The Devastation of Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina was one of the life-threatening tropical tornadoes in United States history. The disaster claimed more than 1800 lives and resulted in a loss of about US $ 81 billion in property damage (Burby, 2006). The hurricane disaster had key implications for a large segment of population, politics, economy, and the entire United States. As a result, it compelled the congressional assessment of the Corps of Engineers and the portions of failure of the federally built flood protection system. The government and private sector came under scrutiny for their response and recovery efforts to the natural disaster.

Government-Private Response to Hurricane Katrina

The Governor of Louisiana, Katherine Babineaux Blanco, declared a state of emergency and asked Bush's administration to declare the same at the federal level (Burby, 2006). The government complied with this request.

As a direct reaction, the FEMA organized about 1000 Homeland Security personnel to offer help to the City. In an initiative to organize, the agency declared that no ambulance or firefighter crews respond to devastated regions without mobilization by the state and local authorities. Burby (2006) criticized this declaration by claiming that it slowed the response to the devastation. The Agency seemed reluctant to accept assistance from NGOs. For instance, the American Red Cross was denied access to New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, making them unable to complement the agency's response. Eventually, the Superdome was more than packed with not less than 20000 persons in the building. As a result, evacuation of the persons in the Superdome followed because of the worsening situation (Burby, 2006).

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As horrific events unfolded, it was apparent that the response from the federal government was insufficient and inadequate. According to Burby (2006), the federal government had no sufficient details about the ultimate devastation that the hurricane had caused, regardless of the simulation. Irrespective of the immense quantity of government personnel in New Orleans, the destructive effects of Katrina continued wreaking unprecedented havoc with many people stranded in the city. Firefighters within the US had to supplement their help to the overwhelmed FEMA personnel.

According to the victim's experience, stores such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Target were virtual lifesavers for bereft and dazed citizens who were lucky to survive the havoc. These private companies and their personnel became significant points of food, clothing, generators, and water distribution. This is because they were prepared and had the ability to move goods and offer services (Burby, 2006).

The Mississippi Power, which is a subsidiary of the Southern Company, was capable of restoring electricity to millions of customers well ahead of schedule. Apparently, this was because the company has the culture of making decisions free from the entanglements of bureaucracy and of empowering managers (Burby, 2006).

The Starwood group of Hotels, which operates various properties, including the Sheraton in New Orleans, offered significant services to its employees, customers and first responders immediately after and during the devastation. The company was capable of getting a backup before commencing operations within days after the Katrina.

Recovery Efforts

Devastations, such those caused by Hurricane Katrina, are always followed by recovery efforts in order to facilitate the recovery of the victims. Recovery efforts should not only aim at restoring the lives of victims but also at improving them. After devastations such as Katrina, it takes both a significant number of professionals and the considerable amount of time and coordination, as echoed by Burby (2006). In the areas affected by the Katrina, including New Orleans, recovery initiatives were still in progress two years down the line. According to Burby (2006), the aspects of post-disaster management require creative answers be sought. Because sufficient numbers of disaster consultant personnel could not be present within the neighborhood of the catastrophe, they had to be ferried from other states.

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Recovery efforts can be categorized as either social or economic. Red Cross, through the Hurricane Recovery Program, seemed to have focused on social recovery, whereas FEMA provided economic recovery. FEMA, in cooperation with other companies, has been involved in Historic Preservation and Long-Term Community Recovery Planning (LTCR).

Soon after the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, efforts were made, including the initiation of FEMA's LTCR section, in order to commence coordination and capitalize on the presence and funding of the federal agency. The LTCR was then a comparatively new responsibility for the national administration. As an evolving area, LTCR efforts were determined to offer the affected communities the opportunities that could not only replace what had been lost but also improve their lives. According to Burby (2006), LTCR's approach speeds recovery and improves the long-term future of the affected community.

FEMA established teams that were assigned to various regions in New Orleans. Every team had the responsibility of involving the public and local government in the formulation of a recovery plan. Engineers, planners, and architects, among other professionals, assessed the impacts of the Katrina on housing, economy, transportation system and other sectors. Through far-reaching public involvement, FEMA and other recovery agencies identified the key recovery projects to improve the long-term recovery. Burby (2006) asserts that the process was fast-paced in order to capitalize on the early rebuilding efforts.

With regard to historic preservation, FEMA established a reimbursement initiative for the demolition of properties that are considered hazardous to human health after the devastation. Nevertheless, the FEMA Environmental and Historic Preservation (EHP) had to be very effective in their initiatives while assuring adequate coordination with other agencies. In Louisiana, the EHP advanced an abridgment of Section 106 process in the management, the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), and consulting parties, such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP), among others. The abridgment process was harmonized between all the involved parties by a historic preservation specialist. For instance, in New Orleans, FEMA conducted a review of about every historic district within the city. The review documented the losses from the devastation and the changes made since then. The survey also offered the city the most recent GIS mapping via the use of GPS data taken in the field (Burby, 2006).

With the assistance of partners, volunteers, and donors, the Hurricane Recovery Program was capable of assisting thousands of families and individuals. Behavioral health initiatives and emotional support empowered about 185000 persons to enroll for local mental health assistance. Case management services also offered more than 13000 households with assistance, such as developing personal recovery plans.

Lessons Learned from Hurricane Katrina

The first lesson learned regards the lack of national preparedness (Haddow, Bullock, & Coppola, 2007). The US system for homeland security did not offer the required framework in managing the havocs of the 21st catastrophic threats. It was unrealistic to presume that even the robust framework could perfectly overcome and expect all the challenges in a crisis (Haddow, Bullock, & Coppola, 2007). Whereas the US had established a response system with the ability to handle the havoc caused by wildfires, typical hurricane season and man-made disasters, the crucial flaws in the national preparedness were evident in the unified management of the national response, knowledge of preparedness plans, and regional planning during the devastation (Haddow, Bullock, & Coppola, 2007).

The second lesson regards the non-governmental aid (Haddow, Bullock, & Coppola, 2007). During the devastation, a considerable response resided in agencies and organizations outside the government. Non-governmental organizations and the private sector offered significant contributions (Haddow, Bullock, & Coppola, 2007). Inopportunely, the federal government did not make efficient utilization of these contributions since it had efficiently planned for their incorporation into the response team. Frequently, NGOs act as the quickest ways of offering local relief, but most importantly, they offer considerate, human face to relief efforts (Haddow, Bullock, & Coppola, 2007). It is in the best interest of all Americans to include non-governmental aid in future response efforts (Haddow, Bullock, & Coppola, 2007).

Analysis of After-Actions

Most of the analyses of post-Katrina actions have taken a socio-political course. These analyses have named race as a factor of the slow response (Gheytanchi et al., 2007). In a study comprising 680 evacuees, 70% of the respondents blamed the government for their management of the disaster, whereas 53 % and 58% blamed the mayor and the governor respectively. About 68% felt that the response would have been faster if the victims trapped were wealthier and white (Gheytanchi et al., 2007). According to Gheytanchi et al. (2007), many African Americans felt that their race, voting patterns and property conditions played a crucial role in the response.

Post-Katrina criticism also pointed to the discrimination against non-US citizens (Gheytanchi et al., 2007). Certain foreign nationals criticized the rescue efforts as being inclined to American citizens. In a post-Katrina study, both Australian and British nationals reported the same experience (Gheytanchi et al., 2007). Nevertheless, some Irish nationals gave a contrary report, which portrayed the overall generosity of the US people.

Disaster planners have also been criticized for the failure of considering the needs of the disabled (Gheytanchi et al., 2007). Communication, transportation and shelters during the response failed to meet the needs of persons with cognitive, communication or mobility problems (Gheytanchi et al., 2007). Disability agencies have voiced their concerns by criticizing the local authorities for not considering the disabled in their consultation and planning.

Recommendations

The first recommendation is the creation of a local response structure. The Department of Homeland Security should develop and device well-staffed, -trained and -fortified homeland security in order to manage all preparedness and emergencies requiring the significant federal response.

According to Gheytanchi et al. (2007), the National Guard should undertake key transformation. The top officials at the National Guard should tailor the training and organization in order to comprise a priority mission for preparing and deploying the support of homeland. Similarly, FEMA should assimilate the National Guard into their groundwork and planning for the federal response (Gheytanchi et al., 2007).

The creation of a culture of preparedness is another important recommendation (Gheytanchi et al., 2007). In order to facilitate this recommendation, prominent national figures and cabinet secretaries should act as spokesmen to create a culture of preparedness. During the devastation, communities, churches and individuals provoked their abilities (Gheytanchi et al., 2007).

Another vital endorsement made was the consolidation of public health response (Gheytanchi et al., 2007). The Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) should front-run a fortified and unified medical command and public health for the public response (Gheytanchi et al., 2007). In order to attain this, the DHS had to develop and device a representative and robust medical response plan for disasters, comprising the tracking and deploying of medical and public health assets.

Conclusions

The response to Hurricane Katrina was remarkably slow, resulting in unprecedented effects. It appears that the private sector responded pretty well because they were prepared and had the ability to move goods and offer services. The two important lessons learned from the disaster included the lack of preparedness and the ignorance of non-governmental aid by the government. Most of the analyses of post-Katrina actions have taken a socio-political course by citing racism and nationality as the key contributors to the slow response by the government.

References:

  1. Burby, R. J. (2006). Hurricane Katrina and the paradoxes of government disaster policy: Bringing about wise governmental decisions for hazardous areas.The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 604(1), 171-191.
  2. Gheytanchi, A., Joseph, L., Gierlach, E., Kimpara, S., Housley, J., Franco, Z. E., & Beutler, L. E. (2007). The dirty dozen: Twelve failures of the hurricane Katrina response and how psychology can help.American Psychologist,62(2), 118.
  3. Haddow, G., Bullock, J., & Coppola, D. P. (2007).Introduction to emergency management. Butterworth-Heinemann.
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