Compare the response of The Firestone Rubber Plantation in Liberia to the Hospital in Dallas, Texas.
The rubber plantation has 8,000 workers with 71,000 dependents. It is an hour north-east of Monrovia, surrounded by Ebola outbreaks. The virus arrived on the plantation in March. Knowing that the UN and the Liberian government were not going to save them, the managers sat around a rubber tree and googled “Ebola” and learned on the run instead. They turned shipping containers into isolation units, trucks into ambulances, and chemical cleaning suits into “haz-mat” gear. They trained cleaners, and teachers, they blocked visitors, and over the next five months dealt with 71 infections, but by early October were clear of the virus. There were only 17 survivors (the same 70% mortality rate as elsewhere). But without good management, there could have been so many more deaths.
In contrast, the nanny-state takes a good brain and stops it thinking. In Texas, trained health professionals were caught unprepared, following inadequate protocols they assumed were good enough, and even risking their own lives. A nurse who cared for a dying Ebola patient — and knew how bad Ebola could be — still needed to phone someone to ask if it was OK to board a plane with a slightly raised temperature (99.5F or 37.5C). The official she spoke to “didn’t Google”, they just said yes because her temperature was lower than the official threshold of 100.4F. Let’s not blame her, she was doing her job, is now fighting for her life, and almost certainly did what so many others would have done. Let’s ask instead how we train workers to know that officials can sometimes get it wrong and they need to think for themselves. When the officials fail so badly, in so many ways, the failure is not single-point, or bad luck, but systemic. The nanny-state is selecting networkers and smoochers instead of decision-making leaders. Officials rarely lose their jobs and golden handshakes, or face a seriously investigative media — which would keep them on their toes. Surely either the nurse who called or the bureaucrat who answered would, if left to their own devices, have figured it was not ok to fly–but by the smothering dumbness of of bureaucracy she ended up flying.
Stability is good, but the system is so stable it’s ossified. Executives were so busy telling everyone not to worry, they forgot to worry themselves. The Firestone plantation is an inspiring story. It gives me hope.
Liberian Rubber Farm Becomes Sanctuary Against Ebola
FIRESTONE, Liberia—As Ebola exploded here this year, a rubber farm embarked on a crash course on how to tame an epidemic that has killed thousands of people and derailed governments across West Africa.
One morning in March, when the first case arrived at the Liberian unit of Japan’s Bridgestone Corp. 5108.TO -2.96% , managers sat around a rubber-tree table and googled “Ebola,” said Ed Garcia, president of Firestone Natural Rubber Company LLC. Then they built two Ebola isolation clinics, using shipping containers and plastic wrap. They trained their janitors how to bury Ebola corpses. Their agricultural surveyors mapped the virus as it spread house to house, and teachers at the company’s schools went door-to-door to explain the disease.
“It was like flying an airplane and reading the manual at the same time,” said Philippines-born Mr. Garcia, who runs this 185-square-mile stretch of rubber trees.
Six months later, Firestone has turned the tide of infections, offering a sanctuary of health in a country where cases are doubling every three weeks.
Civil wars in Liberia ended in 2003 with some 250,000 deaths. Since then the company has rebounded but the country has barely improved.
A third of the population fled, according to the United Nations, and those who returned found a country plundered. Many bombed-out government buildings were left roofless.
Firestone’s company hospital sat roofless, too, when its managers returned to the property at war’s end. Even the elevators had been looted from their shafts. Trees had been so poorly cared for that the farm, the world’s biggest contiguous rubber plantation, may not return to its 1989 output until 2032, said Mr. Garcia.
And yet the Firestone plantation a decade later is, in some ways, a microcosm of the America in Africa Liberia’s founders had envisioned. In a country where children walk to school over muddy paths, high-school students here board big yellow school buses, winding over country roads. Electricity flows from a private dam. Water towers, telephone poles, speed-limit signs and brick homes—all exceedingly rare in tropical Africa—stare out over mowed hillsides that resemble the landscape outside Nashville, Tenn., where Firestone’s head office is based.
The Liberian plantation probably has more of the original American spirit of independence than all the Institutions of America.
h/t Barry Corke.