Image of house during Texas Winter Storm.Nine people, three dogs, and a parrot all living in front of a gas fireplace. No safe water. No electricity. No heat. It’s the winter of 2021, in Texas, and what we endured was more intense than any forecast could have predicted.

How did we manage? For me, Cisco’s support and our Emergency Time Off benefit was a large help in seeing me through.

No one plans for an emergency

Yes, you can prepare for a crisis and buy supplies in advance, as most people did in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. What transpired, however, was beyond anyone’s expectations.

Emergencies, by their very nature, come at any time and in so many forms: medical, weather, family. It’s enough to make you stress just thinking about – but, even in these moments, maybe most of all in these moments – Cisco has our backs.

Emergency Time Off is for these very scenarios – when the unexpected happens. Separate from our Paid Time Off (PTO), Emergency Time Off is paid time for employees who are managing a sudden, unexpected situation – either personal or to someone we love – which requires our complete focus. The definition of “family” was also expanded to include the people we rely on and those who rely on us for support (hello, four households, huddled around a gas fireplace, under one roof).

The electricity went out Sunday night, which took out the central heat. I assumed the power would be out for only a few hours (per the local news reports) so, I cooked lunch on the gas stove, and while my family played cards – I called my boss. There was never any hesitation, her response was, “Take care of yourself and your family. The team has got you covered.”

By Monday afternoon, it was clear the electricity was going to be out for days – not hours, and with temperatures forecast to drop below zero that was not something our home was prepped to handle. “Work” that day became dripping water from all the inside faucets, storing water in every bowl we had, and wrapping the hot water tanks with blankets. We used our cars to charge our cell phones, and I had an idea to use paint tarps from our garage to wall-off the living room – trapping what little heat the fireplace created in to one room.

Then, as my mother-in-law’s home was 40* inside, we made the decision to take our 4×4 truck into the blizzard to retrieve her, her dog, and her parrot to bring them back home with us to add to our growing crew of evacuees. Everyone slept in front of the fireplace that night.

Tracy's two dogs laying next to eachother.Throughout the week, the temperature stayed bitterly cold. Some pipes and one toilet inside the house froze, a boil water notice was issued, and finally, a water heater burst from the extreme cold. I knew I was going to need a little more time to manage this mess and get us back to ‘normal’ – and before I could even finish the ask, my boss had cut me off, “Take care of your family, they come first.”

Staying connected, but not just for work

Using Webex, my Cisco team and boss kept in contact – never once asking a thing about work yet focusing on my family’s safety and how we were doing or what they might be able to do to help.

When the worst happened, Cisco was there for me. I didn’t have to worry about work – my priority was keeping my family safe. And this experience was far from a vacation – so, it was nice (thanks to Emergency Time Off) to not have to deplete my PTO to recover from the winter storm.

And while those weeks were very difficult for us, this Cisco benefit removed any added, undue stress – making the weeks easier than they could have been.

Love where you work

#LoveWhereYouWork — it’s not just a phrase. It is so much more than just a hashtag. It is the Cisco culture.

Not once was I asked to answer a question, take a call, or manage a fire drill. My teammates truly cared for me and my family. My boss meant what she said, “Your family & safety come first.” Cisco had my back.

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Tracy Smith

Market Manager, Enterprise

Data Center Networking