General Motor Co. is still struggling to get its huge, suburban Detroit technical center back in operation 10 days after it was flooded by a huge storm that dumped more some five inches of rain on the Motor City.
The rain and flooding, which claimed three lives in the Detroit area, also forced GM, Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler Group to shut down production at some key plants around Detroit.
But the largest disruption was at the General Motors Technical Center in the suburb of Warren, which is normally home to more than 19,500 full-time employees and contractors. Almost all of them were forced to abandon their work stations in the immediate aftermath of the flooding, which began during the late afternoon and early evening of Monday, August 11 when what has been described as a 100-year storm hammered the city.
Like many of the homes in the surrounding communities, a number of the GM facilities at its tech center quickly were inundated by both rain water and sewer backups, in some cases, lower floors turned into swimming pools. The maker quickly attacked the problem, focusing on some of the most critical facilities, according to GM spokeswoman Katie McBride.
What McBride described as a major effort by GM employees got the customer service units back in operation in a relatively short time, the IT center quickly following, so by Friday Aug. 15 about 15,500 of the 19,500 employees had returned to work as the flood waters retreated.
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Another 1,000 employees came back to work this week. But 19 of the 61 buildings on the Technical Center grounds are still at least partially flooded or not yet ready for employees. “Some of the buildings are quite small,” McBride said, noting approximately 3,000 employees have not yet been able to return to their offices and work stations.
GM’s Research and Development and Design staffs appear to be among those not yet able to return to their normal work spaces. Research and Development and Design occupy two of the Tech Center’s signature buildings. Designed by legendary architect Eero Saarinen in the late 1940s and early 1950s, they became the prototypes for low-rise office parks throughout the United States.
Saarinen followed his work on the GM Tech Center by going on to design office buildings for a number of corporate clients as well as the St. Louis Arch and the main terminal building at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington D.C.
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Many of the displaced GM employees have moved to temporary offices at the Tech Center or at GM headquarters in downtown Detroit, while others have elected to work from home.
“Obviously, we can’t make clay models but other work is getting done,” said McBride. No programs or major projects have been set back by the flooding, she said.
GM hopes to have both R&D and Design operating by the end of this week or early next week at the latest. “Our focus has been on safety – both for the people doing the remediation, and for the employees returning to work,” added McBride, who said GM’s clean-up effort is very similar to the one faced by thousands of Detroit area residents who had their basements flooded by the storm.
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McBride said most of the damage was in flooded basements and lower-level storage areas.
“We are still assessing the damage and have (no) dollar figure to share at this time. The damage at Design and other building was primarily in basements and includes such things as carpet, furniture, equipment, etc. that was stored there,” McBride noted in an e-mail.