Operation Helping Hands To contact Arnie Weissmann, send comments to email@example.com. By Arnie Weissmann / September 12, 2005 Share 1 -- I often check in with John Noel, president of Travel Guard Insurance, when world events or industry events are in crisis mode. Its Noels job to evaluate the financial health of travel companies and to assess the likelihood -- and potential impact -- of disasters both natural and corporate. But the other reason I like to check in with Noel in times of crisis is because he is an activist humanitarian. When he and his wife Patty are touched by a situation, whether large or small in scope, they act. They have adopted children from four continents, they actively work to help the impoverished in their community and they have launched an international effort to assist families affected by AIDS. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I reveal that I sit on the board of that last effort.)The day after the levees were breached in New Orleans, I had Noel on my call list, but he beat me to it. We discussed what he was hearing from customers stranded in New Orleans, and he mentioned that, as Travel Guard had done after the tsunami, he was making the resources of the companys emergency assistance services available to anyone whose travel plans were affected by Katrina, whether or not they were had purchased Travel Guard insurance.(Services such as emergency travel services, wire transfers or connecting to a local service provider are done without a charge, but if there are costs associated with a service, such as a helicopter evacuation, the caller would be charged for that service at cost.)Were motivated to help, and we have the platform and logistics to help people, he said. We have available resources. Its no different from a hotel that might have space available and gives a room to a hurricane victim.He recounted how a family trapped in their car by floodwater and downed power lines in Louisiana could not get through to local 911 operators but reached his company in Stevens Point, Wis. His assistance center contacted police in the area where the caller was trapped, and his staff stayed on the phone until the family was rescued.But Noel said the reason he was called me was to ask if Travel Weekly would be willing to revive www.travelcompaniescare.org. Its a Web site that Travel Guard and Travel Weekly co-hosted after the tsunami to spotlight travel companies helping in relief efforts. This time, the focus would be on companies helping victims of Hurricane Katrina.Through the efforts of Travel Guards vice president of communications, Dan McGinnity, and other Travel Guard staff, and TravelWeekly.com Managing Editor Kimberly Scholz and our reporters, the Web site is once again up and running.Noel said hes also been trying to think of something meaningful the industry could do as an industrywide effort, and he has an idea. Hurricane Katrina not only destroyed peoples homes and possessions, he said, but it may also have robbed survivors of their jobs. If they worked for a local company, its possible that that company is now permanently out of business.Noel said he had authorized one of his employees who was in New Orleans last week to identify a handful of families that had lost homes and jobs. The employee was to offer to bring these families to Stevens Point, provide them with a house (probably a mobile home), a job and health insurance, and assist them in enrolling their kids in school.Id like to get people back on their feet in 30 days or so. Then, of course, itll be up to them how long they stay, Noel said. Four or five families isnt much, but if we can use it as a pilot program, an example for other travel companies, I think we can really make a difference.Noel has approached some large travel companies to see if they have interest in the plan, which he tentatively calls Operation Helping Hands.He has also spoken to a temporary labor agency that can help coordinate efforts to match companies with families, and perhaps help line up work.So far, everyone Ive spoken to is interested, even honored to be asked to consider taking part in such an effort, he said. I hope we can get this up and running very quickly.Any company interested in exploring such a program should contact McGinnity at firstname.lastname@example.org.And no matter what youre doing to help in the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, please post your activities on www.travelcompaniescare.org.