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Causes for Failed Implementation of the EmergencyResearch Paper

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¶ … causes for failed implementation of the emergency response plan for Hurricane Katrina

The DHS, Department of Homeland Security, was entrusted with the responsibility of dealing with calamities- natural as well as man-made (like terrorist activities). It had a dedicated arm, the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) under its wings to specifically provide rescue and preventative acts during nature inflicted catastrophes like hurricane Katrina and provide relief and succor to those affected. However, lack of planning, foresight, coordination, and prioritization saw it failing on almost all counts during the devastation caused by Katrina. There was failure to assess the impending impact of the hurricane, with its focus (action as well as financial) diverted owing to the sensational 9/11 terrorist attack. It lagged behind media reports in collecting and acting on facts. This work attempts to uncover some of the possible immediate causes that led to the massive failure of the governmental organizations in discharging its prime duties promptly and in timely fashion.

Introduction

The season of Atlantic hurricanes in the year 2005 went down in history with record hurricane activity since 1851 when hurricane counting began. Twenty-seven named storms, with continued winds having a minimum velocity of 39 miles/hour, occurred in 2005, breaking the earlier record of twenty one storms in one season, in 1933. The 2005 season entered record books, through its 14 hurricanes (having wind velocity > 74 miles/hour) and record number of hurricanes that reached Category 5 strengths, i.e. Katrina, Wilma and Rita (Cutter & Gall, 2006).

Hurricane Katrina began in South-eastern Bahamas, in the form of a tropical depression on the 23rd of August, 2005. The hurricane had reached Category 1 strength before it hit land, near Hollywood in South Florida. Favorable climate, an upper anticyclone in the Gulf of Mexico, and warm temperatures on the sea surface, facilitated the development of Hurricane Katrina into a serious Category 5 hurricane on the 26th of August. Upon reaching land on the 29th of August, at the border of Mississippi and Louisiana, it had weakened to a Category 3 storm (sustained winds having velocity of approximately 125 miles/hour and 920 millibar central pressure (Cutter & Gall, 2006).

A storm surge (height >30 feet) accompanied the hurricane's devastating winds, laying waste to entire localities along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and destroying urban zones like Gulfport and Biloxi. This huge storm surge tore down one block after the other in Pass Christian, Waveland, and Bay St. Louis. This surge, leaving nothing but pilings or concrete slabs in its wake, extended ten miles inland (U.S. House of Representatives 2006; Cutter & Gall, 2006).

The Failings of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

FEMA, on the 1st of March, 2003, was made a division, governed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The mission of FEMA is supporting first responders and citizens in ensuring that they join forces, as one nation, in building, sustaining and improving their hazard preparedness, protection, response, recovery and mitigation abilities (FEMA 2010). With over 3,700 full-time staff members, and roughly 4000 extra disaster assistants in reserve whose services are readily available post-disaster, FEMA aims to maximize its efforts in establishing safety for the nation's citizens (FEMA 2010). What was it then that made FEMA fail egregiously in tackling Hurricane Katrina? (Herron & Smith, 2011)

Lack of Preparation

Crucial to all organizations that offer disaster relief and support services is preparation. How then can it be possible that the greatest emergency response agency worldwide failed to prepare adequately for the catastrophe that was Hurricane Katrina? Michael Chertoff, DHS Secretary and other administrative officers simply justified their lack of preparedness and poor response in the disaster's initial phase as a consequence of not expecting such a severe hurricane and a levee failure. Incredibly, FEMA officials took almost 3 days after the hurricane hit land to understand the extent to which the hurricane caused devastation (Ahlers, 2006). It has been asserted by many that this lack of preparedness arises from FEMA's placement under DHS. FEMA rejected any support and resources from other communities and states (Meet the Press 2005; Herron & Smith, 2011).

Federal government also failed to show any response to initial warnings. It lacked urgency, and treated Katrina like a regular storm. Senior staff of the White House in Washington had not come together again when the catastrophe appeared on the horizon, and seemed to be ignorant of on the magnitude of possible devastation. Even after striking land, inaction characterized disaster response. DHS officials treated reports of levee breaches on the first landfall day with skepticism. New Orleans Coast Guards were not contacted for verifying the magnitude of flooding. Only until the next day did White House and DHS officers, and everybody else, come to know the extent to which destruction had occurred. Federal officials' awareness and response appeared to fall behind media reports. For instance, neither Michael Chertoff (DHS Secretary) nor Michael Brown (FEMA Administrator) knew that numerous victims were being sheltered by a convention facility, until informed by media reporters (Moynihan, 2006).

Absence of adequate communication between governments at the federal, state and local levels contributed to miscommunication, while unpreparedness and lack of coordination contributed to the overall errors made by FEMA (Ahlers 2006). All in all, lack of disaster preparedness and response testifies to the fact that federal and state agencies proved to be analog units in this digital era (Herron & Smith, 2011).

Inexperience/Lack of Leadership

Director of FEMA, Michael Brown, who was nominated in 2003 by the then-President George Bush, had no prior experience with managing emergencies. Though his curriculum vitae stated that he worked as an assistant to Edmond's city manager, and oversaw the division of emergency services from 1977 to 1980, he was, in fact, an intern at college. It is, however, true that Brown worked 9 years in the International Arabian Horse Association, before resigning. Prior to Katrina, FEMA revealed the absence of adequately qualified procurement professionals- Katrina exposed this weakness to the entire world (A Failure of Initiative, 2005). Questions were raised with regards to how an individual without any prior experience, or background in that field, or any relevant qualifications could be chosen as director of such a significant national relief agency. With the top deputy at FEMA, Patrick Rhode, also being equally inexperienced, people began wondering whether this was another case of politics at play. Rhode was a part of Bush's presidential campaign of 2000, and did advanced operations at the White House, before becoming FEMA's staff chief. Lastly, another senior official of FEMA, Daniel Craig, was once a campaign advisor and political fundraiser, who joined the Agency in 2001; prior to joining FEMA, Craig worked as lobbyist for National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and as director of the eastern region division at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (Herron & Smith, 2011).

Because of absence of a specific directing authority, responders took to 'freelancing' without attempting to coordinate their activities with relevant authorities. For instance, in searching and rescue operations, the Coast Guard's heroic efforts have been aptly applauded. However, this quick response by Coast Guard officials was also accompanied by scant efforts for coordination with FEMA, National Guard, state authorities or Department of Defense, all of whom were involved in search operations as well. Consequently, duplication of efforts ensued in some localities, while others were neglected. Lack of tracking by Coast Guard in relation to those who were rescued and where these people were sent resulted in several individuals being left stranded without any shelter, food or water (Moynihan, 2006).

As government gives out its output free-of-cost, no prices exist to guide profit-loss signals or resource distribution decisions using which government's actions can be evaluated. Economics deals with allocating limited goods among several competing users, in addition to the institutions wherein such allocations occur. And, at its foundation, the tragic tales of disaster victims' unmet desires and hopes are, in fact, stories that inform us of the allocation failure, which prevented disaster aid from reaching people who were most in need of it. FEMA's failure depicts the tragedy of an economic organization gone awry, in the most basic of forms. What is more appalling is that many unutilized relief providers were present, awaiting a response or permission from FEMA to act, along with numerous eager citizens, genuinely in need, waiting to receive these supplies but simply not acquiring them (Sobel & Leeson, 2006).

Focus Elsewhere and Official Deviance

DHS was formed for safeguarding America from terrorists' attacks. When it took FEMA under its wing, FEMA was downgraded, with its focus shifting from natural accidents and catastrophes to preparedness and response to terrorist attacks. This change took place a year and a half after the 9/11 attacks, under a more comprehensive initiative against terror. Furthermore, DHS was made in charge of the nation's federal immigration courts and policies, and a dramatic change took place in air travel. Nevertheless, the above transformations are no excuse for FEMA's and DHS's incompetence and inexperience while dealing with Katrina… [END OF PREVIEW]

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