So Who Were the

By Elizabeth Bennett  |  Posted 2005-12-05 Print this article Print

2005 definitely goes down as an interesting year. But who were the heroes of the IT universe and who were the goats?



336: Hours between Hurricane Katrina's landfall and the resignation of Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael Brown.

On Sept. 2, Wal-Mart had a convoy of nine trucks with water and supplies headed toward hurricane-ravaged New Orleans and emergency relief staging areas in the surrounding region.

By Sept. 4, Wal-Mart was handing out supplies at the Lake Charles Civic Center and Monroe Civic Center in Louisiana, which housed Hurricane Katrina evacuees.

Lowe's, Home Depot and Anheuser-Busch also had supplies en route shortly after the storm made landfall on Aug 29.

FEMA, the agency charged with responding to natural disasters, lacked the communications systems to get reports from the field, couldn't move supplies fast enough and lagged in its response in getting supplies to the Morial Convention Center, which was a refugee outpost largely without provisions until the military arrived in New Orleans on Sept. 2.

Brown stepped down as the director of FEMA on Sept. 12; R. David Paulison was named acting director the following day.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, in testimony before a House committee, outlined the key information technology snafus that delayed FEMA's response:

—FEMA's system for moving supplies into a disaster area was "not adequate" and "antiquated and inefficient" for a Katrina-sized disaster. According to Chertoff, FEMA must partner with the private sector to overhaul its logistics system. "FEMA needs to have a 'just-in-time' inventory and delivery system that allows it to quickly assess inventory, deliver those goods and replenish its stocks," he said.

—FEMA's business processes also need to be revamped to handle disaster assistance functions: answering the phone, registering people for assistance and getting them the benefits they need. "We need to strengthen FEMA's management of the toll-free disaster registration hot line, including figuring out ways to rapidly expand call-center capabilities," Chertoff told the House committee.

—The agency could also use some business intelligence. Chertoff wants to evaluate the processes and databases that keep tabs on how people register for aid.

Katrina and Rita didn't just wipe out data centers; they wiped out a lot of disaster plans, too. Check out: Baselinemag.com and CIOInsight.com's coverage of the disasters, and the efforts of CIOs to save the data on which their companies depend.

—Chertoff also reported that FEMA's communications infrastructure failed because of power outages, wind and flooding. The plan is to adapt military and private sector communications technology for emergency use. So what needs to happen now? Chertoff says FEMA needs to act a lot more like Wal-Mart and other logistics-savvy companies. That's a tall order.

And hurricane season begins again on June 1, 2006.

Story Guide:

Winners and Losers: Good Management Makes the Difference

Senior Writer
Elizabeth has been writing and reporting at Baselinesince its inaugural issue. Most recently, Liz helped Fortune 500 companies with their online strategies as a customer experience analyst at Creative Good. Prior to that, she worked in the organization practice at McKinsey & Co. She holds a B.A. from Vassar College.

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