- Hurricane Katrina and its Management
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During the XX centuries there have been more natural disasters than during the whole time of human history. It happens as a consequence of human interference with the laws of nature. Natural disasters bring significant devastation of property but what is more horrifying is that human life losses are also of the consequences of these disasters. For that reason risk and disaster management is important in preparing and handling natural disaster afterwards.
This paper will concentrate on analyzing and evaluating disaster recovery and contingency planning for Hurricane Katrina landfall that hit 3 American states of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama in August 2005. Hurricane Katrina is one of the costliest and deadliest disasters in the history of the United States. The results of this natural catastrophe were horrific and sorrowful. As both local and state governments were overwhelmed with Katrina from the very beginning, federal emergency management agency (FEMA) took over. However, federal emergency agencies and the White House itself were heavily criticized by the public and press for slow response and recovery after Hurricane Katrina landfall.
The goal of this paper is to show that disaster recovery and contingency planning are important steps in handling natural disaster. Hurricane Katrina landfall is used to demonstrate the consequences of disaster mismanagement
Keywords: Hurricane Katrina, FEMA, federal government, levee breaches, contingency plan, disaster management, responders.
Hurricane Katrina and Its Management
by Local, State and Federal Government
Hurricane Katrina left after itself 90 thousand miles of debris and took more than 1300 lives. It has destroyed many cities, the biggest of which was the city of New Orleans. 80% of New Orleans was flooded, most of the city’s population left or was evacuated. It was called a national disaster weeks after, however, at the time it seemed like federal government did not understand what was happening and took it less seriously than it was. Naturally, plan of actions was not well-thought and was implemented very slow. As a result, 10 years after the disaster there are still consequences of Hurricane Katrina mismanagement.
When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast of the United States, people were puzzled with paradox of why the press seemingly knows more than the White House itself. Here lies on of the main problems that occurred when the disaster stroke and during its aftermath. This problem is poor system of communication between local responders and federal agencies. Thus, it becomes understandable that federal government was not prepared for disaster of such a scale. And preparedness is one of the keys to damage limitations and saving lives of people.
Second problem of managing Katrina was lack of centralized actions between different responders. As the scale of disaster was enormous local government as well as state government were overwhelmed with it and reached to federal Emergency management Agency (FEMA). FEMA involved a big network of responders, both private and public sectors, but failed to coordinate their actions.
Hurricane Katrina is an interesting issue as it is a great example of mistakes made in disaster management by local, state and federal authorities. It reveals weak points and discrepancies in emergency management in the United States. It can and should serve as a lesson for future natural disaster recovery and contingency planning.
Hurricane Katrina struck the city of New Orleans on Monday, August 29th. It was a Category 4 storm with winds of up to 130 kilometers per hour. Levees that secured the city from flooding could not resist 27 feet surge, which resulted in sea waters overtopping levees and flooding the city (The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina, 2006, p.1).
New Orleans has been under danger of flooding for a long time, as it is situated to a great extent beneath ocean level. Thus, it was not the first time the city struggled with natural phenomena. In 1947 solid storm overtopped Jefferson Parish with water depth reaching 1 meter (3.28 ft) and caused 100 million dollars of damages in New Orleans. To secure this part of the city, levees height was increased along the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain. In 1965 Hurricane Betsy hit the city which was of the highest 4th Category. Betsy left the city submerged in water for a couple of days with water coming up to 9 feet at some locations. Consequently, levees were expanded and now reached 12 feet. Maybe the most devastating hurricane of the XX century in New Orleans was tropical storm Cammile. It was a Category 5 storm that took 335 lives. In any case, considering the severity of storm Camille local authorities and emergency agencies reacted well on the occasion and found a way to limit the damages. The following tropical storms Georges and Ivan which were much weaker than their predecessors revealed shortcomings in evacuation plan of the city (Roth, 2010, pp. 41-55). When Hurricane Katrina struck, those shortcomings were not overcome and brought life losses and damages of thousands of buildings.
Katrina shaped into a tropical storm on August, 24, over the Bahamas. When it came to the Gulf of Mexico, it strengthened to Category 4 transforming into a terrible power with winds of 130 mph on August 29. The tropical storm influenced the region of 90,000 square miles which is approximately the size of Great Britain. Katrina was accompanied by 27 feet surge which left more than 1.7 million people in the Gulf Coast area and 1.3 million citizens in southeastern Florida without power, more than one million people were evacuated and more than 1300 died with another 2000 announced missing (The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina, 2006, p.3). The largest city hit by Katrina was New Orleans which around that time had a population of 4.577 million. High surge, solid winds and overwhelming rainfalls resulted in overtopping levee system of the city on August 30. Consequently, 80% of the city was flooded (Roth, 2010). Hurricane Katrina was followed by Hurricane Rita in less than a month, flooding New Orleans once again. It contributed another $10 billion in damages.
Hurricane Katrina is not the most devastating natural phenomenon that has ever showed up on the terrains of the US of America. However, it is known as the costliest storm as it resulted in devastation of about $100 billion dollars. The reason for such devastation partly lies in ineffective management of disaster by local, state and federal governments.
Emergency Preparation Mismanagement
There are four phases of crisis management– preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation (Cutter&Gall, 2006, p.3). The general rule here is: if a calamity happens, firstly it is managed locally and then by state government. When local and state governments are overwhelmed with disaster, it is responsibility of federal emergency agency to take over. Federal government then engages other responders to participate and centralizes all actions of response and recovery.
Keeping in mind the end goal of averting state crises and reacting to disaster rapidly, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was established in 1979. Prior to FEMA's creation, there were fragmented emergency responders. FEMA united those agencies and became the main institution that handles all four stages of disaster management. Its functions were also to coordinate activities of local and state authorities and to bring together non-governmental responders such as the American Red Cross, if there should occur natural or man-made catastrophe. FEMA created Disaster Mitigation Plan which suggested the following functions of the agency a) hazard identification and risk assessment; b) applied research and technology transfer; c) public awareness, training, and education; d) incentives and resources; and e) leadership and coordination (FEMA, 2004b). It also shifted the focus from responsive post-event reaction to pro-active preventive measures. The man responsible for such a shift was FEMA's director James Lee Witt (1993-2001). Witt was the first executive officer of FEMA who had experience in emergency management on a local level. He enhanced coordination with state responders and improved preparation and mitigation techniques (Moynihan, 2009, p.6). FEMA of that time was an independent and effective organization that was prepared to confront any crisis. During the 9/11 terrorists’ attack, FEMA demonstrated the White House that it is a very practical and efficient responder to high scale calamities.
Unfortunately, after Witt's resignation and afterwards during Bush's administration, FEMA swung back to being political stadium for remunerating government officials that had no involvement in emergency management. In 2003 it lost its autonomy status and turned into a part of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) whose principle concern was terrorists’ attack and not natural disaster. Around that time FEMA also lost its key capacity – preparation to emergency, which weakened its coordination with state responders. Turning into a part of DHS also implied loss of financing (Moynihan, 2009, p.8). During the following years FEMA was understaffed and had little financing for preparation and mitigation of disaster. Absence of assets enormously diminished preventive activities, such as Hurricane Pam exercise.
As much as FEMA, local and state governments were also significantly understaffed and needed financing. As government stopped financing satellite telephones, local authorities chose not to keep utilizing them on their own expense. This satellite connection could have been a saving point during Katrina landfall as any other type of communication was lost because of landfall (Paxson, 2012).
Hurricane Katrina Aftermath
It would be false to say that there was no preparation whatsoever at FEMA to natural disaster or no knowledge that a hurricane of category 4 was coming to Gulf Coast. However, nobody anticipated how strong and deadly it will be. Local authorities in New Orleans were hoping that this is another hurricane and levees system will be able to resist and defend the city. As it became clear that the hurricane would not miss New Orleans, FEMA used its simulation exercise Hurricane Pam and distributed advisory brochures to population of what should be done if hurricane hits the city. This advisories also implemented that levees breaches may occur and that will submerge the city under water. However, those were just warning and many took them as preventive but unnecessary measures. As the plan of evacuation of the city was not thought through, these printed instructions did not contain any information about shelters available in the city (Paxson, 2012).
Indeed, even before hurricane hit, all 3 states Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi initiated their Emergency Operation Centers that are first responders to natural or man-made disasters. Additionally FEMA initiated pre-arranged delivery of items and some food in the affected region. These arrangements some way or another aided when the storm hit. Nevertheless, FEMA's absence of logistics system invisibility prompted disappointment of state and local authorities as they didn't realize what items were arriving and when. For instance, Mississippi got under 50 percent of the products it asked for between August 27, 2005, and September 5, 2005 (A Performance Review of FEMA's Disaster Management, 2006, p.10).
As both local responders and, naturally, federal responders thought little of the enormous power of hurricane, mandatory evacuation was declared when it was past the point of no return. Large number of people who did not believe that the city will actually be flooded and another part which just did not have the means to move out of the city on the own had to take cover in two city buildings that were turned into shelters – the Superdome and the Convention Center. However, evacuees stayed there for too much time (about 6 days) before they all were evacuated from the city. Neither the Superdome nor the Convention Center had enough resources to keep such a great number of individuals under its roof for such a long time (Cutter&Gall, 2006, p.8). The compulsory evacuation decision was made by the mayor of New Orleans Ray Nagin in under 24 hours before landfall when it is required by State Evacuation Plan to begin evacuation in no less than 30 hours before emergency. The evacuation itself took too long. During only 3 days before Katrina overtopped the levees, it was still regarded as an ordinary hurricane. It was also seen as minor problem by the populace. Although around 90% of citizens left their homes, many of them chose to stay in their houses. They didn't trust that Katrina was not like the other storms that were stopped by levees system of the city (Cutter&Gall, 2006). Another explanation behind that was absence of transportation. Around 27% of New Orleans population couldn't afford to buy automobiles, and had no opportunity to move out of the city in time (Plyer & Liu, 2009).Only in 6 days after levee breaches the evacuation of population from the Superdome and the Convention Center was finally completed.
As it was clear that local government was to a great extent overpowered with catastrophe and had almost no assets at dealing with its consequences, state governor Kathleen Blanco was involved in resolving the issue. She reached out to FEMA in order to get some help from federal agency. However, she was extremely criticized for not having the exact list of demands in her solicitation for help. States assets that she could have used without addressing FEMA were depleted by the hurricane, too.
Preparation Stage of Disaster Management
It is up to the state authorities to make building laws obligatory for its region or not. Louisiana state authorities' mistake was not forcing building code as different states in the country did. Rather than leaving wetlands and marshes which are natural obstacles for flooding, local authorities decided to use this territory to build housing and commercial blocks. Being one of the poorest states in the nation, buildings in Louisiana were also of lower quality than the rest of the country as building code was not compulsory (Plyer & Liu, 2009). Naturally, construction law alone would not protect Louisiana and New Orleans from hurricanes and flooding. However, it would limit the destructions brought by Katrina. It is evaluated that pre-event preparation ends up being financially advantageous later on. Each $1 spent on preparation equals $4 saved when disaster occurs (A Performance Review of FEMA's Disaster Management, 2006).
The Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness were 40% understaffed with only third of workers having background in emergency management. Medical Director of New Orleans attempted to expand evacuation system in case of emergency and include evacuation by train just months before Katrina hit. Nevertheless, state office of Homeland Security did not support the project. Consequently, state government was instantly overwhelmed by Katrina and had to involve National Guard in order to take the situation under control.
FEMA's Role in Handling Katrina Consequences
As both state and local officials lost control over Hurricane Katrina landfall, FEMA stepped in to resolve the crisis. Its functions varied from evacuation of citizens to shelters in other states of the country to delivering food and toiletries to those who stayed in shelters. Its primary task, however, was to coordinate the work and communication of hundreds of responders (FEMA, 2004b). Hurricane Katrina aftermath was so complicated that a huge number of emergency agencies had to be engaged in recovery procedures. Unfortunately, FEMA failed to unite them and to direct their work. There were numerous challenges in coordinating and dividing obligations among different agencies. One of the examples of such discoordination was misunderstanding of who is responsible for recovering dead bodies. FEMA appointed state government to be responsible. However, with many other responsibilities being more essential state government was overwhelmed and could not took up the recovery of bodies. In a while, state governor involved privately owned business to manage recovery of bodies. Because of such difficult process of coordination, body recovery and identification were performed much slower than it should have been (VanDevanter et al, 2010). This shows that the system of responders was extended to the degree when it was no more controllable.
It would be wrong to say that FEMA was totally caught off guard by natural disaster. Toward the end of XX century the agency distinguished 3 noteworthy disasters that could happen in the United States: earthquake in California, terrorist attack in New York and hurricane in New Orleans as its levee framework was just built to hold Category 3 hurricanes. After 9/11 FEMA significantly focused on risk of another terrorist attack and neglected the preparation to another 2 possible disasters.
However, some preventive measures against hurricane in New Orleans were taken. In 2004 FEMA made a simulation game called the Hurricane Pam. It was very much alike to yet to come Katrina Hurricane and many consequences of its results were foreseen in this simulation. Contingency plan that was elaborated for Hurricane Pam exercise was distributed among population days before Katrina hit, which saved lives of many people. As the project was taken much finance and nobody was seriously anticipating the disaster of such scale to happen, the exercise was not completed and numerous provisions of Hurricane Pam contingency plan were yet to be discussed and practiced. Had the simulation been finished, it would have been much less demanding to coordinate the work of many responders during the real-life Hurricane Katrina (Cutter&Gall, 2006).
Late Response and Slow Recovery after Katrina
Reaction from Department of Homeland Security to Hurricane Katrina events was also very slow. In spite of the fact that they got data about levee breaches and landfall, no prompt measures were taken. By then it appeared like the media knew a great deal more than the authorities themselves. Only a few days after the landfall, the White House authorities together with DHS understood the size of disaster that happened.
As given on the essay writing service another explanation for such late reaction and poor recovery during the initial 24 hours is an absolute loss of communication: telephone landline was not working, numerous phone destinations were also out of administration, 911 calls were not answered, radio and TV signals were lost in many regions. These variables constrained people’s ability to communicate with one another and request help. Because of loss of connection, it was additionally troublesome for task forces at place to arrange their activities (Plyer & Liu, 2009).
Transportation of individuals was another issue. There were 500 school busses that should have been utilized as a part of evacuation procedure. However, there were no drivers for them. Later they were also flooded, in spite of the fact that they were kept at high place that was never flooded before (Moynihan, 2009). Agency in charge of evacuation was the Emergency Operation Center. If emergency arose, the Emergency Center had the authority to utilize the busses. However, the Emergency Center was overwhelmed to perform its functions and was also flooded very quickly which limited its work.
Another institution that is utilized as a supportive force during crisis is police. Nevertheless, their destiny was the same as of Emergency Center – they and their equipment were flooded and they could barely help themselves (VanDevanter et al. 2010). Just when the seriousness of disaster was clear, Department of Defense deployed 50,000 troops of National Guard to take care of Katrina results. It was the biggest military deployment within the country in the US history (Moynihan, 2009).
Absence of Coordination among Responders
The inability to coordinate commanding officers led to great confusion. According to National Response Plan there were 3 organizations in charge of handling Hurricane Katrina aftermath. Those were The Joint Field Office and Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO) in charge of coordinating activities of local, state and federal government, The Principal Federal Official (PFO) whose task was to answer to DHS and implement their decisions in the affected area, and Joint Task Force Katrina which completed tasks on the territory of landfall (Ford, 2015). The explanation behind absence of coordination among these 3 institutions was that PFO James Brown communicated straightforwardly with the White House bypassing DHS Secretary Chertoff and made operational decisions himself. Moreover, Task Force was taking orders from local and state authorities and was not informing federal government. Thus, the same actions were performed twice, one time by local forces and another by federal contractors as neither of them recognized what the other one was doing.
Absence of coordination was additionally seen between governmental and non-governmental organizations. As devastation brought by Hurricane Katrina was so vast, non-governmental organizations were included in recovery as well. One of such organizations was the Red Cross. It was in charge of logistics of provisions and water to relocated population of Louisiana. FEMA failed to deliver essential supplies to asylums or those supplies that were given were much less in their amount of what the Red Cross requested. FEMA misled the Red Cross in informing the precise number of evacuees, timing of deliveries, number of items delivered and etc. (Plyer & Liu, 2009).
Recommendations for Preparation and Response to Natural Disaster
Each of the four phases of emergency management – preparation, response, recovery and mitigation - ought to be addressed by one federal agency that would be coordinating actions of hundreds of other responders to disaster. Emergency agency should identify possible threats and prepare to deal with them not given a priority to one over the other as it was with 9/11. Both natural and man-made threats should be addressed equally.
As FEMA is now a part of Homeland Security, it has to know its functions and resources available for crisis management. It should also be clear where its area of responsibility starts and ends. FEMA should avoid long bureaucratic corridors of getting approval for its decisions but at the same time should inform DHS and White House about its actions in order to provide effective communication among different federal institutions.
After Hurricane Katrina mistakes were identified and analyzed, Department of Homeland Security outlined 38 proposals for disaster management for FEMA. Its primary point is that all responders should be appointed and they should not duplicate each other’s functions and responsibilities. Another point is formation of efficient communication network that would work in times of crisis and would allow sharing data quicker and more efficiently. FEMA executive should enhance and encourage coordination with Department of Defense and utilization of National Guards. Another suggestion concerns preparation of shelters for evacuees that can be utilized in times of crisis like Katrina. Recommendations also suggest training and drills for employees of FEMA and other responders. FEMA would also benefit to track, standardize and atomize resource delivering system (Federal Emergency Management Policy Changes After Hurricane Katrina, 2007). Another suggestion that should be implemented on state and local levels is specially designed communication system that will work in very difficult conditions and will allow passing data from victims to nearby responders and from them to state and federal responders. Communication system should also provide emergency call centers with superb connection that will make it accessible at any time (A Performance Review of FEMA's Disaster Management, 2006).
Hurricane Katrina disaster bears its lessons for everyone. After the catastrophe, federal government finally understood the necessity to restructure FEMA. Government also understood the importance of preventive measures against natural disasters. Before Hurricane Katrina hit, numerous meteorology stations knew that it was coming. Some preventive measures were implemented. On the other hand, it seemed like no one believed Hurricane Katrina would be as destroying as it was in spite of various meteorology data and calculations. Efficient plan of actions and contingency plan were not thought through and, therefore, evacuation of people from affected area started much later than it should have.
Hurricane Katrina catastrophe also changed political map of the country as FEMA director was replaced and state governor Kathleen Blanco also did not run for re-election (Ford 2015). President Bush's reputation was also harmed as he was criticized for slow actions and absence of information.
Lack of preparedness, long bureaucratic corridors to make decisions and absence of coordination between responders turned Hurricane Katrina into national catastrophe. Even now in 2015, there are still consequences of inefficient management by state, local and federal officials. There still a number of people missing, presumably dead, from August 2005. Many citizens of New Orleans did not come back to reconstruct their houses after disaster. Katrina also has its lessons: by analyzing what went wrong in handling category 4 hurricane landfall, it is possible to prevent such staggering and devastating results in the future.
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