The Response and Recovery Effort After Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina devastated the gulf coast region of the United States. It was one of the largest and costliest natural disaster in modern history. Under the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and according to the Secretary of Homeland Security at the time, Michael Chertoff it was first real test for the newly developed National Response Plan (Wise, 2006). Specifically, the three states of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana were the main recipients of the hurricane's destructive forces. The cost of this natural disaster was very substantial in more ways than just financially for these affected areas. This natural disaster cost many individuals their homes, way of life, and in numerous cases their actual lives. The city of New Orleans saw a large portion of the city flood due to their levee system failing and increased the hurricanes affect for long after the storm was over for New Orleans. This resulted in the destruction of multiple neighborhoods that still contained numerous residents who either could not evacuate or did not want to evacuate. The gulf coast region of Mississippi was exposed to the strongest portion of Hurricane Katrina and much of what was left near the coast were the concrete slabs of home and small businesses. The storm was so powerful that much of what was on the beach front and bay front along the Mississippi cost were only the slabs the buildings were built on. However, the majority of attention was shifted toward New Orleans due to the prolonged flooding that occurred after the levee failures along with a poorly executed response effort that followed within the City of New Orleans. The population of the gulf coast was also negatively impacted and slow to recover after the mass evacuations that had taken place before and after the disaster. This can be represented by the fact that as of 2007 one study reported that less than half of the evacuated population of New Orleans had returned to the city (Vigdor, 2008).
There has been a significant amount of criticism about both the response and recovery effort after the conclusion of Hurricane Katrina. In some ways it can still be said that after over a decade following the massive storm the gulf coast communities and environments have still not fully recovered from the aftermath associated with the storm. Not to say that there were not areas of success that can be addressed, as mentioned in Birkland and Waterman's article the pre-storm evacuation and the search and rescue efforts were very successful and resulted in the saving many lives (Birkland, et al. 2008). However, there are multiple other areas of interest when considering the homeland security perspective on response and recovery efforts after a major disaster. These areas can address the economic burden that has be everyone affected by Hurricane Katrina along with ensuring a community can recovery in an effective way to reduce future risk. The purpose of this article is to evaluate what literature states about what happened and what may have possibly led to the poor response efforts along with the process and changes that have been made during the recovery effort since Hurricane Katrina.
The basis for the federal government's response guidelines prior to and during Hurricane Katrina was the Stafford Act that had been in place since 1988 (Birkland et al., 2008). The Act had remained the same before Hurricane Katrina with only a few alterations throughout its time that focused on improving its performance and focusing on practicing mitigation. Many individuals falsely believed that the Stafford Act was incorporated to give the federal government primary responsibility in the event of a disaster. However, the act actually narrowed the federal government's role in disaster response to providing assistance in four specific areas. Those four areas that the federal government assisted in was the encouragement to develop plans, coordination, encourage individuals, state, and local governments to protect themselves (Birkland et al., 2008). One specific portion of the Stafford Act, Title III, also explains that a governor of a state must initiate the request for aid when a disaster occurs in order to bring in emergency provisions. This portion of the Stafford Act limits the amount of aid the federal government can provide to local communities without a formal request from the state. Many individuals, even within the government, did not understanding the limitations set on the federal government by the Stafford Act and the Title III portion along with other factors led to a delayed influx of aid to areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
This act resulted in the primary federal emergency response agency within the United States, The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), shifting their focus toward natural disasters. Prior to the terrorist attacks on 9/11 FEMA also took steps to focus on making preparations and mitigation a priority along with working with local city governments by going around state governments by implementing project Impact. According to the article by Birkland and Waterman this was a form of opportunistic federalism that was being utilized to shift the financial costs of these program to the federal government (Birkland et al.,2008). These developments associated with becoming reliant on federal funding would prove to be detrimental after the attacks on 9/11. The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center resulted in the federal government consolidating numerous agencies into the Department of Homeland Security to centralize all agencies associated with homeland security threats, which included FEMA. With terrorism being on the forefront of motivating the creation of the DHS this meant that terrorism prevention efforts would receive increased funds, but this also meant that FEMA and other parties associated with natural disaster preparedness would be placed on the back burner and receive less funding. With the magnitude of destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina it was impossible for local or state under-funded emergency management resources to have the ability to respond effectively.
The inclusion of FEMA within the DHS also led to other areas of concern within our response capabilities to natural disasters. Sylves discusses within his article that many experienced staff and leadership within FEMA were either placed in positions that were not suited for properly performing their duties or left the agency all together (Sylves, 2006). After this occurred several federal emergency managers were appointed who lacked emergency management skills before obtaining their positions. The numerous leaders that were inexperienced within the operations of emergency management for FEMA delayed the ability to respond effectively. The amount of added bureaucracy within the DHS and the red tape that had to be navigated in order to communicate properly only magnified these problems with the leadership. Even if good and effective response programs would have been put into place it still would have resulted in some of the dissatisfaction from media and civilians due to the length of time it took for those response efforts to occur. Many of the programs and response efforts included emergency shelters with access to food, 1,500 health professionals were deployed along with 50 tons of medical supplies, and numerous other programs that were overshadowed by poor implimentation. With the combined factors of the limitations associated with the Stafford Act, placing an emphasis on pre-natural disaster planning, and then the reduction of federal funding for agencies responsible for natural disasters the perfect situation was created for an event of this nature to occur.
Due to the path of destruction from the storm and the prolonged effect of severe flooding in the City of New Orleans the recovery effort for Hurricane Katrina has remained the most expensive natural disaster in the history of the United States, and in many ways the recovery effort may still be taking place to this day. The immediate start of the recovery process takes place with those that are left within the community to pick up the pieces and start to bring back a sense of normalcy to the affected communities. Some of the areas on the Gulf Coast affected by Hurricane Katrina were able to start this process after the debris was cleared but other areas had to watch and wait from outside of their communities.
When discussing the recovery process Vigdor addresses the issue that historically the majority of cities, with one exception within his article, impacted by either man made or natural disasters returned to their pre-disaster population trends (Vigdor, 2008). The return of residents to an area affected by a disaster is an important step when addressing the recovery process. This increase in population can reveal that other areas associated with the recovery process are taking hold within the affected communities. However, the data within Vigdor's study reveals that as of 2008 this was not the case for the city of New Orleans and the surrounding county. This is explained within the article by stating that the cities that regained their population were on a population rise before the disaster, whereas New Orleans and surrounding areas were on a slow decrease for several decades (Vigdor, 2008). Much of the housing market was destroyed within the city of New Orleans. Over half of the 215,000 housing units were destroyed within the city with one-third remaining vacant and two-thirds of the housing units being deemed uninhabitable (Vidgor, 2008). This reduction in housing availability was present across the Gulf Coast but nowhere as severe as New Orleans. With limited availability for housing the slow return of the initial population is a long process. With the limited housing options remaining the demand for housing resulted in the increase in property value. This meant that many individuals without the financial means to afford the increased prices were not able to return to their communities. The job market within the area has also seen change, even though it has done well in some industries and has decreased in others. These areas are somewhat predictable when considering the disaster that occurred, it is no surprise to see an increase in construction fields along with a decrease in tourism and entertainment industries. The federal government under President George W. Bush established numerous initiatives in order to aid the recovery process for those affected by Hurricane Katrina. Some of these initiatives were to assist with businesses being eligible for benefits, programs to find jobs and train evacuee workers, and a program to assist lower income evacuees with getting a home (Sylves, 2006). These programs are crucial to the local and state economies when a community is undertaking a large recovery operation after a disaster.
Along with strengthening the economy of a community, for the recovery process it is also important to ensure the safety measures that were in place before are replaced, strengthened, and improved upon while other areas of the community also recovering. For the Gulf Coast the most important effort in this area was to repair and update the levee systems surrounding the city of New Orleans. To ensure that the rest of the New Orleans community could have an effective recovery process this was one of the first steps that had to be taken in the recovery process to initiate the remainder of the recovery process.
Policy Changes and Potential Improvements
There have been numerous developments since the conclusion of Hurricane Katrina with improving our ability to respond to natural disasters. According to Wormuth's article it may not be the case that we are prepared for these events even with changes being made. With FEMA developing 200 prescribed mission assignments across 27 agencies and other agencies making drastic changes to improve response capabilities, Wormuth points out that there is still rampant confusion on multiple levels (Wormuth, 2009). One example of this is that the Post-Katrina Reform Act of 2006 states that the FEMA ambassador is the main advisor for the President and other government figures, but the National Response Framework (NRF) has a chapter that names the secretary of homeland security as the main federal official for domestic incident management (Wormuth, 2009). These similar roles are a change that has occurred that may cause overlapping roles when a disaster strikes and can result in a confusion within the chain of command. The development of solid catastrophe plans and being able to coordinate proper training for those plans is another area of concern when discussing the confusion that has resulted with this policy change.
FEMA as an independent agency has gone through numerous changes since its inception. During the mid 90's the agency was drastically changed in order to improve their capabilities for natural disasters and made a remarkable turnaround as an agency (Roberts, 2006). This form of overhaul is not necessarily a feasible option for FEMA to accomplish again with the development of the DHS. Roberts suggests numerous methods within his article to reform FEMA and improve FEMA's emergency management capabilities. Two of these suggestions, stick to emergency management and revive all hazards, would accomplish the task of narrowing the focus of this agency along with and decreasing their excessive workload. Sticking to emergency management would allow FEMA to eliminate the responsibility of intelligence gathering and law enforcement and allow other agencies with the best tools and training to perform those tasks. Reviving the all hazards approach after eliminating other responsibilities for FEMA would allow for improved capabilities to prepare and respond to many more kinds of disasters.
Kunreuther addresses policy changes within his article concerning home construction and insurance requirements during the recovery and how the process can lead to a community becoming more resilient when the next response and recovery effort is needed after a large-scale disaster occurs (Kunreuther, 2006). Drafting and implementing improved construction codes for homes and business can reduce the amount of lose and a reduction in the time it takes a community to recover from a disaster. Changing insurance requirements for communities and business can also assist with the recovery process. By providing a required avenue to lessen the financial blow of returning to the community allowing the population and business to hasten their return to normalcy.
Conclusion and Future Research
There are multiple areas of future research that should be considered when discussing the topic of the response and recovery efforts for Hurricane Katrina. The main area of focus that has potential to provide the most information would be to evaluate the recovery effort in its current state thirteen years after the event. Evaluating the condition of the populations return to the Gulf Coast and those who were evacuated before and after the storm can provide beneficial information to extended recovery efforts. The increase in property value should also be evaluated within the City of New Orleans to provide information on if prices have returned to a pre-Katrina state or have remained at the increased rate. The studies associated with these two previously mentioned areas are the most likely to have new data to offer when considering the objectives of their studies to study housing rate increases and population return. A continued effort should also be made to do research into testing and improving our capabilities to handle large scale natural disasters. McGuire and Schneck provide a discuss within their article that addresses the question of would the United States be prepared for a Katrina if it was the year 2020 by arguing that emergency management is an ongoing process that requires constant adaptation (McGuire et al., 2010). Therefore, the need to constantly adapt and improve our capabilities is always a necessary component of emergency management that can be added with continued research within these areas.
The overwhelming consensus among literature on the response effort after Hurricane Katrina was a failure along with literature revealing that the recovery effort for this catastrophic event would be a long and difficult process. There have been numerous policy changes put in to place in order to avoid this magnitude of failure again from the federal, state, and local governments. The changes that were put into place have yet to reveal a weakness the size of proportions we saw in the response and recovery efforts on the Gulf Coast. Even though there have been large scale natural disasters that have occurred within the United States since the day Hurricane Katrina made landfall, it seems as though no event has challenged our capabilities on the enormous scale that our emergency management systems experienced during that period of time. Ultimately the are a multitude of factors that led to this disaster being the perfect storm that it was capable of being, but with the right effort and thoughtful consideration put towards response and recovery efforts these types of natural disasters can be effectively handled after they occur.
Birkland, T., & Waterman, S. (2008). Is Federalism the Reason for Policy Failure in Hurricane Katrina? Publius: The Journal of Federalism, 38 (4), 692-714. doi:10.1093/publius/pjn020
Kunreuther, H. (2006). Has the Time Come for Comprehensive Natural Disaster Insurance? On Risk and Disaster. doi:10.9783/9780812205473.175
Mcguire, M., & Schneck, D. (2010). What if Hurricane Katrina Hit in 2020? The Need for Strategic Management of Disasters. Public Administration Review, 70. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6210.2010.02273.x
Roberts, P. S. (2006). FEMA After Katrina. Policy Review, (137).
Sylves, R. T. (2006). President Bush and Hurricane Katrina: A Presidential Leadership Study. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 604 (1), 26-56. doi:10.1177/0002716205286066
Vigdor, J. (2008). The Economic Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 22 (4), 135-154. doi:10.1257/jep.22.4.135
Wise, C. R. (2006). Organizing for Homeland Security after Katrina: Is Adaptive Management Whats Missing? Public Administration Review, 66 (3), 302-318. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6210.2006.00587.x
Wormuth, C. (2009). The Next Catastrophe: Ready or Not? The Washington Quarterly, 32 (1), 93-106. doi:10.1080/01636600802535507