Texas’ Own H-E-B Leads the Way on Coronavirus Planning and Data

For a vivid picture of great planning and data analysis in the age of coronavirus, look no further than your neighborhood H-E-B.

Last week, Texas Monthly magazine took a deep-dive into the company’s preparations for COVID-19. It’s been the publication’s #1 trending story since it published, garnering national attention from media outlets and even a certain former California governor/Kindergarten Cop:

In short, the company has been planning for pandemics since 2005. It refined its plans in response to the H1N1 outbreak in 2009 and has incorporated lessons from emergencies like Hurricane Harvey in the years since. It started monitoring the coronavirus situation in mid-January soon after the outbreak in China. And on Feb. 2, it started planning for its impact in the U.S.

The article shows that at nearly every step, the company was ready to pivot in ways that met the needs of customers and the public. As the crisis unfolded, H-E-B activated its Emergency Operations Center, rearranged store hours, limited purchases to ensure that customers could get the food and supplies they need, ramped up staffing, increased worker pay, and broadened its communications internally and externally — they even helped save a customer’s wedding. Most critically, they watched the data and took action based on what they saw.

“The most important lesson for us is to listen to what’s going on in our stores,” says Justen Noakes, the company’s director of emergency preparedness. “When we started seeing the N95 masks and the sanitizers, we took that as a good sign that our customers were concerned about what was going on, and that’s what really spurred us to activate our program.”

Like all good Texans, we love our H-E-B — company president Scott McClelland is even on our board.

More than that, we’re inspired by their example. Yes, right now, Texans and their leaders need to stay safe, listen to the public health experts and do what they need to do to get through this extraordinary chapter in our history.

But very soon, we Texans will need to start planning and preparing in earnest for Texas’ future. We’ll need to avoid penny-wise, pound-foolish decisions that create unintended consequences down the road. And we’ll need to use the best data, in the right ways, to illuminate our path and our options.

If history is any guide, Texas can come back strong from this challenge. It’s up to us to ensure that happens — and decide what success should look like for every Texan — as we approach the state’s 200th birthday in 2036.

Stay safe, Texas.