Success and Failure of TOP Management in Hurricane Katrina: Part 2
TOP (tech, org, people) Management isn't just about action. It's also about being able to do effective analysis. It's the ability to avoid the problem of having only a hammer ...and so seeing all issues as nails. It's also the ability to avoid errors of attribution: for example, attribution theory tells us that people have a self-serving bias such that they attribute positive outcomes to themselves, and negative outcomes to external factors. TOP Management pushes us to consider at least three sources in any analysis. This high-level "checklist" can help us get to the root cause of issues more effectively than could any approach focusing on a single attribute. The Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina concluded that the governmental response to Hurricane Katrina was a "failure of initiative" and "a failure of leadership." Using these terms they put the problem in the hands of people, and note where people did take exceptional initiative, they saved time and lives. Perhaps it makes sense to give this a human cause given it is such a human tragedy. However, the solution will be found by weaving together all of technology, organization, and people. Luckily in their broader analysis (I'm drawing from the Executive Summary of Findings and the Preface), the authors of the Final Report of the Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina covered each of technology, organizations, and people in their analysis. They took great care to avoid politics alone, or finger pointing alone. As a result their summary is of greater value as we strive to learn from this disaster. The Committee's deep focus on coordination leads me to believe that they saw the need to more tightly intertwine technology, organizations, and people, with an understanding of the value of agility (p.1). They connect massive communications damage and failure with the outcomes of "impaired response efforts, command and control, and situational awareness" (p.3). They also highlight that "a lack of personnel, training, and funding also weakened command and control" (p.3). From p.1:
"Many of the problems we have identified can be categorized as "information gaps" -- or at least problems with information-related implications, or failures to act decisively because information was sketchy at best.... Information sent to the right people at the right place at the right time. Information moved within agencies, across departments, and between jurisdictions of government as well. Seamlessly. Securely. Efficiently. Unfortunately, no government does these things well, especially big governments."They continue,
"The federal government is the largest purchaser of information technology in the world, by far. One would think we could share information by now. But Katrina again proved we cannot."This is because technology is not a silver bullet. Without a solid and complete National Communications System (p. 3), joint training (p.4), and human initiative -- TOP Management -- even the most sophisticated systems aren't effective. The complexity of emergency response, and the breadth and depth of the Committee's analysis, highlights for me the value of teams as we think about how to bring together technology, organizations, and people. No one person will have all the needed knowledge and information. Perhaps a well-placed leader with systems savvy can guide a team of experts across the different dimensions -- but how much more effective can we be if more people on the team at least have the high-level system savvy vision to help them see where their individual expertise fits?