Hurricane Katrina and the US Emergency Management

Hurricane Katrina was a storm that struck the Gulf Coast of the United States in 2005, and that caused massive damages that affected the social and economic lifestyles of the affected areas extensively. Government statistics indicate that the Hurricane caused more than 1,836 deaths, displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, and massive destruction of property estimated at $108 billion (Levitt & Whitaker, 2009).

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On August 23, 2005, a tropical wave originating in the Bahamas interacted with a tropical cyclone that emerged from the west coast of Africa. On August 24, the cyclone intensified and morphed into Tropical Storm Katrina that began traveling toward Florida (Huder, 2012). The cyclone intensified, and on August 25, it made landfall at Hallandale Beach and Aventura.

By this time, it has intensified into a hurricane (Levitt & Whitaker, 2009). On August 26, it emerged into the Gulf of Mexico, where it intensified to a Category 5 hurricane. On August 29, it made a second landfall in Southeast Louisiana. The storm hit many parts of the Gulf coast, extending from Florida to Texas. Towns located in coastal areas such as Mississippi experienced severe property damage.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is responsible for creating and maintaining an emergency plan. Organizations that have similar responsibilities include fire departments, mobile rescue squads, ambulance services, police departments, telephone companies, hospitals, and utility companies.

Preparedness Activities for Hurricane Katrina

Prior to Hurricane Katrina Arrival

Prior to the arrival of Hurricane Katrina, meteorologists had warned people in the Gulf Coast states that a major storm was on its way and it would cause severe damage. The National Weather Service projected that the areas that would be hit by the storm would be uninhabitable for long periods (Levitt & Whitaker, 2009).

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was the government agency responsible for an emergency response to a hurricane striking New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. The agency was created in 1978 to coordinate the response to disasters that occurred within the US, and that could not be contained by local and state authorities (Ouellette, 2010). Another agency responsible was the Louisiana Office of Emergency Preparedness.

Emergency Plans that Were in Place

Prior to the Hurricane, several emergency plans had been put in place. First, the United States Coast Guard deployed resources in areas that the meteorological department had predicted would be hit by the storm (Huder, 2012). For instance, they activated more than 400 reservists and staged aircraft rescue teams in Florida.

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Second, FEMA conducted a five-day exercise to prepare people in the event that a hurricane would strike (Ouellette, 2010). Third, President Bush declared a state of emergency in Louisiana as a precautionary measure. As a result, mandatory evacuations were issued. The Canadian National Railway (CN) and Amtrak suspended their services in areas that were projected to be affected, and the Waterford nuclear power plant was shut down (Ouellette, 2010).

The city of New Orleans established a refugee center at the Louisiana Superdome for residents who had nowhere to go and supplied food and water. In addition, the Louisiana National Guard supplied water and water that could last or three days.

Training and Exercises Conducted

Training conducted to prepare or a hurricane prior to Katrina included search and rescue, damage assessment, communication between rescue teams, and evacuation. Prior to the storm, FEMA conducted evacuation and rescue exercises aimed at preparing rescue teams for the storm.

The 5-day exercise ran from July 19-23. FEMA prepared its teams for a mock storm nicknamed “Pam.” The agency estimated that the mock storm would destroy over half a million buildings and necessitates the evacuation of one million residents.

The rescue exercise was conducted by Innovative Emergency Management (IEM) and involved the participation of more than 40 agencies that deal with disaster response.

Two hundred fifty emergency officials from federal and state agencies attended the exercise. Additional training offered included temporary housing, sheltering, debris management, restoration of infrastructure, and provision of medical care (“The Federal response to Hurricane Katrina,” 2006).

People’s Knowledge of the Emergency Plan

The populace was aware of the emergency plan because a few days prior to the storm, the President had declared a state of emergency and called for emergency evacuations. People knew that they were supposed to leave the cities and seek refuge in other states that were not mentioned as targets. The Superdome sports complex was also declared a designated rescue center for people who had nowhere to go.

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Emergency Planning Lessons Learned from Katrina

Emergency Planning Failures

Hurricane Katrina uncovered several emergency planning failures. First, emergency evacuations were not ordered enough to give the residents enough time to leave and seek refuge in safe places (“A failure of initiative, “2006).

The National Weather Service issued warnings of a storm here days before the storm caused the first landfall. However, the Mayor of New Orleans ordered mandatory evacuations 24 hours prior to Katrina’s arrival (“The Federal response to Hurricane Katrina,” 2006).

Therefore, the residents did not have adequate time to evacuate because many homesteads did not have a car or any other means of transport (“The Federal response to Hurricane Katrina,” 2006). Many of them depended on the means of transportation provided by their state and federal governments. Second, there was inadequate training given to responders prior to the storm (“A failure of initiative, “2006).

Even though the Hurricane Pam exercise was useful in the rescue operations, the plan was not a full operational guide, especially with regard to issues such as evacuation (Ouellette, 2010). FEMA’s 5-day exercise did not address the issue of evacuation sufficiently.

Therefore, the responders were not well-prepared, and their efforts were characterized by poor coordination. Third, the disaster response plan was inadequate. New Orleans had laid an emergency plan for a Category 3 hurricane (“A failure of initiative, “2006). The plan was rendered ineffective when the Hurricane strengthened to category 5.

Organizational and Policy Factors that Led to Planning Failures

The main organizational and policy factor that led to the planning failures of Hurricane Katrina was the authority and role of FEMA in disaster response. FEMA only intervenes during disaster response when local and state authorities have been overwhelmed. The emergency plan created prior to Katrina anticipated a category three storm with winds traveling at 209 kilometers per hour (Ouellette, 2010).

Therefore, local and state resources would be adequate in responding to the storm. However, the plan was rendered ineffective when the storm intensified to Category 5. FEMA responded after the Hurricane morphed into a Category 5 storm. If FEMA had the mandate to respond to disaster regardless of its magnitude, then the Hurricane could not have caused much destruction.

Lessons Learned from the Disaster

It is important to take into consideration warnings that point toward potential disasters. People and local authorities were warned that a dangerous storm was on its way.

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In addition, it is important for the state and federal governments to work together and create emergency plans that allow responders to utilize the resources of state and federal governments. The Federal government should revise existing emergency plans and ensure that local, state, and national agencies are sufficiently prepared to respond to disasters (Caravantes, 2014).

Steps Taken to Improve Emergency Planning

The government has taken several steps to improve emergency planning. It gave FEMA the authority to oversee the activities of the emergency management team in response and recovery efforts, including government agencies and private organizations (Caravantes, 2014).

Congress gave FEMA more power that has improved its efficiency and effectiveness with regard to disaster response. The implementation of the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act (PKEMRA) of 2006 improved emergency planning tremendously.

For instance, the Act clearly stipulates the responsibilities, priorities, and the mission of FEMA, and gives the agency legislative authorities that facilitate collaboration with state, local, and territorial governments (Ouellette, 2010). The government also developed a National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF) that guides all recovery and rescue efforts during and after disasters and emergencies.

The government also established Incident Management Assistance Teams that are deployed to disaster scenes within two hours and determine the type of federal support needed in various situations (Caravantes, 2014). The government also improved partnerships with the private sector and established the Regional Emergency Communications Coordination Working Groups.

Conclusion

Hurricane Katrina was a deadly storm that killed thousands of people, displaced hundreds of thousands of residents, and destroyed property worth billions of dollars. The federal government has been blamed for the failure to respond rapidly when the storm hit the Gulf Coast and New Orleans. Poor emergency planning led to the massive destruction of property, several deaths, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of residents.

Even though the training was conducted prior to the Hurricane, it was inadequate because the storm was stronger than expected and caused more damage. The government enacted the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act (PKEMRA) to ensure that future disasters do not cause the type of damage caused by Katrina.

References

Caravantes, P. (2014). Hurricane Katrina. Minneapolis, MN: ABDO

A failure of initiative: The final report of the select bipartisan committee to investigate the preparation for and response to hurricane Katrina. (2006).

The Federal response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons learned. (2006).

Huder, R. C. (2012). Disaster operations and decision making (5th ed.). New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

Levitt, J. I., & Whitaker, M. C. (2009). Hurricane Katrina: America’s unnatural disaster. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Ouellette, J. (2010). Hurricane Katrina. Minneapolis, MN: ABDO.

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