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Praise for corporations

I think it would be silly to privatize disaster relief, but it’s hard to miss how much better corporations did in planning for and responding to Katrina than the government did at any level. When President Bush looks for a replacement for FEMA chief Michael Brown, he ought to go beyond his list of cronies and hire someone from corporate America who has experience with this sort of thing.

Entergy and other power companies have done an amazing job restoring power. Not only have they done well in terms of customers served, but they have an excellent triage plan that enables them to turn on the power to crucial buildings first as well as to serve as many customers as possible by getting the easiest work out of the way before tackling harder problems. Then today I read that Wal-Mart had 45 truckloads of relief supplies prepared in Mississippi before Katrina made landfall. Wal-Mart supplied free computers to every shelter in Orange, TX so that refugees could take advantage of resources that are available on the Internet for finding relatives and keeping up with the news. I’m sure the company has done so elsewhere as well.

There are plenty of other examples of how corporations have responded quickly and decisively to the disaster, by evacuating employees, maintaining their operations without access to their headquarters, and providing aid where they can. Perhaps the CEO President can take mine of some of this expertise before the next great disaster.

8 Comments

  1. This will be emphasized, of course, as yet another argument in terms of ‘privatizing everything’ as they continue to attempt to drown government in the bathtub.

    If you elect and appoint incompetent people who don’t believe that government can/should accomplish anything effectively, then why should we expect the government to be effective?

    It’s not an artifact of government, per se, this incomprehensibly screwed-up response, it’s an artifact of who’s been elected and who they’ve appointed.

    Nor is it certain that depending too heavily on the largesse of corporate America to step in during widescale national disasters is a sustainable or scalable model.

  2. The success of the relief efforts depend upon the government in power, just as they would depend upon the business in contract.

    KBR was supposed to feed and water our troops in Iraq. Their track record was as good as the current FEMA effort. Often one meal a day or less, and totally inadequate water in a desert environment. Rotten, stale and insufficient food at $25/meal even two years into the invasion. KBR was selected and overseen by the Bush administration. I would not want to depend on KBR, Haliburton, etc for any kind of services.

    Walmart’s most valuable service is that of a counterpoint for the performance of the Bush government. They proved that supplies could be brought in, which the administration denied.

    Given that FEMA could and did perform acceptably in the hurricanes that hit Jeb Bush’s territory in 2004, we have to assume that FEMA could have performed better in the Gulf states.

    More importantly, the levees were not repaired as they should have been. Is there any reason to expect that this administration was only negligent in NO?

    What other public works projects are there in the US that have not been installed or maintained as required for public safety. How many cities and populations are disasters waiting to happen?

  3. If you have a NY Times subscription, here is the original article. I’m going from memory here since I don’t have a subscription either 🙂

    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FB0C14F63D5B0C778DDDA80994DC404482

    This is an amzazing article about Wal*Mart’s centralized forecasting system.

    The gist of the story is that they put in severe weather forecasts and their system spits out food and supplies they need to move INTO an area before the weather hits. They’ve done this by analyzing purchasing in advance of historical storms. An amazing example of this in the article was Strawberry Pop Tarts and beer were the top sellers before hurricanne Charley hit FL. They’ll truck in extra supplies of these best sellers when a forecast is made and have the goods on the shelves to be sold so they don’t run out of stock.

    Of course, they also know what items are best sellers AFTER a storm has hit and have those ready to move into the area.

    RE: Government competence or lack there of…well…DUH! Wal-Mart makes money by selling goods and doing it better than any of their competitors. Getting in best selling supplies before a storm and after a storm is key to both their bottom line and their corporate image. Now government makes money by selling a need to raise taxes and a need to expand government power. If they actually did their job correctly, they’d actually shrink in size and increase in efficiency. However, no politician is going to go for that. Instead, with Katrina, we have all the parties involved playing the blame game and all of them will be looking for power to grab in the aftermath.

    Obviously, I don’t think any emergency management system should be privatized but we sure as hell could learn alot from the motiviation and execution of the private sector.

  4. I guess what I find most interesting is that this expertise is readily available throughout the private sector and yet when it comes to filling these crucial jobs, patronage is preferred by the Bush administration.

  5. Jeff, while I agree that Wal-Mart does an excellent job with, the rest of your comment makes no sense.

    “Now government makes money by selling a need to raise taxes and a need to expand government power. If they actually did their job correctly, they’d actually shrink in size and increase in efficiency. However, no politician is going to go for that. “

    Uh, not really. The administration has perfected the cut taxes, increase spending and put just it on the tab strategy of budgeting. Where do you think they learned it? It came from the same school of business management as Enron.

    Wars and natural disasters are the edge cases where capitalism breaks down. We tried the whole “make it efficient and small, then hire contractors” strategy with the Army in Iraq. It didn’t work. The whole point of a government is to protect its citizens, to do that they’ve got to have the capacity to surge and react to major events.

    “Instead, with Katrina, we have all the parties involved playing the blame game and all of them will be looking for power to grab in the aftermath.”

    Bush used FEMA as a dumping ground for the people who’d worked on his campaign and didn’t have a job waiting for them. “Need a job? No experience? No problem.” Well no body noticed until they actually were called on to do that job. They publicly fell down, and American citizens have died because of it.

    Medley was absolutely right: If you elect and appoint incompetent people who don’t believe that government can/should accomplish anything effectively, then why should we expect the government to be effective?

    And now Bush announces that he’s going to personally investigate the flawed response to Katrina? Do you think if he finds a scapegoat (which looks to be Mike Brown if the leaked memos are any indication) that he’ll investigate how they got their job?

  6. drewish,

    Why do you think I was talking only about the federal governemnt and Bush? Ok, so Bush hasn’t made the case for raising taxes but he has increased the federal budget by leaps and bounds every year, which is more money for government. He sure has made the case for increasing federal power and control as well. Do No Child Left Behind, Medicare expansion, federalizing airport screeners wring a bell? Small government! LOL! On both ends, Bush has done a great job getting the governemnt more money and more power. So, he’s taking the money from our children but that’s just a detail.

    Heck, take a look at North Carolina’s legislative session this year. We don’t have a lottery and we need more money “FOR THE CHILDREN”. So they pass a 0.5% local sales tax option for each county. The next day, they pass the lottery “FOR THE CHILDREN” but they sure as heck aren’t repealing the 0.5% sales tax increase! More money, more power. I don’t even have to bother with talk of Teapot Museums or an ACC Hall of Fame to make this point.

    All I’m saying is that at every level the government seeks more money and more power. They use any need or emergency to suit their power grabs.

    As for political appointments, Bush is hardly unique. I don’t know why folks think Democrats are any better than Republicans in this respect. Both parties stink to high heaven and this country would be better off if sent the bunch of them down to LA to swim in the toxic soup flooding NOLA.

  7. “The whole point of a government is to protect its citizens, to do that they’ve got to have the capacity to surge and react to major events.”

    I agree. However, they are never going to do that as well as a well run company. It’s not going to happen. The government can do somethings exceptionally well, but they are neither particular fast nor efficient at them. You can blame turf fights, paperwork and the general ability to waste time covering their own ass for that.

    Heck, take a look at the mobile hospital NC sent down to help.

    http://www.cnn.com/2005/HEALTH/09/04/katrina.sick.redtape.ap/?section=cnn_latest

    “The North Carolina mobile hospital stranded in Mississippi was developed through the Office of Homeland Security after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. With capacity for 113 beds, it is designed to handle disasters and mass casualties.

    Equipment includes ultrasound, digital radiology, satellite Internet, and a full pharmacy, enabling doctors to do most types of surgery in the field, including open-chest and abdominal operations.”

    Only the government can spare the resources to put together such a unique and capable hospital. Unfortunately it doesn’t come with the capability to surgical remove red tape from the government.

  8. It should be kept in mind that FEMA were in the past quite responsive to this kind of thing, but in recent years have been systematically gutted and emasculated. Nowadays, when you mention FEMA, you’re really just talking about the DHS.

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