Like so many people, we have been glued to the television watching in horror as the events in Louisiana and Mississippi unfold. For years, government and private sector professionals will speculate on issues ranging from prevention to response and recovery. As a business continuity professional, so many of the sound bites I’ve heard all point to many of the issues we wrestle with on a daily basis.
“We were breathtakingly surprised at the destruction in New Orleans.”
“Professionals predicted this level of flooding and destruction.”
“Officials know that over 100,000 people would be unable to evacuate the city.”
“Why were tens of thousands of people told to evacuate to the convention center, but there wasn’t any water or food.”
“Who’s responsible – the mayor, governor or the federal government?”
Regardless of predictions or responsibility, could more have been done to mitigate the likelihood or impact of a Category 4 or 5 hurricane affecting New Orleans or other vulnerable areas on the Gulf Coast? I think the answer is yes. Government officials have learned some valuable lessons, and surely local (and other) business leaders have as well.
Bad things happen – and some of these events cannot be predicted or avoided. However, understanding the context of the challenge, potential impacts and response and recovery strategy options, as well as exercising these strategies, all will enable a more effective response to protect people and property.
In the case of the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina, it’s apparent that many government officials chose to ignore the worst-case scenario given what was assessed to be a low likelihood. As a result, there will be some tough questions in the coming months. Who’s to blame for the catastrophic property loss, but more importantly, the loss of life that is only beginning to be understood. Proactive planning is needed – in business and in government. It’s certainly time to add teeth to business continuity and continuity of operations planning guidelines and standards – and hold leaders accountable.