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Project Management Lessons of Hurricane Sandy

Project Management Lessons of Hurricane Sandy

No question, the loss of life and destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy in October is catastrophic.  Many of the shore areas of New Jersey that I enjoyed in my early years were damaged beyond recognition.  This storm is one I’ve watched closely as my entire family is in the affected areas.  While all are safe, more than a week after the storm, one family member is still without power.

In the aftermath of this storm, life is slowly returning to normal and the activities of day-to-day life are resuming.  Some of these activities can offer us lessons in project management.

Risk Mitigation:  Within two days of the storm clearing the New York Metropolitan area, airports were cleaning up and working feverishly to restore normal operations. No major facility damage was reported, power had not been interrupted, and aircraft were ready to begin flying again.  Meanwhile, nearby municipalities struggled to clear downed trees, remove debris, and restore power. How were the airlines able to rebound so quickly?

Having had the benefit of early forecasts and warnings, the airlines took a few pre-emptive actions to mitigate typical risks associated with service disruption:

  • Flights into the affected areas were cancelled in advance of the storm.  While inconvenient to some travelers, the net effects were that there were fewer aircraft in harm’s way, and fewer stranded passengers sleeping in airports.
  • Aircraft were relocated from the area to airports outside of the storm’s range.  This not only minimized the risk of damage, but was also critical to minimize disruption to flights in other parts of the country.  Aircraft are reutilized between markets and having them on the ground on the east cost could delay the ability to resume flights from other markets.

In the end, airlines were able to resume flights slowly and gradually, but much more quickly than if the aircraft had been left in hangars or on the ground when Sandy struck.

Lesson:  Risk mitigation is critical to reduce negative impact.  Take the input of your project experts and assess the best strategies to keep your risks to a minimum.  Have a plan and don’t wait until it’s too late to execute it.

Validate Assumptions:  Another Sandy story comes out of Queens, New York.  The storm hit just over a week ahead of Election Day.  Ensuring residents had accessible polling sites became an urgent focus for some.  As Election Day arrived, a particular site prepped for opening at 6:00 am.  The site consisted of a tent, voting machines, and all the peripheral equipment necessary for the day.  A generator had been brought in to provide the power as the area had not yet been put back on the power grid.  The site operators attempted to start up the generator—and were disappointed to find that the fuel tanks were empty.  Voting proceeded on schedule—in a darkened tent with no heat and no electricity.  Ballots were collected and stored until fuel was brought in and the generator started.

Lesson:  Advanced planning and risk mitigation is important.  Equally important is to know the project’s key assumptions—and to validate them.  In this case, planners knew they needed a generator and most likely thought it was a great idea to order one in advance.  Where they failed was in validating that the delivery also included delivery of fuel.  Of course, had that assumption been validated, voters would have had a much more comfortable experience on Tuesday morning.  And had the system actually been tested in advance, the assumption would have been validated out of necessity.

By D Robert Dunn, MBA, PMP, is a decorated Air Force veteran.  Robert began managing projects in 1995 shortly after leaving the military; He originally joined BCforward in September 2008.  Robert has lived in Indianapolis for the past 11 years along with his wife, Stephanie, and their five children.  In addition to blogging, Robert enjoys genealogy.

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