Hurricane Katrina Reveals the Structural Flaws of FEMA

I sit here searching on Google for project management (PM) articles hoping to find something that explicitly discusses key concepts in the field. After many failed search inquiries, I think to myself “There has to be an example of PM in the real world.” Bing! I immediately conjure up the biggest event that FEMA has been scrutinized for, Hurricane Katrina. I type in “FEMA” into the search box, and like it was willed to happen, I find something worth talking about.

In the article, FEMA Faces Intense Scrutiny, it addresses FEMA’s history and its most recent national disaster, Hurricane Katrina. There are a lot of criticisms about FEMA’s actions or lack thereof. If we were to examine each disaster relief as a project, we will see how its failures can be learning lessons for PM in corporations.

A few sentences from the article stuck out to me and we will go further in detail about each piece of information.

1.  “From the local level, officials complained of communication breakdowns and the lack of leadership from the federal government.”

FEMA is a governmental agency that coordinates the relief based on what the government orders it to do. However, the project manager (the government) never communicated with its reports what their task was. In fact, in the article, it stated that FEMA rejected personnel and supplied offered from other emergency forces. Those are the resources the agency actually needed. The PM should always communicate what resources are available, and he should say what is expected of the agency.

2. “We wanted helicopters, food and water. They wanted to negotiate an organizational chart.”

Two stakeholders placed two different goals. PM is a subgroup of an organization. FEMA’s goals should align with the government’s goal. It’s an issue of priority and also accomplishing the overall picture, which was quick relief to U.S. citizens. In a corporation, it’s important the subgroup’s goals align with the company’s. The subgroup will have the necessary support, such as resources and political backing, to complete the task effectively.

3. “’All hazards’ preparation focused too much on terrorism […] but not natural disasters.”

The agency was not nimble enough to deal with different types of disasters. It was adopted into the Department of Homeland Security in 2003. Since then, it trained to handle terrorist attacks. When Hurricane Katrina hit, it was unprepared for the calamity and was at disarray on execution. PM is about adaptability. In business, PM would do a risk assessment, do a worst-case scenario, and have a potential plan of action.

When it comes to managing a project with an extremely short deadline, it’s important to have the qualitative infrastructure in place. Of course, that is easier said than done. After the harsh criticism from one of the most detrimental disasters in the United State, I am sure FEMA has taken a look at its organizational structure and processes. Hopefully, it restructured itself, so it can do what it was intended.


(Photo Source: 10 Interesting Facts about Hurricane Katrina)

Hurricane Sandy Causing Problems for Small Businesses

When compared to major corporations, small businesses have it rough.  They don’t have the staff, resources, or logistical capabilities of larger companies.  Imagine, then, the nightmare that so many small business owners awoke to after Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast.  It’s for this reason that I’ve decided to discuss small businesses and the logistical difficulties they are facing after Hurricane Sandy – especially in regard to their supply chains.  The following New York Times article is one of the few I found that exposed the grim reality so many small businesses will face in the coming months.  Below is a synopsis.


A small business owner stands amongst the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy.  Click the image to be taken to the article.

The article begins with a story that perfectly illustrates the dire circumstances so many business owners found themselves in after Hurricane Sandy passed through the East Coast.  Kristy Hadeka and Sean Tice – co-owners of Brooklyn Slate Company, a company that produces slate cheese boards – had been preparing for the holiday season when Sandy hit.  As a small business, the company depends on the revenue generated during this time of the year.  According to the article, holiday sales typically make up 75% of the company’s annual revenue.  Instead, they found themselves dealing with a litany of other issues – a depleted staff, damaged inventory, halted UPS shipments, and even customer emails requesting arrival times for orders.  Kristy and Sean even had to locate missing merchandise that was being transported to a Whole Foods store in Massachusetts.

Another small business, Linda the Bra Lady, had a similar experience. While the company did not experience any physical damage, co-founder Carl Manni explained that they did suffer financially as a result of the storm.  Manni explained that due to damage sustained to several of his vendors’ warehouses, he was unable to procure the inventory he needed to fill online orders.  He consequently had to back out of the orders – a decision that will cost him approximately $50,000 for this week alone.

Outside of lost inventory and stifled supply chains, the looming issue is that many of these business owners did not have insurance that covered a disaster of this nature.  Consequently, many small businesses will have to file for bankruptcy if they do not receive disaster relief funds from the government.

Ultimately, I feel that small businesses have a much harder time dealing with catastrophes of this nature.  Whereas large retailers can reroute their supply chain or reorganize resources to soften the punch Sandy packed, small businesses do not have the necessary resources to reroute orders or replace inventory – especially given the current state of the economy.

* The information provided in this post was drawn from the following New York Times article:

Questions to Consider

  1. How do the logistical challenges faced by small businesses differ from those faced by major corporations?
  2. In the aftermath of Sandy, who has the rougher road – large corporations or small businesses?
  3. Put yourself in the shoes of a small business owner, how would you have reacted to a disaster of this nature?
  4. Should the government help small businesses recover from this disaster?