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Katrina: What Went Wrong?

In: Social Issues

Submitted By tokyoflyer
Words 1717
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Monday morning, 29 August 2005, this is a day most New Orleans residents will never forget. This was the day a category 5 hurricane named Katrina made its catastrophic debut to the Gulf Coast region and killed over 1,300 people. (The White House, 2006, p. 1) After it was all said and done, the nation was shocked at the events that unfolded in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi and people were left wondering, “What went wrong?” National Geographic reported that the storm originated about a week earlier, 23 August, in the Caribbean and worked its up from the Bahamas making landfall Thursday, 25 August, in Miami. Winds at this time were 75-80 mph making it a category 1 hurricane causing some tree damage and killing two people. (Drye, 2005) The storm lost strength for a little while but once it hit the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, it rapidly gained momentum and before long reached wind speeds up to 175 mph making it a category 5 hurricane. On Sunday, 28 August, New Orleans mayor, Ray Nagin, issued a mandatory evacuation order. Roughly 24 hrs later, the full strength of Katrina slammed into New Orleans and Biloxi. (Drye, 2005) Local and state emergency managers are responsible for coming up with a plan of action for different hazardous situations. Once a situation gets overwhelming for those levels of management, federal assistance is then requested.
Prior to Hurricane Katrina’s arrival, various local emergency management agencies (LEMAs), such as local fire, police, and emergency medical personnel who respond to all manner of incidents such as earthquakes, storms, and floods have the lead responsibility for carrying out emergency management efforts. (U.S. House of Representative, 2006, p. 45) Also, according to the report, “State emergency management agencies, reporting to their respective governors, have primary responsibility for their states’ disaster mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery activities.” (U.S. House of Representative, 2006, p. 46) Be advised that emergency management protocols vary from state to state, but generally the governor is in charge in times of emergencies.
Some of the emergency plans that were in place prior to the arrival of Hurricane Katrina were: 1) strategically placed bottled water and meals ready-to-eat (MRE) set around the city by FEMA; 2) American Red Cross deployed personnel to provide water, hot meals, cots and clean-up kits; 3) United States Coast Guard would provide alert coverage and the respective state’s National Guard provided manpower with the mandatory evacuation and security.
Hurricane Pam was a training exercise conducted in July 2004. (U.S. House of Representative, 2006, p. 81) This FEMA funded, disaster-simulated exercise portrayed a strong category 3 hurricane (at times category 4), affecting the New Orleans area. The scenario was held at the State Emergency Operations Center in Baton Rouge for 5 days where 50 organizations from all levels of government converged. The purpose of the exercise was to help officials develop joint response plans for a catastrophic hurricane in Louisiana. (U.S. House of Representative, 2006, p. 81)
Many questions were raised about the emergency plan being made known to the populace before Hurricane Katrina made landfall. Many people were wise and evacuated on their own even before the order. The mandatory evacuation called on August 28 made no provisions to evacuate homeless, low-income, or carless individuals or sick, nor the city's elderly or infirm residents. Consequentially most of those stranded in the city were the poor, the elderly, and the sick. The governor of Louisiana did not properly deploy her National Guard in a timely fashion neither did Mayor Ray Nagin properly release transportation resources to aid in the evacuation of the city. The lack of communication systems compounded the issue of getting the message out to have New Orleans’ citizens to evacuate.
There were many lessons to be learned in the ensuing aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The major emergency planning failures that were uncovered by this disaster were in the areas of National Preparedness, Integrated Use of Military Capabilities, Communications, Logistics and Evacuations, Search and Rescue, Public Safety and Security, Public Health and Medical Support, Human Services, Mass Care and Housing, Public Communications, Critical Infrastructure and Impact Assessment, Environmental Hazards and Debris Removal, Foreign Assistance, Non-Governmental Aid, Training, Exercises, and Lessons Learned, Homeland Security Professional Development and Education, and Citizen and Community Preparedness. (The White House, 2006, p. 51) As for organizational and policy factors that led to planning failures, the report stated, “…federal response officials in the field eventually made the difficult decisions to bypass established procedures and provide assistance without waiting for appropriate requests from the states or for clear direction from Washington.” (U.S. House of Representative, 2006, p. 132) The effects of going against established procedures caused a lot of confusion amongst the different organizations and within the department itself. Another major breakdown in policy also affected law enforcement procedures. The process of deputizing federal officers as peace officers during this catastrophe proved to be more difficult than anticipated; the concern was federal law enforcement officers might find it necessary to make arrests outside of their federal jurisdiction. (U.S. House of Representative, 2006, p. 256) The report also stated, “Due to the lack of an across-the-board policy on how to deal with federal law enforcement during a state of emergency, some federal law enforcement entities were required to seek advice from their individual Office of the General Counsel on how to proceed.” (U.S. House of Representative, 2006, p. 256) Concerning healthcare, a major finding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was that most hospitals and VA medical centers emergency plans did not offer concrete guidance about if or when evacuations should take place.
A lesson learned from the Hurricane Katrina disaster that can be used to improve emergency planning for other disasters is fully integrating the National Guard and active duty military forces. (U.S. House of Representative, 2006, p. 218) As stated in the report,
“After Katrina made landfall, the NORTHCOM-led military support mission suffered many of the same planning failures, unclear lines of authority, communication breakdowns, and shortages of critical resources that were experienced by the civilian agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security.” (U.S. House of Representative, 2006)
Protocols on command and control, communication, training and logistics can be revised within the Department of Defense. More integrated training exercises can be used to further strengthen the coordinating process between the local, state and federal levels of government.
The communication capabilities were another lesson to be learned from this event. The storm took out numerous telephone poles leaving 911 services in the dark along with nearly 3 million customers. The lack of a communication plan ultimately led many available assets not to be utilized. (The White House, 2006, p. 55) A review of the current laws and policies should be reviewed and updated to address the possible situation of communication operability and inoperability. Planners need to incorporate the prominent communication organizations when updating the plan.
The federal government has taken actions to improve the emergency management planning aspect following the events of Hurricane Katrina. In 2006, the government came up with the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006. (U.S. House of Representatives: 109th Congress, 2006) According to the bill, it requires the Secretary, or administrator to develop comprehensive operational plans to respond to catastrophic incidents and provide clear standardization, guidance, and assistance to ensure a common terminology, approach, and framework for all strategic and operational planning and consideration of natural and man-made threats. (U.S. House of Representatives: 109th Congress, 2006) After reviewing the text, other aspects of the bill that aim to improve emergency planning include:
“(1) preparedness and deployment of health and medical resources; (2) operational plans for the expeditious location of missing children and family reunification; (3) development of a National Search and Rescue Plan; (4) plans to support mass evacuations; (5) plans for military support of civilian authorities under the NRP; (6) incorporation of the use of the Department of Defense (DOD), the National Air and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and commercial aircraft and satellite remotely sensed imagery to ensure timely situational awareness; (7) incorporation of coordination with and integration of support from the private sector and nongovernmental organizations during response efforts; (8) plans to allow salvage to proceed in a timely manner during a disaster; and (9) coordination and delineation of primary and supporting responsibilities by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies under the NRP's Public Works and Engineering Emergency Support Function Annex provisions for the safe handling and sorting of debris.” (U.S. House of Representatives: 109th Congress, 2006)
As you read, there were many problems before, during and after Hurricane Katrina. It was not any one organization’s fault for the miscues but a combined effort, or lack thereof, which resulted in many lives being lost and millions of dollars in resources not being utilized properly. With the different Senate/Congressional hearings, lessons learned were outlined to help highlight the errors and answer some of the questions of what went wrong. As new laws are passed, planners are rethinking their strategies to prevent anything like this from possibly happening again.

Works Cited
Drye, W. (2005, September 14). Hurricane Katrina: The Essential Time Line. Retrieved December 6, 2010, from National Geographic: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/09/0914_050914_katrina_timeline.html
HURRICANE KATRINA. (2007, February 12). Retrieved December 6, 2010, from National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): http://www.katrina.noaa.gov/
Perry, R. W., & Lindell, M. K. (2007). Emergency Planning. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiey & Sons, Inc.
The White House. (2006). The federal response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons learned. Retrieved December 6, 2010, from House Report 109-377: http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/reports/katrina-lessons-learned/
U.S. House of Representative. (2006). A failure of initiative: Final report of the select bipartisan committee to investigate the preparation for and response to Hurricane Katrina. 109th Cong. 2nd Sess., Washington, D.C., U.S Government Printing Office.
U.S. House of Representatives: 109th Congress. (2006, August 3). Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006. Retrieved December 11, 2010, from Library of Congress: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:SN03721:@@@D&summ2=m&

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