Forget FEMA; Turn to Private Industry after Disaster, Study Says

Where should Americans turn for help when disaster strikes? A new study says places like Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Lowe’s are a lot more helpful than the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In an article from the ConsumerAffairs.com website, Mark Huffman says a new study claims it is local knowledge that allows big-box retailers to respond to disaster before FEMA can get there. He says these stores are the ones who stepped in after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, giving away supplies and sleeping space.

“The study, by Steven Horwitz, a professor of economics at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., stresses that successful disaster relief depends upon responders having detailed knowledge of a local area and the right incentives to act on that knowledge,” says Huffman.

The study says Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Lowe’s made use of their local knowledge about supply chains, infrastructure, decision makers and other resources to provide emergency supplies and reopen stores well before FEMA began its response. Local knowledge enabled the big-box stores to make plans ahead of the storm and then put them into effect immediately.

“Profit-seeking firms beat most of the government to the scene and provided more effectively the supplies needed for the immediate survival of a population cut off from life’s most basic necessities,” Horwitz wrote in the study. “Though numerous private-sector firms played important roles in the relief operations, Wal-Mart stood out.”

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