Managers and (Disaster) Planning


I've been watching, reading, and listening to the Katrina coverage over the past week. And the one thing that stands out for me is my perception that there was a lack of disaster planning.

I'm not going to play the blame game–there's plenty to go around. But here are the questions I would have assumed the managers in charge of planning would have asked:

  • What's likely occurrence? After a hurricane, we can plan on no electricity, which means impaired communications, no air conditioning, people needing to use generators, and at some point, a lack of water. How long is this likely occurrence going to happen?
  • What's an unlikely, but not out-of-the-realm-of-possibility occurrence? This is where I'd assume the electricity would be out for several days, maybe a week. Remember, all of our systems need electricity to continue to run.
  • What would be a disastrous occurrence? This is the flooding scenario, where pumping out the water is impossible until after the levees are fixed.

The value a manager brings to a project or to an organization is planning the work and preparing for risks. Risk management is not a one-time planning event, but starts with planning (risk discovery) and continues as the project and/or the organization continues.

The one conclusion I'm drawing is that too few people performed risk discovery and developed mitigation plans. Don't let that happen to your project or organization. You don't have to be paralyzed by risks, but the more aware you are of the potential risks and the more you plan for dealing with those risks, the better off your project or organization will be.

4 Replies to “Managers and (Disaster) Planning”

  1. Being without power for “maybe a week” is expected, not “unlikely”. I lived in Baton Rouge when Hurricane Betsy came through, and we were without telephone for seven days and without power for ten. Our area was lightly damaged, mostly downed trees and holes in roofs from limbs.
    It is normal to need to repair a lot of the city grid, because of fallen trees and poles. You bring in crews from other cities and states. Right now in New Orleans, there isn’t any way to house those crews, so it will take even longer.

  2. Johanna —
    I’ve been following the Katrina events, too — as much as I can up north where the radio reception is thin.
    From what I’ve heard, many of the risks — even the catastrophic ones — were identified. Some of them have been known for years.
    But money wasn’t allocated to mitigate the risk. Or only enogh money was allocated to take half measures.
    On a corporate level, I see more comapnies making serious investments to mitigate IT related risk and make contingency plans.
    But on projects, I more often see risk management viewed as “nay-saying and negativity”.

  3. However I was surprised by this statistic::Bombay (aka Mumbai , India) was hit by 37 inches rain on Jul 27. Comparing it with hurricane Katrina::
    inches of rain in new orleans due to hurricane katrina… 18
    inches of rain in mumbai (July 27th)…. 37.1
    population of new orleans… 484,674
    population of mumbai…. 12,622,500
    deaths in new orleans within 48 hours of katrina…100
    deaths in mumbai within 48hours of rain.. 37.
    number of people to be evacuated in new orleans… entire city
    number of people evacuated in mumbai…10,000
    Cases of shooting and violence in new
    Cases of shooting and violence in mumbai.. NONE
    Time taken for US army to reach new orleans…48hours [THIS IS TERRIBLE]
    Time taken for Indian army and navy to reach mumbai…12hours
    status 48hours later…new orleans is still waiting for relief, army and electricty
    status 48hours later..mumbai is back on its feet and is business is as usual
    I think Bombay planners were way more efficient. as esther says risks were identified. But one group went ahead and made sure the resources were also available to handle them effectively.

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