Interview with Nicolas de Saint-Martin

Director in charge of monitoring overseas territories for the General Counsel of
Veolia Water in France, was at the heart of the Veolia crisis unit set up at the Group’s
headquarters the day before Irma struck.
Published in the dossier of November 2017

With a month’s hindsight, what are your lasting impressions and images?

Nicolas de Saint-Martin

Director in charge of monitoring overseas territories for the General Counsel of Veolia Water in France

A major crisis, because the hurricane hit two islands with few resources to cope with this type of disaster. Physical distance, which made the emergency interventions difficult and limited communication. Also, an absence of freshwater on both islands, which made the traditional mobile units unsuitable and forced us to find units that produced drinking water from seawater. Veolia employees on the spot and their families, who were themselves victims of Irma and its consequences… People who were completely dedicated but also in a state of shock… yet they were working 20 hours a day! Finally, a lack of security, with the theft of equipment and supplies — power generators, chlorine, etc., which obliged us to ask for the army’s assistance in securing our different sites. In this chaos, I see two more favorable factors: a rather small and concentrated population (approximately 50,000 people on the two islands at the time of the hurricane) and the immediate mobilization of emergency intervention teams.

“Veolia employees on the spot, although they themselves were victims of Irma and in a state of shock, were working 20 hours a day!”

How does the crisis unit work?

A conventional watch cell was set up on September 5, in anticipation of Irma’s arrival. From 6th onward, all the skills we needed were assembled: the Veolia foundation, crisis management experts from Veolia France’s Water business line, the Operations, Communication, Human Resources, Safety, Risks and Insurance divisions, along with staff from the Group’s subsidiaries present in situ. The crisis unit then met every day and crafted a tailored response to the emergency. After assessing the needs, we identified potential problems and the solutions to be implemented. For me, the crisis unit is a unique place where information flows well, actions are prioritized… The professional commitment was 100% and everyone’s energy was focused on the sole aim of responding to the emergency and facilitating a return to normal as quickly as possible.

What is your role in this exceptional context?

We are there to help those on the frontline withstand the shock. In particular, this consists in setting up a psychological assistance unit, organizing the necessary repatriations and sending reinforcements, communicating messages accessible to all, fostering relationships of trust and transparency with the crisis units of all those involved, and structuring decision-making. In short, smoothing relations between all the stakeholders and facilitating the work of staff on the ground. It is ultimately a concentrated hub of support functions for operational staff.
At the end of the day, this is a tiring, demanding and intense period. Members of staff spontaneously came to join the Foundation’s volunteers to use their skills on behalf of the company. In this type of extreme situation, Veolia’s DNA comes to light and reveals the pride in our values…

(Interview conducted in early October 2017)