Tuesday, September 06, 2005


Steaming Mad

I’m a bit surprised by my reaction to Hurricane Katrina, the category 4 hurricane that hit the Gulf Coast of the US on August 29, 2005.

I am angry.

I’m angry that the evacuation plans did not include everyone. I’m angry that the infrastructure has not been updated and maintained. I’m angry that the most economically active country in the world could not help its own people to survive this disaster.

I was angry even before the hurricane hit land. The mandatory evacuation of towns and cities had been started too late. Highways became parking lots. And there was no sign of public transportation for people who don’t have access to private vehicles.

And where were the shelters for the folks who did evacuate? With over one million people heading inland, were they all supposed to go to family? That’s not even a possibility for a large percentage of folks.

After the hurricane hit land, it seemed that our federal government went into slow motion. How many civil, structural, and dam engineers had to tell them that the levees in New Orleans could not withstand a category 4 or 5 hurricane? And who decided that since the levees were holding on Monday night, there wasn’t a real hurry to get people out of the damaged Superdome? (Who didn’t see that coming with winds of over 150 miles per hour??)

Today our leaders in Homeland Security and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) say that the pictures they saw on television weren’t confirmed by their people in the field.


Do we have people in leadership positions who don’t believe their own eyes? Or do they think that the US media has some ulterior motive in televising the desperation of the survivors – in New Orleans, Mississippi, and Alabama?

Even the president said that it was a terrible disaster after he flew over the Gulf Coast. Didn’t his hand-picked subordinates believe him?

So, to get this rant in perspective, what does all this have to do with project management?

It’s an excellent example of how project managers could have made all the difference between life and death.

  • A project manager has the skills to coordinate many different types of efforts.
  • A project manager has the skills to communicate effectively with everyone involved.
  • A project manager knows how to LEAD so that the team will follow – and make the right decisions about priorities.

But the fact that the leaders of the federal effort after the hurricane hit were not project managers – but had been put in that position – indicates that the top echelons of leadership in the US still do not appoint people for their skills. It’s still a political, back room, good ole’ boy system of political appointments.

After all the dead have been counted, maybe the US leadership – yes, the president – will think twice about appointments to positions that deal with life and death. And maybe we’ll finally get a project manager in charge of FEMA.


Blogger Charles Dominick, SPSM said...

Great rant, Diana. The human tragedy has everything to do with poor project management.

Keep up the good work.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005 5:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How many civil, structural, and dam engineers had to tell them that the levees in New Orleans could not withstand a category 4 or 5 hurricane?

Evidentally they were waiting for a way to contract Cheney's Halliburton to do the repair. Heck, why waste our Army's resources on civil engineering when Halliburton could be paid to do the work while increasing stock prices, etc? Now, not only have they been contracted to oversee the levee repair, but surprise, surprise, they've been contracted to assist in all kinds of Katrina repair. http://tinyurl.com/9vhzf

It's like this: would you hire a government repair team when your best friend's corporation is available to do the same job? Nah, you'd keep it in the family.

Your outrage is completely founded in truth. I'm not a tin-hat toting theorist. These are facts, and not only do they display poor project management, they also reveal typical symptoms of micro-management and supply/distribution nespotism.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005 7:57:00 AM  
Blogger Andy said...

It is appalling and repugnant the way this whole thing has unfolded. It is beyond incompetence and an embarrassment to the rest of the world.

Andy (Wibbels)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005 7:58:00 AM  
Blogger Diana Lindstrom said...

Charles, Andy, and Anonymous,

I'm sure we'll all continue ranting for quite some time to come. I appreciate your comments.

Did you see the article in the Washington Post about dismantling FEMA? (washingtonpost.com, Destroying FEMA, By Eric Holdeman, Tuesday, August 30, 2005)

FEMA had similar problems in 1992 with Hurricane Andrew in Florida - although it wasn't as large an area of destruction. And there weren't as many people who were affected.

Again, I believe that the president should consider appointing someone who is QUALIFIED to head up our federal emergency response organization (FEMA).

Tuesday, September 06, 2005 11:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Kerry D said...

If this rant is truly aimed at a resolution (and not all rants are - my own are often simply rants) I would ask that y'all please give credit for incompetence to all who deserve it.

It ain't just a failure of project management at the federal level. There were/are significant facts pointing to such failures in local governments as well. (Remember the picture of the "bus pool" which can be laid directly at the feet of the "project managers" in the city government)

Also keep in mind there are "projects" to manage, and there are decisions to be made. There can be massive, beautiful, practical and effective plans in place, but until decisions are made to implement them, they are just plans or projects.

In fact, the majority of "successful" stories are about local (and non-official, and non-managment) people taking the initiative and "managing" a project directly in front of them.

- The young man who "managed" a school bus and drove nearly 100 people to Dallas. And is apparently at risk of being charged with a crime by the City!
- Many instances of neighbors helping their elderly and handicapped neighbors to places of safety by floating them on rafts, or wheeling them in shopping carts (stolen/looted shopping carts no doubt!)
- Another gentleman who "manged" to find an abandoned boat, and paddled, using a 2x4 plank (because the motor did not work on the boat-and he did not have a paddle) a mile and a half each way carrying folks from a waterlogged neighborhood to a highway overpass above water. He did this many times in spite of the fact that he could have remaind on the overpass himself the first time he arrived there.

That there are thousands of these stories, and they are classic examples of management being micro - which is not the same as micromanagement!

Notwithstanding the above, Yes, by all means lets have skill and leadership at the upper levels, mid levels, and lower levels of government - but lets not pretend either that organized government agencies are the only answer. We must realize that any organization is going to have a delayed response simply because it is an organization - and by definition they will initially take time to "organize".

And, with practicality, lets also consider, as part of the "project" the ability to recognize, support and encourage initiative in the citizenry. This may be the most difficult lesson from this disaster for project manager" to learn. That sometimes actions taken by individuals outside the "manager's" control can actually be useful!

In truth, anyone who simply waits for someone from a government agency to save/help them in such an emergency is, if not foolish, at least, passive.

Don't people learn CPR and first aid because most of us know, no matter how good the intentions or desires of offical first responders, it takes time for an ambulance to arrive?

Evidence shows clearly that in this emergency, people who took the initiative, whatever their cultural/economic status, had more success and "managed" their "projects" much more effectively than those who simply waited for a government agency to show up.

Keep it up people, I say.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005 1:11:00 PM  
Blogger Diana Lindstrom said...


Thanks for your comment. I believe that a good project manager would have included the survivors who were providing assistance. Most likely with a coordinator and as much equipment and supplies as possible.

An excellent project manager utilizes all available resources. She/he includes all stakeholders in the communication system.

I chose not to discuss the local - state and municipal - leadership for a reason. They were also affected by the hurricane. I understand that there were a couple of suicides in the New Orleans police force. People can only do so much - dealing with personal loss is more than enough for most.

The folks who are doing the recovery searching are a brave group of people. There's not much else that's any harder to do - and live with for the rest of their lives. I applaud them!

Keep on reading here - we're getting great comments!


Tuesday, September 06, 2005 4:31:00 PM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

Yes, it's an issue of project management. But as far as Kerry's backhanded defense of the federal response vs. local government, I have this to say:

I heard Mayor Nagin on the radio, begging the federal government to "get off their asses" and do something.

At the end of the interview, he broke down and cried.

I also saw Bush visit the affected areas, face as stiff as a chalkboard, no emotion visible.

Then I hear the FEMA and Homeland Security people making platitudes towards each other without really seeming to give a damn about what really happened.

Meanwhile, Condoleeza Rice was off watching a Broadway show and buying $1,000 shoes for herself while people were starving to death at the New Orleans Convention Center.

Just look at the faces of those on TV - even the reporters have had a hard time keeping their emotions at bay - and judge for yourself who obviously cares and who obviously doesn't.

Project management goes more smoothly when people are actually interested in the outcome. From what I can tell, the people at the top just didn't care. That's why they didn't have a fire lit up under their butts and why nothing happened, until the public started demanding some action thanks to the news coverage.

The local New Orleans guys - they did their best, which wasn't good enough, but at least they tried. Which is more than I can say for some other folks.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005 2:24:00 AM  

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