Disaster Management

It has been almost 11 years since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita destroyed many lives in Louisiana and Texas. I remember the damage caused (especially Hurricane Katrina) and the controversy surrounding the response of the government to the tragedy, but not the specifics or why it was so damaging. The decisions made during Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita affected how much impact the storm would have.  Making decisions, whether as in individual or part of an organization, can be difficult in the best of times. But when a crisis comes up, it can prove much more difficult.  According to Haas (1992), “poorly understood conditions may create enough turbulence that established operating procedures may break down, making institutions unworkable” (p. 14).  In 2005, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit Louisiana and Texas. In both cases, the path of the hurricanes had been fairly accurately predicted. However, Hurricane Katrina left many in the government unprepared. The biggest difference between Katrina and Rita was that Katrina was declared an incident of national significance two days after it touched down where Rita was declared an incident of national significance two days before it touched down (Chua, 2007, p. 1523).  Chua (2007) discussed how studying both hurricanes simultaneously shows that responses to disasters are shaped by previous disasters and can help responses to disasters in the future. The response to Rita was shaped in a large part because of Katrina. Of course, the response to Rita was not perfect. The biggest problem was the evacuation which left thousands of people on the freeway stuck for 24 hours in the heat and without food and water (for many). This article reminded me of the Challenger Disaster and, as kamrynwies discussed, the managers in that situation were “ignorant” of the information needed to make a good decision. This was also true in Katrina as the ones in charge were the same way on a much greater scale.

Jones and Mahon (2012) suggest that in high velocity/turbulent environments, a tacit-knowledge based approach is appropriate and in a stable environment, a more explicit-knowledge based approach is more appropriate. I understand their assessment and agree with it (mostly). Explicit knowledge is often more set in stone while tacit knowledge allows for more flexibility. When it comes to crises, being flexible in how the crises are responded to can mean the difference between “success” and “failure” (I couldn’t come up with better words than these, even though they are not quite accurate in terms of crises).    Jones and Mahon (2012) stated that “strategically, people skilled in tacit knowledge can buy time for those skilled in explicit knowledge to develop better plans/strategies” (p. 783). I never saw tacit or explicit knowledge in this way before. I like that they talk about the importance of both and that both are important; neither can be complete without the other. Each of them has their purposes and play an important role not just in organizations, but also in disaster management.


Chua, A. Y. K. (2007). A tale of two hurricanes: Comparing Katrina and Rita through a knowledge management perspective. Journal of the American Society of Information Science and Technology, 58(10), 1518-1528.

Haas, P. M. (1992). Introduction: Epistemic communities and international policy coordination. International Organization, 46(1), 1-35.

3 thoughts on “Disaster Management

  1. This line: “Explicit knowledge is often more set in stone while tacit knowledge allows for more flexibility.”

    That’s perfect. Think about that with respect to policy and when policy migrates from something implicit to something explicit and thus formal. Think about this also with respect to the difference between face to face instruction and learning and online instruction and learning. Or with browsing shelves in a library to browsing items listed on a database. When it’s codified in a certain way–it seems we lose some freedom — especially some freedom to vary.

    By the way, this is one reason why the research on serendipity is so important. See http://www.sciencedirect.com.ezproxy.uky.edu/science/article/pii/S030645730400010X


  2. My mind keeps returning to this idea that sometimes there are downsides to knowledge, and sometimes it fails us. This happened with the challenger disaster, and it happened with Katrina. All the same, I like the idea because it means we can learn from our mistakes. Knowledge (when it fails) can evolve, grow, and expand.

    I remember having such a “wow” moment when I first read that knowledge can be both tacit and explicit at the same time. It seemed like such a strange concept. But tacit and explicit do work together and enhance each other.


  3. I think it’s interesting that Chua shapes the Rita response as an outcome of what we learned from our mistakes with Katrina. There are so many other communication-related factors that shaped both responses. It’s hard to know what true effects learning had on each response effort.


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