Entrepreneurs

Local business owner housing Hurricane Harvey first responders: We’re not special, this is what everyone is doing right now

First responders at the Academy Sports + Outdoors headquarters.
Photo courtesy Academy Sports + Outdoors
First responders at the Academy Sports + Outdoors headquarters.

As Academy Sports + Outdoors' corporate headquarters in Katy, Texas, became a command center for police, army and medical crews in town to support the hurricane Harvey rescue effort, president and CEO J.K. Symancyk says it's something small that the first responders appreciate the most.

"Probably the thing that was most valued by all of these folks was the ability to come in and take a hot shower" in the company gym, says Symancyk, speaking to CNBC Make It. "We had teams of folks who were doing laundry around the clock to keep towels clean."

Army vehicles in the Academy Sports + Outdoors parking lot.
Photo courtesy Academy Sports + Outdoors

When Harvey barreled down on Houston, leaving historic flooding in its wake, Texas law enforcement and first responder teams reached out to the outdoor equipment retailer seeking boats to help rescue trapped residents. The business has donated hundreds.

"We have lost count ... but based on where we started, we are somewhere in the neighborhood of near 200 boats. We donated a few more to the army last night," says Symancyk, who estimates that so far Academy Sports + Outdoors has given $1.5 million worth of supplies to the rescue effort.

It became clear after having conversations with local law enforcement, that they needed a place to work too, so Symancyk offered his corporate headquarters.

Members of the army in town for Hurricane Harvey rescue eat in the Academy Sports + Outdoors cafeteria.
Photo courtesy Academy Sports + Outdoors
Members of the army in town for Hurricane Harvey rescue eat in the Academy Sports + Outdoors cafeteria.

Since Monday night, various police departments, EMS crews, the fire department, the DEA, the army and now FEMA workers have all used the Academy Sports + Outdoors offices to sleep, shower, eat, refuel and as a home base from which they coordinate their efforts. The work space was undamaged from the hurricane.

Midweek, Academy Sports + Outdoors had about 400 first responders and now it has about 700 army and FEMA workers.

Some slept on blow up mattresses Academy Sports + Outdoors provided, while others set up their own cots in the parking garage. Local businesses gave food, and now a caterer that has worked with the National Guard is cooking out of the company's commercial kitchen.

Members of the army in town for Hurricane Harvey rescue pitch cots in the Academy Sports + Outdoors parking garage.
Photo courtesy Academy Sports + Outdoors
Members of the army in town for Hurricane Harvey rescue pitch cots in the Academy Sports + Outdoors parking garage.

It has not been perfect. But everyone deals with the situation because they have to.

"Literally you would have sort of pop up dormitories all throughout the office," says Symancyk. "You figure it out. And thankfully there is good communication with all the folks involved and an awful lot of patience because, really, all of those little inconveniences pale in comparison to the work that you are doing."

Academy Sports + Outdoors, which started in 1938 as a tire shop in San Antonio, has 230 retail locations in 16 states throughout the South, Southeast and Midwest. And though the temporary set up has made for some unusual logistics for staff who returned to work on Thursday, generally, there was a feeling of cooperation and goodwill, says Symancyk.

"I think it led to more engagement from our team," he says. "All of us feel glad to do whatever we can do and are happy to be able to support something like that and so … the inconveniences of it are really not something that anyone is concerned about.

"There was more team pride in being able to be a part of this and be able to support it," he says.

Emergency response vehicles in the Academy Sports + Outdoors parking lot.
Photo courtesy Academy Sports + Outdoors
Emergency response vehicles in the Academy Sports + Outdoors parking lot.

For employees who have had serious damage as a result of Hurricane Harvey, Academy Sports + Outdoors is helping with emergency relief grants. Based on current demand, Symancyk expects to pay out $1 million to staff to help them recover damaged property and ensure their families are safe before government grants can be accessed.

Symancyk does not know how long his office space will double as a command center. But even as his team shares their office with sleeping police officers on 12-hour shifts, he does not think what he is doing makes him or his company all that remarkable.

"We feel lucky to be able to be in a position to support this work, and I know that there are 100 other companies that if they were in the same position would do the same thing because that is what you see happening here every day," he tells CNBC Make It. "I do think we have a special team and I am really proud of all of the Academy family. I don't necessarily think this makes us special because I see activity like this all around the city right now and I am just glad to be a part of it."

See also:

Houston's Gallery Furniture turns its stores into shelters to help hurricane victims

Trump to propose initial $5.9 billion in Harvey aid

Hurricane Harvey victims place their hopes on FEMA response