Centralia, Pennsylvania: A Lesson in Project Management

Filed in Professional Development by on February 15, 2016 0 Comments

Project management techniques, processes, and best practices can be implemented in a variety of situations, whether they are planned and executed from start to finish or they are addressing problems. The Project Management Institute defines a project as something that has a beginning and end time, with a defined scope and resources that work towards reaching a single goal. As well, often projects worked on by individuals working together from different groups in the interest of achieving the same goal, the project goal. [1]3115180032_0d6afcaf72_o

In the case of the Centralia, Pennsylvania, the project started simply as burning trash on a newly created landfill in town in May, 1962. What happened next was not in the initial project scope, by any means. Starting fires in the town landfills were familiar to the Centralia Fire Department. They were considered controlled burns. It was a method often used in an effort to clean the town up of the unsightly landfill debris.

Centralia has a history in the mining of anthracite coal. The town has a web of coal mines underneath it. The first two mines opened in 1856. And much of the coal mining continued for approximately 100 years, into the 1960s [2]. However, in May 1962, the location of those coal mines were not taken as carefully into consideration as they should have been – especially with a newly developed landfill. Controlled burns by the fire department might have been common practice, but not in this specific location on that fateful day.

3114337999_d9994d7acc_oThey followed their normal process and procedures, burned the combustibles and hosed the fire down when complete. Everything went as planned, until a several days later when a manager at a cemetery nearby noticed that it had started back up again. At this point, the fire department should have assessed why the fire re-ignited, but they followed their
standard procedures and hosed it down again. And this is where our story begins – the many project management failures that lead to the shell of a town that is Centralia today. Currently, the fire is still actively burning with the expectations to burn for 250 more years.


Ray Sheen is an engineer and manager with over 30 years of experience in Project Management. In this eBook, he highlights the story of Centralia. Could this have been avoided with better project management at the onset? Ray Sheen thinks so. In this book, he highlights the many failures that took place during the initial years that could have stopped the fire before it got out of control. And in these failures are lessons all Project Managers can utilize.

Get your copy today! 


[1] http://www.pmi.org/About-Us/About-Us-What-is-Project-Management.aspx

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centralia,_Pennsylvania


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