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Viewpoint: Hurricane Sandy, a Reminder of the Need for Speed

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How bad is the flooding, Joe? That's what I wanted to know during a cell-phone call in the days after Sandy hit. I was talking with a long-term tenant of mine, a retired fire chief, about the condition of the small apartment building I own in Ventnor, a hard-hit New Jersey shore town."Two feet," Joe answered. The building sits on high ground, but when the electricity died, so did the building's sump pump. Two feet of water is one foot beyond the threshold to flood our elevated boiler system, which likely would deprive my tenants of heat and hot water—that is, whenever they would be allowed to return to their evacuated homes.

What we did to fix this problem shows, once again, the need to emphasize speed in critical-path-method scheduling. Much CPM software today is written to conserve project resources and save money, not to finish quickly.

 

PLOTNICK
I'll explain. In the middle of my phone call with Joe, the local repair crews restored the electricity and the sump pump chugged to life, drying the basement within hours. Except for the washer-dryer in the basement and, most important, the boiler system, the building was OK.

But how to hurry the boilers back into operation?

A few quick phone calls to my maintenance contractor and commercial plumber, who installed the system, produced a plan. At that juncture, the local government prohibited local residents from returning to Ventnor for another three days and contractors for another week. We knew the boiler control systems would be compromised even if the boilers would be OK. I transferred funds and placed orders for four new controllers and one new boiler.

With colder weather approaching, what we did not need is to wait a week for more assessment, which likely would lead to delays as boiler suppliers ran out of stock. That, in turn, would delay the return of heat and hot water when our tenants were allowed back to their homes.

This repair process wasn't the most cost-effective: If the one ordered boiler is not needed, we will pay a restocking fee; if more than one is needed, we will pay a second shipping fee. However, the process is designed to get the project finished as quickly as possible, just as CPM originally was designed to do.

Lacking Speed Features

Superstorm Sandy has provided a good example of why we need to return to time-centric scheduling. Before CPM scheduling, project schedules were represented in Gantt charts that lacked the features needed for the speedy turnaround of, for example, a chemical process plant or military R&D project.

So, engineers in those fieldsdeveloped new mathematical processes, including CPM and program evaluation and review (PERT), to react more quickly—up to 40% quicker than older, manual rescheduling methods—and produce better and faster scheduling. These new processes were modified so that the rote calculations could be performed by a new tool, the computer. The goal of our planning and scheduling industry was acceleration (when one could) and the quick mitigation of delays (when one had to).

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