On the Subject of Black Elephants3



By Ken Smith

Hawaii, USA


10 June 2020

Ref: Pells, D. (2020). Black Elephants and… maybe Project Management, PM World Journal, Vol IX, Issue VI, June


Dear David:

I just read your great editorial.  Very timely, and well expressed!

Although not addressing their root causes, FYI I did work in the past — albeit after the fact — on a couple of notable efforts to help the government establish contingency plans for dealing with the aftermath of ‘Black Elephant’ events.

After the Great 9.2 Alaskan Earthquake & Tsunami in March 1964, I spent a few days with the President’s Office of Emergency Planning (OEP) applying the Critical Path networking methodology to improve emergency response preparation.  We developed a generic response plan that identified key activities, milestones, sequence constraints, and resources typically required to mobilize and respond to a disaster, then estimated lead times to acquire and/or pre-position them in various places for timely response.  [That was pre-FEMA – i.e. the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which wasn’t established until 1978.]

Subsequently — in 1994/95 – based on their after-action experience with the 1989 Exxon accident in Valdez (also in Alaska) — I conducted a similar pre-planning exercise with US Coastguard HQ officers and some oil industry executives to facilitate responding to future Oil Spills.

Now, twenty-five years later…



To read entire Letter to the Editor, click here


How to cite this work: Smith, K. (2020). On the Subject of Black Elephants, Letter to the Editor, PM World Journal, Vol. IX, Issue VII, July. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/pmwj95-Jun2020-Smith-black-elephants-Letter-to-Editor.pdf