Think of every available communication system used in a business: telephones, BlackBerries, voice mail, e-mail, cell phones.
Now, imagine none of them work.
In the weeks, and even months, after Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf Coast region, residents and businesses had to find new ways to keep in touch.
Wind and flooding knocked out telephone lines. Electricity was cut for a week or more, even 50 miles inland. Cell phone towers were damaged by the storm - mobile telephones did not work. Those services that could pick up a signal were so overloaded it was still difficult to get through.
Injection molder Intralox LLC in the New Orleans suburb of Harahan had backed up data on computer servers, but with no power, the firm had no way to access it.
Managers at Dickten & Masch LLC in Hattiesburg, Miss., were forced to access computer backup systems at corporate headquarters in Nashotah, Wis., to find out how much inventory they had in their own facility.
The Aug. 29 storm cut businesses off from workers, customers and suppliers, but in its wake they found high- and low-tech ways to communicate.
``It was hard just to get hold of your employees,'' said Scott Campbell, plant manager for Wellman Inc.'s PET production site in the Port Bienville Industrial Park, near Bay St. Louis, Miss. ``We ended up driving out to their houses sometimes.''
Most firms in hurricane-prone regions create plans each year that include emergency contact information for key personnel. But with Katrina, some people were forced to evacuate so far away it was difficult to track them down.
Barry Dreyfus Jr., president of New Orleans boat builder United States Marine Inc., said he could not make it off his own property for a week. His first line of communication came from the satellite-backed OnStar system in his truck.
At Wellman, workers found a spot in the parking lot where they could pick up a weak cell phone signal sometimes. They painted the place with an X so they could find it again. For about three months - until the facility had a working land line - Campbell used cell phones from three different carriers to make sure he'd get a signal when he needed one.
Business executives discovered that cell phone text messages got through with limited access when regular voice connections failed.
``If you don't know how to text message, then find a teenager and have them teach you,'' advised Intralox plant manager Paul Horton.
Companies with businesses outside the region had more ways to get the word out. The 500 workers at Oreck Manufacturing Co. in Long Beach could access a toll-free number off-site to find out whether to report to work.
Intralox, with international operations that assemble modular conveyor systems from parts injection molded and extruded in Harahan, created a blog on its Web site for communicating with employees.
Neighbors helped out as well.
NASA's Stennis Space Center, next to the Bay St. Louis industrial park, had a working telephone land line soon after the storm. Until Wellman had a line of its own in November, it used Stennis' line once or twice a day.
Sometimes the oldest forms of communication were the best.
Dickten & Masch had power and enough people on hand to run a limited shift a week after the storm. The firm also had relief supplies and gasoline, thanks to shipments from customers and other D&M sites.
Supervisors told D&M workers who were there that they would start full production the next day, said General Manager Charles Phillips. They asked employees to pass the word, and 90 percent of the firm's employees reported for work, he said.
Communications were important for more than finding workers. During Intralox's brief silence, a competitor spread a rumor that the firm had been destroyed. Similarly, when U.S. Marine buildings were knocked down and it had to relocate to Gulfport, Miss., a competitor used the situation to spread false information - even though U.S. Marine was back in operation within three weeks, Dreyfus said.
With another summer storm season approaching, Gulf Coast firms have started making adjustments, investing in satellite telephones that work even when cell phone towers are out of service.
Intralox also has added an off-site backup for its servers.
``You have a whole contingency plan set up at the start, but now you go back and start to rewrite it according to actual needs,'' Phillips said.