Wal-Mart Provides Lessons on Disaster Relief

Jun 13, 2006
George Anderson

By George Anderson

After last year’s devastating Gulf Coast hurricanes, many said the government could learn some lessons from Wal-Mart on preparing for and responding to disasters.

The company brought in needed supplies, such as bottled water, and it offered services like free check cashing and an emergency contact registry to help victims try to find missing family and friends, according to Bloomberg News.

In addition to its direct on-the-ground efforts, Wal-Mart also donated $18 million to various groups to aid victims of the storms.

Even with its model response to past hurricanes, Wal-Mart is not content to rest on past laurels.

Jason Jackson, director of emergency management for Wal-Mart, said the company is increasing its training for associates on disaster response including its “Hurricane 101” class.

Mr. Jackson said the events of last year reinforced the need for preparedness. The retailer has set up nine distribution centers stocked with essentials to respond to natural disasters. Eight of the facilities are located in the Southeast. 

Moderator’s Comment: What lessons can other retailers learn from Wal-Mart in preparing for and responding to natural disasters such as hurricanes? Do
you think that Wal-Mart’s response to last year’s hurricanes will have a lasting effect on how consumers in those areas view the retailer for years to come?

George Anderson – Moderator

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5 Comments on "Wal-Mart Provides Lessons on Disaster Relief"

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Mark Lilien
14 years 8 months ago

Some retailers normally sell disaster-related items and some don’t. But all retailers need their people. Every retailer needs a staff contact and transportation plan, so that everyone knows multiple ways of reaching the staff (not just their usual phone numbers and addresses, but also the contact info for their relatives and friends and other emergency-plan locations) and alternative ways to transport everyone to work.

Ron Margulis
14 years 8 months ago

The real lesson is don’t rely on the government (federal, state or local) to come to your rescue unless your life is at risk. Rather, retailers need to consider the impact of any potential natural disaster and prepare to respond swiftly to the needs of the store, its staff and the community. It’s clear to me that there is a direct correlation between planning for disasters and quickly overcoming them and returning to normal. One specific suggestion is to review product sales data from last year immediately before and after the major events in the retailer’s area to determine what is most important to the customer. Another is human resource planning – retailers need to make sure they can account for their staff members not only to get them back to work, but to ensure they are OK.

David Livingston
14 years 8 months ago

Wal-Mart responded to the hurricanes as well as could be expected. Their size and financial wherewithal gave them the ability to react. Other companies, like Associated Grocers of Baton Rouge and their independents, did an outstanding job also, but their name in a headline does not sell papers. The press would have us believe that Wal-Mart was the only company that came to the aid of the victims.

To me, asking what lessons other retailers can learn from Wal-Mart is a bit insulting. It almost implies that other businesses stood around dumbfounded. I know of many independent grocers in the affected area that were up and running, helping victims, long before Wal-Mart. Even A&P, a company I never say anything nice about, did a fantastic job.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
14 years 8 months ago

Wal-Mart has an excellent distribution system that can be mobilized to deliver products precisely where and when they are needed. Wal-Mart also handles the products needed in a relief effort. Having the information to know precisely where all the products are at any time and the infrastructure to move them to wherever they are needed is the foundation of the system. Without that, no relief effort will work well.

Wal-Mart is an outstanding competitor. Whatever they do well is today’s and yesterday’s news. Whatever they do well today is not what they will be doing tomorrow. They will be doing it better. That’s what makes them a formidable competitor. They do not wait for anyone else to catch up. They keep moving forward.

Both of these are important lessons for any organization that wants a distribution system that can be mobilized quickly and that can divert goods when needed.

Kai Clarke
14 years 8 months ago

Prepare, prepare, prepare. This is what we need to do to have a feasible disaster recovery plan. These preparations need to include systems which function appropriately without power, and communicate with the outside world on condition status, emergency needs and other facilitation requirements. The success of this program will require properly trained and developed resources which are available for a 24/7 deployment, and are initiated ahead of a storm in the surrounding area to start the relief efforts. This proactive approach is easily doable with the advanced state of our forecasting and weather tracking models that we now have in-place. The key is to have the resources available and deployable in a ramp-up mode to reflect the severity of the emergency.


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