A very interesting piece from NPR. Big-box retailers began their hurricane prep well before Hurricane Irene was predicted to make landfall. Home Depot’s Command Central, which looks, “much like NASA Mission Control during a shuttle launch” has been busy anticipating the storm’s effects along the East Cost. Walmart has its own staff meteorologist. This pre-hurricane prep – which actually begins before hurricane season – is why the shelves were stocked with emergency generators in Puerto Rico and available for customers when the electricity went out.
Economist Steven Horwitz studied the response of Walmart after Hurricane Katrina. His research – part of the Mercatus Center’s Hurricane Katrina project – shows that Walmart was able to respond more adeptly and quickly than FEMA and state emergency services, providing people with basic necessities including medicines (in some cases, local store managers gave supplies away to those in need). Not only are they on the ground and in the community, their very business is to respond to people’s needs and wants quickly and on a daily basis.
Since Katrina, FEMA has been studying ways to work more closely with the private sector. Interestingly, Horwitz found that the U.S. Coast Guard and local emergencies services were also able to respond more quickly than FEMA during Katrina for a similar reason: they are are decentralized and closer to the ground.
Here is Professor Horwitz discussing Walmart’s Katrina’ response: