Red White & Blue Hens

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Saturday, September 10, 2005

Stroies of American hard work and compassion

Here is an editorial from Opinion Journal.com. It highlights the response to Katrina from America's business community, showing that a lot of hard work and dedication can make a huge difference:

Private FEMA
In Katrina's wake, Wal-Mart and Home Depot came to the rescue.


Saturday, September 10, 2005 12:01 a.m. EDT

In time we'll find out what went wrong after Katrina hit, but it's not too early to start drawing attention to what went right. Near the top of any list should be the remarkable response of the business community. It's had a lot to do with the relief effort's successes.

The straightforward generosity of the corporate sector has been well reported. By last count, donations had exceeded $200 million. Besides cash, companies have handed out free drugs, suspended finance payments on cars and mortgages and helped emergency personnel with equipment. As interesting, though, has been the application of corporate best practices--from supply-chain management to logistics--to a natural disaster.

The private-sector planning began before Katrina hit. Home Depot's "war room" had transferred high-demand items--generators, flashlights, batteries and lumber--to distribution areas surrounding the strike area. Phone companies readied mobile cell towers and sent in generators and fuel. Insurers flew in special teams and set up hotlines to process claims.

This planning allowed the firms to resume serving customers in record time. Katrina shut down 126 Wal-Mart facilities; all but 15 are now open. Entergy, the power company for 1.1 million households and businesses that lost electricity, had restored electricity by yesterday to 749,000 customers, including areas of flooded New Orleans.

Businesses offered near-instant support to their own employee-victims. Staff set up hotlines and began tracking down missing workers. Thousands of workplace victims were provided with places to stay, promises of continued pay and even offers of replacement jobs elsewhere in the country.

At the heart of the corporate response was a stunning array of advanced communications networks that kept firms in touch and coordinating. Following on last year's tsunami aid effort, the Business Roundtable had by August of this year arranged for each of its 160 member companies to designate a disaster relief point man. These folks were in place and ready to help before Katrina made landfall. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, through its non-profit Center for Corporate Citizenship, became a clearinghouse, fielding calls from many of its 3,000 state and local organizations and compiling lists of needed supplies.

By the weekend the Chamber's CCC was turbo-charging a new computer program, designed by tech firm i2, which served as a kind of bridal registry for needed relief supplies. Each donor company indicated what order it would fill, avoiding duplication or delay. IBM got to work on a computerized job bank to help place those who'd lost work. The American Trucking Association set up a Web site to update everyone on road conditions.

Companies then focused on doing what each did best. In some cases it was simply ramping up operations, as with Black & Decker, whose employees worked Labor Day weekend to churn out extra generators. In other cases, it was firms using their modern logistical skills to get into hard hit areas. FedEx and other delivery companies used computer systems with designed-in flexibility to reroute vehicles and adjust flights to get in aid. FedEx has already moved more than 100 tons of relief supplies.

Wal-Mart mined its vast databases of past purchases to compile lists of goods most desired after a hurricane. (Among the top items? Strawberry pop tarts.) Because of its advance logistics planning, the big retail chain was able to quickly move in to devastated areas with mini Wal-Marts to hand out goods. Other firms leveraged similar supply-chain capabilities; Pfizer dispensed pharmaceuticals via Wal-Mart and other retailers. "What companies do is solve problems," says Johanna Schneider, an executive director at the Business Roundtable.

Granted, a FEMA is never going to operate with the agility of a FedEx. FedEx and the others perform at this level 24/7; that's the nature of competition. That said, surely there are lessons here worth learning and attempting to transfer to the public sector. And we don't mean three years from now after another round of reassessment and performance reviews. The challenge of reconstruction is now. It wouldn't hurt if the responsible public agencies asked the private participants in the rescue operation for some pointers on getting the next job done on budget and on time.

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