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August 2011

Private Sector Schools the Government on Emergency Response

Written by , Posted in Free Markets

We’ve seen the abysmal failures of government efforts at emergency response. Now, witness how the private sector does it:

Forecasters don’t expect Hurricane Irene to make landfall until Saturday. But for nearly a week now, big-box retailers like Walmart and Home Depot have been getting ready.

They’ve deployed hundreds of trucks carrying everything from plywood to Pop-Tarts to stores in the storm’s path. It’s all possible because these retailers have turned hurricane preparation into a science — one that government emergency agencies have begun to embrace.

At Home Depot’s Hurricane Command Center in Atlanta, for example, about 100 associates have been trying to anticipate how Irene will affect its East Coast stores from the Carolinas to New York.

…Those district managers have been focusing on stocking a short list of items, Householder says, including generators, chain saws, water and tarps.

Householder says those supplies are flowing to stores because of a process that began months ago, at the beginning of hurricane season.

…The system got a stress test a few days ago when Irene struck Puerto Rico, causing widespread power outages. Householder says Home Depot stores switched to emergency generators.

“All stores opened up the day after the storm came through,” he says. “We opened up on time and we were there, ready and waiting for our customers.”

…Walmart is able to anticipate surges in demand during emergencies by using a huge historical database of sales from each store as well as sophisticated predictive techniques, Cooper says.

He says that with Irene on the way, that system is helping them allocate things like batteries, ready-to-eat foods and cleaning supplies to areas in the storm’s path.

Walmart also has the advantage of having a staff meteorologist, Cooper says.

“When those forecasts come out, it’s great to have somebody in-house that can evaluate that information so that we can give real-time information to our associates, not only here at headquarters but out in the field,” he says.

Minor correction: Walmart does not have the “advantage” of having a staff meteorologist, they have the foresight to have hired a staff meteorologist.

Preparing and responding to emergencies is one of those problems typically cited as an example of that which only government can ever solve. Once again, this attitude is proven false. No one has greater incentive to meet the surging demand seen after emergencies than the private sector, and if government would remove its misguided barriers to the functioning of the price system and the free market, it could do an even better job in the future.