BY BOBBY DUNCAN
In September 2005, David Perez, head of San Diego’s Surge Global Energy Inc., sat stunned in front of his television for three days.
Like most Americans, he watched the devastation of Hurricane Katrina from the safety of his home.
Exasperated by the government’s slow response, he grabbed his phone and set in motion a relief effort by the private sector that continues to gain momentum.
He quickly enlisted the aid of his wife, Orly, as well as that of friends, strangers, churches, relief organizations and government agencies, in coordinating a rescue movement that involved two helicopters, 22 donated corporate jets and 74 airlift missions on the Gulf Coast.
Nearly 400 people were led to safe passage, and more than 500 tons of food, water and supplies were distributed to shelters in Louisiana and Mississippi. Perez also donated more than $500,000 of his own money.
He and his wife later established 2 Life 18 Foundation (http://www.2life18.org) to serve as a private sector first responder during natural disasters and to help victims rebuild their lives.
When he refused last year to be ensnared by bureaucratic red tape, Perez was chairman and chief operating officer of Surge Global Energy.
The 43-year-old Perez now holds chairman and chief executive officer titles of the oil and gas company, which has operations in Argentina, Canada and the United States.
A Born Leader
Since the age of 18, he has been involved with running businesses, including software development companies Cellular Solutions Ltd. and Com2001 Corp. (also known as Alexis Communications).
A Moroccan by birth, he was a young boy when his family immigrated to Canada and then moved to New Jersey.
In 1987, his reckless driving caused the death of a young woman. The tragedy led to a stronger commitment to his Jewish faith and to the principle of “tikkun olam,” a Hebrew phrase meaning to repair, or heal, the world.
Repenting for his misdeed and giving to others less fortunate than himself are part of what drives him. Orly, whom he married in 1993, shares his faith, and together they support a number of charities in addition to their own foundation.
Following his actions after Katrina struck, Perez was honored by several organizations and interviewed by many news and broadcast organizations.
In an emotional telephone interview in September 2005 with CNBC’s Donny Deutsch, Perez acknowledged computer manufacturer Michael Dell’s pivotal part in getting aid to the shelters and challenged other executives to step up to the plate.
Cable TV’s A & E; Network featured Perez as one of 10 people who had the greatest impact on American lives in 2005.
Help Is Still Needed
On the first anniversary of the hurricane, he’s not resting on his laurels.
Among his latest plans is deploying to the Gulf Coast 10 rescue vehicles equipped with generators, reverse osmosis water machines, and food and medical supplies. He has also commissioned a documentary film about the Katrina relief effort, “Power of One,” being produced by the Louisiana Film Center in Baton Rouge.
After revisiting the Gulf Coast in May, Perez concluded that the situation in the region was actually worse than three weeks after the storm. “Nothing is being done, and people are still without power, water and basic health and human services,” he said.
He believes that better government accountability and oversight are needed to make the region more prepared for another disaster.
“They need fair, honest leadership from a federal level,” he said. “The moneys, contracts and awards given to the larger private entities to rebuild are nowhere to be found. Nothing is happening, and all the billions of dollars in aid have vanished. Who has it?”
According to Perez, the city of San Diego is handling the evacuees it welcomed last year quite well. “Our people (citizens and faith-based charities and churches) and public systems are really working. And thanks to organizations like Jewish Family Services, people are treated like real human beings.”
Although patience isn’t his strong suit, Perez believes that something more than frustration with government response drove him to act during the aftermath of Katrina. He attributes his faith as the underlying motivation.
“My faith and belief in the good and kind people of this great country are what made me rise to the occasion; the more blessings that were bestowed on me, the more I did and continue to do,” he said. “Continuity in everything I set out to do is important, unlike our government, which has forgotten all the people who were devastated by the storms and lost everything. Our government needs compassion and not bureaucracy.”
Now that the new hurricane season has arrived, does Perez think that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, and state and local governments are better prepared for another disaster in New Orleans or other Gulf Coast areas?
“Absolutely not. It is still the biggest tragedy in town. They have had almost a year and the conditions there are unacceptable , this is still a major disappointment.”
Bobby Duncan is a freelance writer and business journalist based in Austin, Texas.