Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Preventing Another Katrina: Some Organizational Suggestions

Postings on this blog so far have tended toward the theoretical. I wrote recently about how complexity theory can help us think about issues of organizational design. Turning from these theoretical issues, I would like to discuss some specific, practical proposals for fixing some of the organizational problems revealed by Hurricane Katrina. These ideas come out of my work with the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management here at Berkeley.

In upcoming posts, I plan to discuss three topics:

• Reengineering the Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps’ ability to do its job has been handicapped organizationally. It does not have the benefit of outside expert review of its flood control projects; its engineering and R&D capacity has suffered in recent years; flood control and environmental planning have been disconnected; and it has failed to coordinate effectively with state and local government as well as other stakeholders. All of these issues must be addressed. Moreover, computerized Geographic Information Systems (GIS) could be used to help integrate flood control and ecosystem planning.

• Creating an effective system of disaster planning. Here, what we need is to convert FEMA into a High Reliability Organization, just like a nuclear submarine or air traffic control; we need to establish a National Disaster Advisor within the White House; and we need a Congressional Office on Catastrophic Risks.

• Using GIS Technology to Dispel the “Fog of Disaster.” Planning for disasters is difficult because the relevant information is scattered among many officers and buried in archives; responding to disaster suffers from the same handicaps augmented by the stress of emergency response; rebuilding suffers from the difficult of modeling complex land use and infrastructure plans. GIS has the capacity to address all of these issues.

These changes will not necessarily be easy to implement, nor are they a cure-all. But they do provide some sense of the direction in which we need to begin to move, if we are to avoid the well-known fate of those who refuse to learn from history and are therefore condemned to repeat it.


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