team was safe by knowing where they were.”

The renovated Pontchartrain facility was completely re-designed, Grossnickle says. Its grand opening on Aug. 25 welcomed members to a larger free weight area, new cardio equipment, a mind/body studio with water features and bamboo floors, a new spinning studio, a larger group exercise studio, and upscale executive style locker rooms with granite counters, maple lockers, ceramic flooring and showers with oversize shower heads. Cross Gates also added massage and spa services and kids’ fitness programming, including a strength circuit and a Wii Fit. In fact, the club used the renovation to completely rebrand.

“The ambition of the new club was to change our look to match our mission of offering a place in which the entire family can work out in a very comfortable facility,” Grossnickle says. “In fact, we have since changed our name from Cross Gates Athletic Club to Cross Gates Family Fitness.”

Grossnickel’s advice for other facilities faced with similar emergency situations? Have a great team and keep them informed any way you can. After the storm, recognize them for their efforts.

“The biggest thing that I learned after this storm is just how important your team is and how much your team means to the business,” he says. “Many of our team members took ownership of their responsibilities in a way that we would have never dreamed.”

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