Factors that Permitted Wal-Mart to Become an Effective Player in Responding to Hurricane Katrina

One of the factors that permitted Wal-Mart to become an effective player in responding to Hurricane Katrina was the existence of an emergency management department. The department had been established in the year 2003 to help the company to produce detailed emergency procedures to be used during disasters and, in addition, to develop disaster preparedness procedures. What is more, the department was vested with the responsibility of monitoring fire and burglar alarms in all its 3,218 stores and 555 Sam’s Clubs nationwide. Since the region had experienced another hurricane season, Wal-Mart’s emergency management department had already been able to conduct the necessary analysis and was able to establish the possible occurrence of another hurricane. With this information at hand, Wal-Mart had made all the necessary arrangements to provide the emergency materials to the areas where the predicted hurricane was likely to hit.

Even though the hurricane changed its course and hit different areas as opposed to those where the retail store had made emergency relief arrangements, the store’s preparedness for the hurricane helped it to increase its effectiveness in responding to the disaster. The store utilized the emergency materials it had stocked in its Florida branches to donate to the American Red Cross who, in turn, distributed them to the disaster hit areas. In addition, its preparedness for the hurricane helped the store to meet the demands for emergency goods from local Red Cross chapters and the national office. Had the retail store not purchased enough emergency goods, it would not have been able to meet the high demand of these goods during the time of the disaster.

Another factor that increased the effectiveness of Wal-Mart in responding to Hurricane Katrina was the existence of generous employees who offered to give goods that were stocked in the retail stores located in areas that were affected by the hurricane instead of having the goods destroyed by the storm water.

Obstacles that Limited Wal-Mart’s Effectiveness

One of the obstacles that limited Wal-Mart’s effectiveness in responding to hurricane Katrina was the lack of existence of good corporate relationship with government agencies and other emergency relief agencies, such as the Red Cross. In the case study, it has been indicated that it was only after the hurricane severely affected its operation areas when Wal-Mart’s EOC made the decision to include an American Red Cross official in the EOC (p.385). In another instance, Hayes and Hoovers, some of Wal-Mart’s EOC officials state that the public sector was not giving them direction. They stated that only two government officials seemed to pay attention to their rescue efforts. Other government officials did not involve Wal-Mart in the rescue operations and the EOC officials were left wondering how they would get various groups in the public sector to tell them how Wal-Mart’s emergency management department would assist them (p.389).

Had the retail store established collaborative networks with various groups in the public sector dealing with the emergency and rescue operations, as well as other rescue agencies like the Red Cross, it would have been able to increase its effectiveness in responding to the hurricane. In fact, when EOC determined that there was a probability of the occurrence of a hurricane in Florida, they would not have only contacted their associates in various stores within Florida, but would have also contacted the public sector, including the government and non-governmental agencies dealing with the disaster preparedness and emergency response.

Another obstacle that limited Wal-Mart’s effectiveness when responding to hurricane Katrina was the lack of consideration of the community members in terms of the rescue operations. The retail store concentrated on supplying the emergency goods immediately before the occurrence of the disaster and on securing its retail stores right after the disaster. Wal-Mart’s decision to help the community members came only after Hayes visited the Jefferson Parish store to inspect the level of damage in the store and the situation of Wal-Mart’s associates only to realize that the situation of the community members in the disaster area was urgent and that an immediate intervention of the retail store was required (p. 389).

Inherent Limitations Faced by Private Companies in Disaster Response

The case of Wal-Mart’s efforts to coordinate its efforts with the public sector during hurricane Katrina is a good example of how private companies and nonprofit institutions are unable to make effective contributions during the times of disasters. Even if the coordination in the public sector was to be improved, one of the inherent limitations of private companies’ role in the disaster response is the lack of a joint strategic plan on the disaster management and preparedness with the public sector. In many cases, public sector does not take into account the contribution of the private sector in the disaster management and preparedness. Due to the lack of inclusion in the public sector’s disaster management and preparedness plans, private sector is left with no other choice but to develop its plan, which only covers its areas of interest in order to avoid colluding with the public sector.

Besides, public sector still views the role of the disaster management and preparedness as a purely government's function. For this reason, the public sector does not provide specific roles that the private sector can play during the times of disasters. This limitation was evident during the hurricane Katrina whereby the public sector failed to seek assistance from Wal-Mart despite the retail store’s willingness to offer the assistance. In fact, the public sector started to ask for Wal-Mart’s assistance after it saw the tremendous efforts of the retail store to offer assistance.

Another inherent limitation present in the public sector, which reduces the effectiveness of private companies during the times of disasters, is the bureaucratic nature of the operations of the public sector. The public sector operates in such a manner that a decision, regardless of its urgency, cannot be implemented without following the protocols of decision-making, which usually starts from the top. Moreover, different administrative positions usually conflict with each other over who is superior to the other in terms of giving directions or implementing decision. This is what happened during the hurricane Katrina when different administrative heads in different areas gave conflicting information regarding how the rescue operations were to be undertaken. Wal-Mart EOC officials were unable to figure out which administrative head was giving the right information, what resulted in independent rescue operations.

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