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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.

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