The incentives for private firms to protect their own capital led them to begin preparations for the storm well before its landfall. Three days earlier, Home Depot activated the “war room” at its Atlanta headquarters, negotiating with various vendors to get needed supplies staged to move into the hurricane zone (Ward 2005). Wal-Mart’s response began slightly earlier. The company’s emergen- cy command center, run by Jason Jackson, the director of business continuity, is normally staffed by six to ten employees, who respond to the variety of routine incidents in stores across the country. Faced with a larger-scale problem, such as a hurricane, “the staff is joined by senior representatives from each of the com- pany’s functional areas.” In view of the possibility of widespread damage to multiple stores in an urban area, the command center may include as many as sixty employees. The easily expandable structure of Wal-Mart’s emergency re- sponse protocols “drives the ability to be agile and flexible” (Worthen 2005). The company also uses its own hurricane-tracking software and has contracts with private forecasters for the latest information on storms. By Wednesday, August 24, five days before Katrina’s eventual landfall on the Gulf Coast, the command 4. Meet the Press, September 4, 2005, transcript available online at . 5. See . 514 F S TEVEN H ORWITZ T HE I NDEPENDENT R EVIEW
center had gone into planning mode, and two days later, when Katrina struck Florida, the complement of personnel in the command center exceeded fifty persons (Zimmerman and Bauerlein 2005). Given the frequency of damaging hurricanes along the Gulf Coast and in Florida as well as the large number of stores Wal-Mart has in that area, the company has a well-rehearsed process for dealing with threatening storms. Central to that process is passing information down from the senior-management level to regional, district, and store managers. The company’s goal is to respond in ways that are “uniform across the company” (Rosegrant 2007a, 3). As Katrina moved into the Gulf, posing a potential threat to New Orleans and other large cities, Wal-Mart invoked those protocols. The company moved emergency supplies such as generators, dry ice, and bottled water from their current warehouse locations “to designated staging areas so that company stores would be able to open quickly” (Zimmerman and Bauerlein 2005). These staging areas were set up just outside the likely worst-hit areas to facilitate a quick response with minimal danger of damage. For example, a distribution center in Brookhaven, Mississippi, had forty-five trucks in place before Katrina’s landfall (Barbaro and Gillis 2005).
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