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OM in the News: Humanitarian Efforts of a Houston Supermarket Chain

September 6, 2017

A flooded H-E-B store. Three of the chain’s 83 stores in Houston will need to be rebuilt; the interior of one store shown.

One of the colleges within the POMS academic society is called Humanitarian Operations and Crisis Management. Hurricane Harvey, which slammed Houston, provides a great example of how OM steps up to the plate in times of a disaster. At a time when retail watchers question the future of brick-and-mortar stores due to Amazon’s continued ascendance,  retailer H-E-B is drawing widespread praise after managing to open 60 of its 83 stores in Houston, hours after the hurricane struck, writes LinkedIn’s Work in Progress (Aug. 2, 2017).

When employees couldn’t get to work, some stores still operated with as few as 5 people: one stationed at the door as crowd control and 4 working the registers, trying to get people out as quickly as possible. The behind-the-scenes operation is a complicated dance involving multiple command centers, a helicopter, private planes, military style vehicles and frequent calls to suppliers, urging them to send toilet paper.

Here are the word’s of H-E-B’s Houston president: “Coming out of a hurricane, if there’s been flooding, they’re going to want mops and bleach. I’ll take all the bread I can possibly get. Then you’re going to start to get produce. We don’t care about flowers in the middle of a hurricane. You only have so many trucks and so much space. We brought over 2,000 partners from Austin, San Antonio, the Rio Grande Valley. They hopped into cars and they just drove to Houston. For 18 hours a day, they’re going to help us restock and then they’ll go sleep on the couch at somebody’s house. We’ve called P&G and said: Send entire trailer loads of toilet paper directly to our stores. Bypass our warehouse, so you can just get it to us. I called Frito-Lay and said manufacture your bestsellers. I need Lay’s, I need Doritos, I need Fritos. I won’t turn down any delivery. We’ll take it as fast as we can.”

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. How was H-E-B able to reopen so quickly?
  2. What OM tools can be used in times of a disaster?


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