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The Effectiveness of U.S. Disaster Response in Addressing the Remnants Hurricane Katrina
The Effectiveness of U.S. Disaster Response in Addressing the Remnants Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina occurred in 2005, four years after the deadliest terror attack on U.S.
soil, and one year after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had established a National
Response Plan. However, despite of huge attention being focused on homeland security,
authorities were insufficiently prepared to deal with Katrina, and the response plan to the
outcome of the disaster was considered a failure (Moynihan, 2009). Government authorities who
were responsible were unable to provide basic protection. A report produced by the House
Committee in 2006 said that there was a ‘failure of initiative’, while another senate report
concluded that the U.S. was a nation that was still unprepared to handle major disasters. This
document analyzes the effectiveness of U.S. disaster response in addressing the remnants
hurricane Katrina.
There are several factors that caused inefficiency in disaster response after Hurricane
Katrina. To start with, the poor response is attributed to poor management of various risk factors.
Government authorities had in the past considered the risk of New Orleans being affected by a
massive hurricane (Skinner, 2006). Moreover, enough warning had already been made about the
disasters and emergency declarations had already been made. However, government responders
failed to use this information to create a level of appropriate preparation in relation to responding
to the disaster.
The U.S. intergovernmental response system was widely dispersed and this weakened
further its response strategy since federal responders did not recognize the importance of being
actively engaged. Further, several crucial institutional capacities that were supposed to manage
various response plans at different governmental levels were insufficient (, 2006).
Specifically, the administration of former president Bush had weakened the Federal Emergency
Management Agency (FEMA). The DHS was also an organization that had not been tested
before, and it was not sure of the most effective means of deploying its resources and authority.
One of the main failures of DHS leadership is the fact that it did not recognize Hurricane Katrina
as having the same significance as 9/11 terror attacks. Instead, it responded to Hurricane Katrina
as if it was a normal natural disaster until the impacts worsened.
Analysis of the Outcome
The United States had never experienced a natural disaster as big as the Hurricane
Katrina, destroying more than 90,000 square miles of the city and killing more than 1,500
people. The storm surged in Mississippi and destroyed coastal communities and thousands of
people were left homeless (, 2006). Flood overwhelmed the City of New Orleans, while
tens of thousands of people living along the Gulf Coast were unable to access basic commodities
such as food and clean water for close to a week. Katrina involved several interconnected crises,
but there were two major factors that were involved. The first and main factor was the disaster
itself, while the second issue was the breakdown of the walls that could have protected the city
from the worsening disaster. These two factors led to a series of subsequent problems which
turned Katrina into a new form of complicated crisis.
Hurricane Katrina was characterized with persistent flooding, serious evacuation
challenges, chains of industrial disasters, extensive toxic pollution, 90% destruction of utility
networks (communications, energy, transport, water, etc.), possible destruction of port area,
major public safety concerns, and uncertainties if the city would be saved (Moynihan, 2009).
Officials had analyzed the probability of such a disaster and had even given it a specific name,
‘the New Orleans scenario.’ FEMA officials had also ranked the New Orleans scenario as the
most risky potential disaster that the U.S. was facing. On August 23, 2005, officials observed a
tropical depression and a state of emergency was declared three days later by Louisiana and
Mississippi Governors. The National Weather Service declared that night that the hurricane
could go over levees in New Orleans. A state of emergency was declared by former President
Bush and emergency responders started a 24 hour evacuation operation in Louisiana.
A mandatory evacuation was ordered by Ray Nagin, the Mayor of New Orleans. A
Superdome was established as a last resort refuge as the hurricane begun to destroy the levees.
Within two days, operations to search and rescue victims were initiated, while the Morial
Convention Center was opened by Mayor Nagin to shelter the victims. However, communication
systems started to fail and busses were organized to start evacuating people from the Superdome,
but some people remained trapped in their houses and on the highway (Skinner, 2006). The
critical response period lasted for approximately one week, from the time when authorities
understood that Hurricane Katrina was not just another type of a natural disaster, to the period
when most evacuees were recorded and accounted for. As a result of poor decisions, limited
time, failing communication, and ineffective means of coordinating the network of responders,
the impacts of Katrina had serious consequences.
Delayed Response Plan
The fact that victims continued to suffer for days and weeks, even after Katrina had
decreased did not happen without the knowledge of government authorities, but the period in
which people suffered should not have occurred (, 2006). The impact of the disaster was
worsened by the failure of all levels of the government to plan, prepare and effectively respond
to the disaster. Four main factors were identified by the Senate Committee as causing poor
response. First, government officials ignored long-term warnings and failed to prepare for the
forewarned catastrophe. Second, insufficient actions were taken by government officials or poor
decisions were made, some few days before and after the disaster (Wombwell, 2007). Third,
systems that officials could have used to coordinate their response plan failed. Lastly, all levels
of government structures and officials failed to come up with an effective leadership system. In
addition to individual failures, the government failed to develop and implement a capacity of
coordinating a national response strategy in case of a catastrophic incident, whether it is natural
or man-made.
Stakeholders Involved and their Duties
There were several agents responding to Hurricane Katrina were, ranging from
intergovernmental organs (local, state, and federal), to cross-sectoral groups (private, public, and
non-profit) (Moynihan, 2009). After the national Response plan was introduced in 2004,
authorities aimed formalizing the responsibilities and roles of some of these main actors when it
comes to responding to a crisis. A number of Emergency Support Functions were identified by
the Plan for various federal agencies of offer support initiatives to FEMA. The traditional role of
FEMA when it comes to large-scale disasters is acting as a coordinator where capacities of the
federal government are arranged, while coordinating with state responders.
When crises such as Katrina continue to expand, authorities need more responders,
establishing more tasks, and requiring huge levels of different capacities. The network managing
Hurricane Katrina was so huge such that it was difficult to understand the activities of the
involved actors. This was mainly due to a large number of voluntary agents, the kind of skills
that they offer, and how their capabilities could be effectively offered. Weeks after the disaster, a
survey found that more than 500 different institutions responded to the disaster. The central goal
of these organizations was to reduce the amount of suffering and the number of people who
could die as a result of the disaster. Apart from this main goal, there were other more specific
objectives such as evacuation; delivery of essential items (water, food, clothes, medicine);
medical services, recovery of bodies, restoring power and communications, restoring public
safety; and the provision of temporary shelter (Moynihan, 2009). The broader disaster network
had multiple task-specific networks, but their activities tended to overlap. While most of the
tasks that were provided by specific networks were very important, there were several problems
when it came to coordination both across and within these networks.
Response Strategies
Generally, investigations have found that each government level failed in its response
plan. This was mainly attributed to failure by authorities to adequately plan, prepare and
effectively respond to the destructive hurricane Katrina
Search and Rescue
Thousands of survivors in New Orleans had to look for areas to hide at their rooftop and
attics as flooding continued to increase while waiting to be rescued. Some of the victims who
were trapped in nursing homes and attics eventually drowned after the dirty waters continued to
rise. Damage to the infrastructure, such as roads, energy and communication networks
complicated the way search-and-rescue was organized and conducted in New Orleans and other
areas that had been affected by the hurricane (, 2006). Communication equipment and
towers were destroyed and this reduced the capacity of responders to communicate effectively,
and this undermined their efficiency. Further, the rescue crew had to deal with fire, weapons,
polluted water and debris.
The dedication and skills of officials from Louisiana Department of wildlife and
Fisheries, as well as other individuals working under harsh conditions, are considered as the most
success stories of responding to Hurricane Katrina. Officials applied a model that was developed
during the Hurricane Pam exercise, where Louisiana victims were brought by rescue teams to
higher grounds. The victims were later provided with water, food, medical services, and then
transported to shelters. However, problems were also experienced in this section (,
2006). Inadequate communication systems delayed federal and state officials from knowing
where the victims were taken, so that water and food could be delivered to those regions. New
Orleans was not prepared to assist in evacuation of its residents since most of the City’s busses
had been submerged. At the same time, city officials were unable to arrange in advance for
additional drivers to come carry the victims.
Hurricane Katrina significantly destroyed the police department of New Orleans, whose
headquarters and other offices, as well as several cars, uniforms and ammunitions were
destroyed within the first two days of the crisis. Search and rescue strategies were also
insufficiently planned. For instance, FEMA could not provide boats to be used by rescue teams
even after the confirmation of swelling floods. In addition, there was inadequate interagency
coordination at both federal and state levels (Wombwell, 2007). Although interagency search and
rescue activities at the federal and state level was the responsibility of FEMA and the Louisiana
Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, there are no adequate plans were developed for this
mission. Amazingly, the fire department of New Orleans did not have any boats, while the police
department had only five boats. In the meantime, huge communication failures in Mississippi
and Louisiana were so severe that several officers physically passed information from one point
to another, or used radios hat had a limited range.
Situational Awareness
Although officials knew that search and rescue missions should be initiated before the
winds of could decrease, other response aspects were limited by inability to recognize quickly
the dimensions and size of the disaster. The challenges were especially severe at the federal
level. For instance, the Homeland Security Operations Center (HSOC) which was responsible for
giving dependable information top-level decision makers, like the Secretary of State and the
President, was unable to develop a system of acquiring and verifying relevant information
(, 2006). Therefore, there were major errors in situational analysis processes. Since the
state and local resources were overwhelmed few days after the disaster, it was crucial to
immediately mobilize federal resources. However, reliable information about various
developments such as failure of levees, extensive flooding, a growing number of victims at the
Convention Centers who need assistance, could not reach the president, the secretary of state, or
other important officials immediately.
The problem worsened when the Director of FEMA, Michael Brown, refused to
communicate with Secretary Chertoff and instead opted to directly communicate with the
president. Furthermore, most senior DHS officials said that said that they came to learn about the
full impact of the disaster almost two days after it had occurred (Waugh & Streib, 2006). DHS
was also unable to recognize the significance of the disaster and the officials at FEMA had been
overwhelmed. A day after Hurricane Katrina, DHS officials continued to struggle to determine
the situation on the ground and the level of flooding despite of being supplied with several
reports about the disaster. Authorities did not see the importance of responding immediately on
information that seemed incomplete, although this is required during a disaster.
Information was also given to the Department of Defense (DOD) late after the disaster
had occurred. DOD personnel depended on media reports to know the extent of the disaster. As
DOD waited for information from DHS, it also had to wait for FEMA, as the lead federal
agency, to define the kind of support it required from DOD (Horwitz, 2012). During this phase,
absence of situational awareness was one of the main factors why DOD delayed to use an
immediate response to a catastrophic incident.
Post-Storm Evacuation
The city and state were overwhelmed by the Hurricane Katrina, forcing it to ask for
assistance from FEMA. Two days after the disaster, FEMA Director was asked by Governor
Blanco to supply buses, after which he was told that 500 busses would be released to assist in
evacuation (, 2006). Despite of being assured that the buses would arrive after some few
hours, FEMA failed to direct the Department of Transportation to release the busses until after
two days. It took up to four days for the busses to arrive in required numbers (Fagnoni, 2008).
Concern with delay in provision of busses by FEMA, and inability of the Louisiana Department
of Transportation and Development to take its lead role and evacuate victims under the
emergency plan of the state, Governor Blanco asked the members of his team to find
transportation by any means possible. He even authorized his officials to commandeer school
busses to help in the evacuation, but these efforts were too late. Thousands of victims had to wait
for an extended period of time, in terrible conditions, extending to more than one week.
Logistics and Military Support
Military response plans were affected by the challenges of getting and managing
information due to poor communication networks. FEMA did not have enough tools to analyze
and determine the status of shipments. This interfered with how supply of water, food, medicine
and other basic commodities were being managed and taken to victims across the Gulf Coast.
Moreover, the electronic systems being used by the state and federal officials were incompatible
and could not manage assistance requests (Horwitz, 2012). Therefore, officials had to manually
transfer the requests from state systems to the federal system. It was also a major challenge to
supply the required commodities, with federal shipments taking up to ten days to reach
Mississippi after the disaster.
FEMA lacked the ability to quickly increase the amount of products that were required.
In Louisiana and Mississippi, transporting the commodities through the last mile was a major
challenge. The roads were impassible since the disaster had significantly destroyed a huge
portion of the infrastructure (Carafano & Weitz, 2006). The national guards in Louisiana lacked
the necessary equipment to perform the task. The greatest shortage in the city was an absence of
portable toilets, and more than 20,000 people staying at the Superdome had to stay for close to
one week without these services. Mississippi and Louisiana residents heavily depended on other
states to provide support and assist their emergency resources.
The two stated had an interstate agreement referred to as Emergency Management
Assistance Compact (EMAC) whose objective is to offer a system to share National Guard
Troops as well as other resources in case of a natural disaster. However, the magnitude of
hurricane Katrina limited EMAC’s capacity and it showed the limitations in the system (Bucci,
et al, 2012). The National Guard Bureau, which is controlled by the federal government and
ordinarily coordinates the functions of DOD relieved the two states by directly requesting for
available troops. This process led to deployment of close to 50,000 troops by the National Guard
and it also supported equipment that arrived from 49 states. The emergency forces were involved
in all sectors of the emergency response, which included medical care, debris removal and other
Despite the fact that this process increased the number of National Guard personnel, the
process did not proceed efficiently, nor did it follow any laid out plan. The government lacked a
preexisting procedure to carry out a national-wide operation and deployment of national guards
to support civilians. Furthermore, when the national guards were deployed, the process was not
managed by the federal Northern Command, whose objective was to coordinate large-scale
operations and deployment of the military (Carafano & Weitz, 2006). The Defense Department
mainly relied on National Guard troops who were deployed since they had enough experience in
carrying out the required activities, which also included law enforcement. Furthermore, the need
of differentiation command between active duty forces and the national guards also reduced the
deployment of active duty troops.
A huge part of the active duty troops never arrived before the end of the first week after
the disaster. After the arrival of National Guard troops and active duty cops, the DOD
contributed in several important ways in dealing with the effects of the disaster. DOD offered
major support in its search and rescue missions, logistics management, evacuee airlifts and other
matters. As the week was coming to an end after the occurrence of Hurricane Katrina, the
resources were stretched, FEMA asked DOD to take over logistics operations for all movements
of commodities (Bucci, et al, 2012). Three days after the occurrence of the disaster, the
Superdome in New Orleans had been overcrowded and this made officials turn away additional
victims. The Morial Convention Center was opened as the second refuge, but it took time before
authorities started to supply the center with food and other amenities.
Law Enforcement
Away from the Convention Center and Superdome, law enforcement was a major
problem. His was fueled by several contributing factors such as inaccurate statements by officials
who increased perception of the public about the lawlessness in New Orleans. In the absence of
an effective law enforcement, imagined and real securit …
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