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Katrina’s lesson: Act or bear the cost

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People at varying levels of authority had to make many decisions as Hurricane Katrina bore down on the Gulf Coast. Unfortunately, too many opted to follow the chain of command instead of doing what had to be done.

The harsh lesson: Preparation and systems take you only so far. Sometimes, you have to break rules to avert greater disaster.

Example: After the storm hit, New Orleans’ Carrollton Water Purification Plant stopped working for the first time in a century. Employees rushed to re-start it.

Standard operating procedure dictated that they secure permission from the control room before making important fixes. But when standard procedures failed, the guy in charge said: “Look, if you in the boiler room need to roll a pump, roll it. You don’t have to call and ask permission. Just do it.”

Imagine if other leaders had tossed out the rule book and abandoned standard operating procedure. We might be reflecting now on fewer deaths, less looting and lawlessness … and less tragedy.

— Adapted from “Over-Ruled: When There’s No One to Ask, Just Do It,” David Brown, The Washington Post.

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