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Mike Richman

Risk Management

A Disaster of Biblical Proportions

Whither Houston?

Published: Thursday, August 31, 2017 - 12:03

Last week, my friend and colleague, QD editor in chief Dirk Dusharme, wrote an uplifting and important column in this space. Titled “The Day We All Looked for the Same Thing,” Dirk’s article used last week’s solar eclipse, seen in its totality in so many places around the United States, as a motif to express the insight, and hope, that there are more things pulling us together than tearing us apart.

This is not that column, although it shares as a point of departure millions of people scanning the skies for something that none of them had likely seen in their lifetimes. Dirk spoke of the natural wonder of an eclipse; I’m speaking, of course, of the natural disaster of Hurricane Harvey, a storm of biblical proportions that can be said to have ushered in a rain of error.

I realize it’s way too early to draw any conclusions from a catastrophe whose dimensions we still can’t even grasp; there will be time for that in the weeks, months, and, yes, years to come, as southeast Texas recovers. There are a few broad lessons to consider, however, in the realms of partner relations, risk management, and city planning, and I’ll get into those in a minute.

First, of course, I want to urge all of you reading these words to contribute to the victims of Harvey. There are several well-researched and -respected charitable organizations that are assisting with ongoing rescue efforts, and which will rush food, medical supplies, and temporary shelters to the area once the waters recede. Help will be needed for quite some time.

For those of us in industry, within the quality functions particularly, help may also take the form of going above and beyond to reach out to our suppliers, customers, and other partners within the region. Houston is the fourth-largest city in the United States, and it is home to world-leading companies, agencies, and institutes in industries such as energy, aerospace, information technology, and biomedical, to name just a few. Many if not most of you in the Quality Digest audience work with people in the area in some way, shape, or form, and now is the time that your partners need you to step up and help them in their hours of need.

For example, in addition to several hundred readers who live directly in the affected areas, Quality Digest also has a number of advertisers there. We have offered our support in helping them pull together ad materials or, if necessary, shuffle around promotional dates. What can you do to assist your partners in and around Houston?

All this naturally leads to the topic of risk management. Acts of God (contractually known as force majeure) happen, although hopefully not too often. Therefore, it just makes sense to lower your risk and develop redundant sources of supply and/or revenue. Putting your eggs in one basket won’t work if the basket is beneath 60 inches of water. Several organizations realized that too late as a consequence of the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear reactor malfunction near Fukushima, Japan, in 2011. This disaster took parts of the Japanese electronic component and supplier industry off-line for a year or more, causing crippling shortages for many original equipment manufacturers that relied on partners in this part of the world. Unfortunately, many still have not learned from the experiences of their peers and may suffer the pain of rediscovery this time around.

It must also be noted that the city of Houston itself may not have managed well enough for risk. Recent articles appearing this week on the websites of Newsweek and The Atlantic have considered the damning evidence that city planners did not take such flooding into account when permitting the development of the city (understanding as I write this that people don’t generally keep 500-year flood plans in mind when they build). Still, I was not aware of the term “impervious cover” before reading the Newsweek piece; having spent time in Houston on various business trips in the past, however, I can vouch for the descriptive assessment found in the article. There sure isn’t much land area there that isn’t covered with pavement… and water can’t sink into concrete and macadam.

Taken as a whole, it’s clear that the still-unfolding crisis that is Hurricane Harvey offers outside observers a unique perspective not only on quality, supplier relations, and risk management, but also the ways that all of these forces (in conjunction with the awesome multiplier that is Mother Nature) act together to amplify and extend their power.

For now, we pray for those in southeast Texas and offer them whatever support we can muster. Later, we’ll untangle what happened and why, and try, as quality professionals always do, to mitigate the mistakes and build on those actions that lessened the effects of the disaster.


About The Author

Mike Richman’s picture

Mike Richman


Disaster Planning

Admirals and generals are often accused of planning for the last war... in retrospect, it looks as if disaster planners plan for past disasters. Referring back to Dirk's column on the relation of art and science, it would seem planners need to bring in some writers and gamers to develop out of the box scenarios.