Lessons Learned from Hurricane Harvey

As I sit and write this blog from the comfort of my home here in San Antonio, Texas, I know that we are fortunate. Hurricane Harvey brought plenty of rain and winds to the Alamo City, but it moved northeast quickly.

Report from my Daughter

My daughter Kaitlin accepted a job at the Houston Marriott Marquis this past summer after graduating from K-State. Only a couple months on the job, she’s been exposed to crisis management. On Friday, August 25, she was among 200 employees that the Marquis management team asked to stay throughout the weekend to take care of stranded guests. Harvey was supposed to move along rapidly, but we now know that it has stalled over the fourth largest city in the nation.

Because of the significant flooding, the hotel workers and guests are staying put for the foreseeable future. I’m thankful that Kaitlin is safe at the hotel, but I know this is not the case for many Texans. The images we’re seeing are unbelievable, and the worst might still be on its way. Even the Marquis is experiencing problems, as you can see by the flooding of the in the loading dock.

Impact on Projects

Can you imagine the thousands of projects affected by hurricane? Both Houston George Bush and Hobby are closed for business. This means that project team members are unable to travel to Houston, and other impacted Texas cities. The project participants that are in these cities are unable to get any meaningful work done. While I suppose planning can take place, there’s zero execution.

From a risk management perspective, Hurricane Harvey is a Known-Unknown. In other words, the risk is known, but project planners were unsure when and if it would affect their projects. Now that the exposure has occurred, it’s time to implement the contingency plan. The project managers must do whatever possible to mitigate the damage.

There are some who might argue that the hurricane is an Unknown-Unknown. In other words, this type of risk is completely unexpected. However, given that Houston is in the line of fire for these types of weather phenomena, I believe the best risk classification is Known-Unknown.

Why does it matter how this weather risk is labeled? If we know that something might happen, we can have a contingency plan in place. This means that we have the resources needed to get back on track as quickly as possible. Given that we have a disaster recovery and business continuity plan completed, the contingency steps are known, and we can get to work. Of course, since the project management plan included this risk, the schedule had wiggle room, which means the project deliverable date is still on track.

As you read these comments, I’m sure you’re thinking that planners must be superhuman to account for this type of disaster. However, my guess is that experienced project managers included this type of weather disaster in their planning process. The problem with Harvey, though, is that the impact is turning out to be at a level similar to Katrina, which is tough to predict.

Getting back to what matters the most … that is, the people who are suffering. We have the opportunity to help these individuals in our own way, so let’s step up to the plate and do our part.