Emergency Management: Hurricane Katrina Case Study

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146). Likewise, Sylves (2008) emphasizes that, "In the wake of the poor government response to the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster, many questions have been asked about why the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), along with a host of other federal, state, and local emergency management agencies, performed so ineffectively" (p. 68).

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While it is frequently easier to identify what went wrong than what went right, it is less easy to assign blame or accountability for these failures to any single individual or individuals, despite the efforts to do so by many Americans. Rather, there was plenty of blame to go around at every level of state and federal government, as well as the private sector that chose to rely on an aging infrastructure despite the clear need for electricity for post-disaster relief operations and human survival. In this regard, Henderson (2009) reports that, "Hurricane Katrina taught federal, state, and local public managers extensive lessons about the criticality of electricity reliability in a disaster" (p. 55). The White House also conceded a lack of prior planning for disasters of this scale. For example, the White House report, "The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned," also emphasized the criticality of electricity in post-disaster settings. According to Henderson, the report agreed that, "Hurricane Katrina had a significant impact on many sectors of the region's 'critical infrastructure,' especially the energy sector" (quoted in Henderson at p. 55).

Case Study on Emergency Management: Hurricane Katrina and Assignment

Everyone can readily testify to the enormity of the loss of electricity when outages occur, and humans today depend on electricity for everything. The sometimes long-lasting destruction of the electrical grid throughout the Gulf Coast Hurricane Katrina made the need for planning for disasters beyond the scope of what is typically encountered all the more important. Indeed, Henderson emphasizes that, "The importance of the electrical grid became abundantly apparent when 2.5 million customers who suffered power outages across a 90,000 square mile area in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama" (p. 55). In a world driven by electricity, then, there is also a need to identify ways to deliver emergency electrical power to first responders and emergency management teams for post-disaster recovery efforts. In fact, the need for alternative sources of electricity represents an important lesson learned for state and federal agencies tasked with emergency planning operations. In this regard, Henderson emphasizes that, "Homes, businesses, and federal, state, and local agencies had intermittent or no electricity. There was no light at night; no air conditioning; no refrigeration of food, essential medical supplies, and equipment; and no computers, radios, televisions, or other communication devices powered by electricity" (p. 56). The damage caused by Hurricane Katrina to the electrical grid challenged energy companies despite their best efforts, and it required a month or more to restore power to many affected communities. In this regard, Henderson reports that, "By October 2005, an estimated 2.2 million people had registered for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) aid, and 416,852 people were still without power in Louisiana, Texas, and parts of Mississippi" (p. 56). People without power naturally want to have it restored, and when it is not, they are forced to leave and many may not ever return. The effects of Katrina in this regard were not only pronounced, it is reasonable to suggest that they could have been foreseen with some degree of accuracy considering the regularity of destruction that occurs along the coast. In this regard, Henderson points out that, "The irony was that energy-producing states were without energy or power for nearly six weeks" (2009, p. 56).

Besides electricity, there is also a glaring need for the provision of the basic needs of humans. For instance, an after-action report conducted by Frank (2006) found that, "We quickly learned that in addition to the food and water quality concerns that resulted from hurricane damage, there were also health and sanitation issues at shelters for victims and responders that were not being adequately addressed" (p. 29). The potential for the spread of diseases in post-disaster situations is well documented, so it should have been apparent that many of the victims and emergency responders to Hurricane Katrina were exposed to unsanitary and even toxic environments as a result. Overflowing toilets in these situations should not surprise anyone, but they should be noted on the list of lessons learned from Katrina. In this regard, Frank notes that, "Inspection of mass shelter facilities quickly became a critical environmental health function. The high volunteer turnover rate in mass shelters and the overflowing volume of victims created big problems for New Orleans and rural Louisiana" (p. 29).

Despite official warnings to evacuate before Hurricane Katrina, it was clear that there was inequity in who was and who was not able to evacuate-poor people without transportation or money along with disabled and elderly individuals who did not have the ability to leave followed advice to go to the Superdome or Convention Center. And there was ineffectiveness and inefficiency in getting them food, water, and transportation to other shelters after the hurricane passed. No doubt, their outcries of dissatisfaction were the result of lack of equity, effectiveness, and efficiency of emergency aid, particularly in one of the world's wealthiest nations (Patsdaughter, 2005).

Interviews with twenty-three federal executives from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and five other large federal organizations involved in the Katrina response reveal four key lessons for public managers. These lessons illuminate both the challenge and opportunity inherent to collaborative governance in the context of managing a large-scale emergency response effort (Getha-Taylor, 2007).


Post-Katrina Lessons Learned from Interviews with Federal Responders



Lesson One: Public Managers Must Lead by Example

Public managers must emphasize the importance of collaboration within their organizations before an emergency. To be effective, this emphasis must be apparent through both word and action

Lesson Two: Public Managers Should Focus on Relationships First.

There is a need to "cultivate government managers who are boundary spanners, managers who reach out to find colleagues in other agencies with whom they can solve problems. The need to build strong relationships before the crisis is a highly timely and salient lesson learned from Hurricane Katrina.

Lesson Three: Public Managers Should Recognize Collaborative Success

Some of the responses to Hurricane Katrina were definite "success stories" that were never highlighted. For instance, three nuclear power plants that potentially could have been affected by Hurricane Katrina were shut down to prior to landfall to ensure citizen safety in the surrounding areas.

Lesson Four: Public Managers Need Collaborative Management Training.

The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina cited the importance of preparedness, particularly the need for government entities to work in partnership with each other and the private sector.

Source: Adapted from Getha-Taylor, p. 8.

For the final lesson learned cited above, Bitto (2007) recommends that the following eligible trainees and other recommended participants should receive all-hazards preparedness training sessions for emergency management planning purposes for the following:

1. Environmental health professionals/environmental health scientists;

2. Epidemiologists and communicable-disease investigators/"epi" staff;

3. Public health administrators, including both the leadership and middle management;

4. Members of local boards of health and local medical reserve corps teams;

5. Laboratory scientists and laboratory support staff;

6. Clerical staff and receptionists, drivers, couriers;

7. Computer/data entry staff, public health engineers, and legal/financial personnel;

8. Community health educators and media specialists;

9. Nurses, physicians, and mental health and other Public health clinical/hospital personnel;

10. Emergency management agencies and first responders, including regional-task-force personnel, other interdisciplinary preparedness personnel, and public-safety and law enforcement personnel;

11. Emergency medical services personnel and coroners/medical examiners; and,

12. Finally, it is helpful and even essential to develop community awareness to facilitate the recruitment of volunteers. For instance, community volunteers identified by public health departments can help facilitate mobilization of emergency relief efforts during and post-disaster and other emergency situations. These enrollees could include, for example, local religious leaders or representatives of faith-based organizations, service organizations, elementary and high school teachers/staff/administrators, regional colleges and businesses, other segments of the private sector, and members of the general public (who could start their training by preparing a family disaster recovery plan, building a disaster kit, and getting disaster survival training) (Bitto, 2007, p. 29)

Finally, Bitto (2007) emphasizes the need for interagency collaboration and a coordinated response from community-based resources to facilitate post-disaster relief efforts. According to Bitto, "A collaborative interagency and multidisciplinary community response can enhance post-event outcomes, aid in the implementation of a well-coordinated and targeted response plan, and reduce wasteful duplication while supporting redundancy of backup, recovery, control, and mitigation efforts" (2007, p. 31).


Hundreds of millions of people all over the world watched the events that followed the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina in late August 2005 with horror and despair. The vivid images of thousands of women and children, as well as disabled and elderly citizens trapped without food or water in the New Orleans Astrodome raised countless questions about how something so bad could happen in a country so good. Although hurricanes are not… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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