John Stossel: Wal-Mart, Private Sector Moved Faster After Katrina Than FEMA

The Trouble With FEMA

When FEMA couldn't get water to people who desperately needed it in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Wal-Mart did. The hurricane was still raging when Wal-Mart warehouse workers prepared to rush in supplies.

"For us, it's all about speed-to-action," said Jason Jackson, who is in charge of Wal-Mart's disaster response team.

Economist Steve Horowitz did a study comparing the hurricane response of companies such as Wal-Mart to that of FEMA.

"One hundred and twenty-six Wal-Mart stores were damaged by Katrina; within 10 days, 110 of them were up and running again," he said.

"[FEMA is] stuck playing by this sort of protocol set of rules that's designed to avoid them making a new kind of egregious mistake," Horowitz said. "If they hold back and wait and sort of don't get the job done promptly, they can always turn around and say, 'Look, we didn't have enough money or resources or power.'"

Jim Stark, who joined FEMA after Hurricane Katrina, admitted there was "some disorganization" at the beginning.

"I'm not surprised that there were mistakes made. I think FEMA's taken very positive steps to fix that," he said. "There's no villain here. It's a process that needs to be worked through with, in a partnership with the state and the city."

Government officials always say things like that, but these types of partnerships often lead to little getting done while others outside government spend their own money to help out.

New Orleans restaurant owner Kappa Horn didn't wait for any partnership to help her out in the aftermath of the hurricane. She knew she needed to get back in business to survive.

"I bought as much food as I could, put in my Volvo station wagon -- ice, water, everything I could think of to make food," she said. "We just started serving food out of an ice chest."

Horn's little diner has fed 150,000 people since Hurricane Katrina.

So, why is Wal-Mart so good at getting customers what they want? What makes Kappa Horn so passionate about keeping her diner in business? Stark says, "probably because they're for-profit."

It's that profit motive that leads people to cooperate without government telling them what to do, and it's helping bring New Orleans back to life, one block at a time.

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