Hurricane Katrina caused immense devastation to the people of Orleans and the entire Gulf Coast. The catastrophe occurred at a time when the US government was emphasizing the need for disaster preparedness. However, it is crucial to point out the disaster did not occur because Orleans’ emergency response systems had failed or were ineffective. Research on disaster risk management confirms how disasters always strike amid the development of a well-organized apparatus for catastrophe and emergency management (Coppola, 2007).
Therefore, calamity management systems could not have prevented Hurricane Katrina from striking the Gulf Coast. Besides destroying communication networks, the hurricane rendered Gulf Coast roads impassable. The New Orleans Fire Department (NOFD) reveals how Orleans was exposed to the risk of being contaminated with hazardous materials (NOFD, 2006). It was also at risk of experiencing fire breakouts and cases of overturned tank cars.
The entire city of Orleans also went without a power supply that was accompanied by various incidents of gas leakages in areas where gas supply lines had not drained. This situation, which caused several fire outbreaks across the city of Orleans, prompted the need for fire management and response services of NOFD to intervene and restore safety in the city. This paper discusses the effects, response, recovery, and lessons that people learned from Hurricane Katrina disaster with a particular focus on New Orleans Fire Department.
Government and private parties have a responsibility of ensuring response and rapid recovery from the effects of disasters. However, managing disasters gives rise to challenges that are formidable to any government’s emergency and disaster risk management apparatus.
Disasters offset governments and privately established organizations’ ability to respond to emergencies within their jurisdictions (Wormuth, 2009). Therefore, the affected governments have to source aid of other nations. Hence, the internal emergency and disaster management equipment has resources that are only adequate for the development of emergency and disaster preparedness strategies, but not for relief, rescue, and recuperation.
Following the occurrence of Hurricane Katrina, the NOFD service people acted to save the lives of the affected people in an environment that lacked proper communication networks because of the rising water levels. The NOFD lost vital equipment, including fire stations, communications equipment, and vehicles among other facilities that are normally required for an ardent response. However, with the aid of fire experts from Louisiana, Illinois, New York, and other places, Hurricane Katrina was properly handled.
When Hurricane Katrina occurred, people who were working for the NOFD were not evacuated from the Gulf Coast. The goal was to ensure their engagement in rescue missions after the hurricane struck. This observation was a central risk to their lives. Using personal boats, the personnel managed to rescue more than 17,000 people when the tornado finally struck. In its strategic plan to deal with Hurricane Katrina in Orleans, the NOFD identified practical intentions of the organization during and after the occurrence of the cyclone.
Before the occurrence of the typhoon in 2005, the goal of NOFD was to guarantee the mass departure of people from disastrous areas. Therefore, NOFD had already established risk preparedness strategies before the occurrence of Hurricane Katrina. When the hurricane occurred, there was the need to rescue the affected people and/or establish possible fireproof buildings to safeguard property and the lives of people.
The organization sought to achieve these goals through its workforce and the intervention of various response tools (Orleans Fire Department, 2006). The evacuation was successful since its implementation took place before the hurricane struck. However, when the hurricane occurred, it influenced the recovery and rescue plans.
The hurricane destroyed NOFD facilities and paraphernalia. This situation hindered the realization of the goal of rapid response. Consequently, deaths were witnessed. For instance, the department of health in Louisiana reported close to 1500 fatalities (Orleans Fire Department, 2006). Having caused destruction, the American government and the Orleans administration had the responsibility of putting in place rescue services to reduce the extent of suffering.
During the process of rebuilding the destroyed areas, the NOFD realized that it needed a strategic plan for recovery plans. In the process of making an effective strategic plan, an organization has to engage in preparedness missions as the first stage of the planning process. During this step, the NOFD sought the help of the US fire administration and the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) to help in the establishment of a recuperation plan from the events of the Hurricane Katrina.
To this extent, New Orleans Fire Department (2006) reckons that fire services from across the country came in handy to aid the Orleans fire division to develop a strategic arrangement of recovery from the effects of the tornado. Through the premeditated plan, the NOFD believed that a clear proposal for responding to disasters would aid the organization to achieve its aim of protecting and rescuing people and property. The NOFD recognized the need for preventing the occurrence of disasters.
The goal of its current strategic plan for emergency risk management entails ensuring speedy rejoinder to fire breakouts. It also addresses the potential fire risks to save property and life in an attempt to prevent the recurrence of the events that were witnessed during the Hurricane Katrina.
The accomplishment of this noble purpose forms the fundamental basis of all NOFD activities, currently and in the future. In the identification of the disaster management strategic plan, NOFD focuses on developing preparedness and recovery strategies. This move concurs with literature on the natural risk management. Apart from improving precautionary risk strategies, organizations and nations need to have the preparedness and recovery strategies in place (Coppola, 2007).
The NOFD was well prepared to handle any eventualities of an oncoming hurricane. However, its tools were destroyed. Others were carried away by the floods. Any organization that deals with disaster response encounters challenges, especially when it comes to preventing the associated risks, regardless of its levels of expertise. However, the destruction of NOFD’s equipment resulted in key problems to the recovery process.
While determining the degree of preparedness to handle a given problem, it is significant to establish the effectiveness of the organization of a government in handling a likely disaster. Responding to the risk of disasters effectively involves the evaluation of rescue, relief, and recovery strategies that are adopted by a nation or an organization after the occurrence of a disaster. Hence, attempting to rate the effectiveness of responding to the risk of disasters in the pre-Hurricane Katrina disaster period was problematic.
The occurrence of Hurricane Katrina offered great lessons to people, not only in the US but also around the world. The White House report that was issued in 2006 identified various lessons that people could learn following the occurrence of Hurricane Katrina. No matter the degree of preparedness to address any emerging disaster, the United States needs to work extra hard to improve its watchfulness tactics (The White House, 2006).
The United States identified the protection of its citizenry as one of the essential responsibilities of the government. Indeed, the current military and civilian-owned organizations work collectively towards the achievement of this noble objective.
However, the exposure to both human-caused and natural risks underlines the importance of developing a better disaster vigilance capacity. Indeed, President Bush’s address to the public at Jackson Square in New Orleans also carried this lesson. The president revealed how the US needs to make appropriate changes to enhance its capacity to respond to threats that are posed by nature and/or people’s acts.
The catastrophe caused floods of up to a height of 20 feet in almost 80% of New Orleans area. This flooding case was now another tragedy. It presented the local officials, the nation, and residents with difficulties that surpassed their abilities.
Therefore, the US learned about the necessity of establishing a national center whose operations included enhancing the coordination of countrywide response to disasters. The center also offered situational awareness. The US realized the need to establish a common federal body that could help in addressing matters concerning the occurrence of unpreventable disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.
FEMA has adopted a disaster management approach that involves the development of mechanisms for disaster vigilance and rejoinder. Therefore, the role of FEMA is to ensure that the US is prepared not only to handle various disasters but also to mitigate them, regardless of their causes, by coordinating the US&R arm, which works under the NRP.
This arm of the US disaster management and response only restricts its operations to investigating and salvaging the disastrous situation. The US&R and the NRP lack the necessary capacity in terms of equipment and training to handle disasters that occur in a water setting (The White House, 2006).
Therefore, the two bodies failed in terms of planning, searching, and rescuing property and people adequately when Hurricane Katrina struck. Consequently, the US learned that the Homeland Security Department needed to perform an interagency assessment of policies and measures in an attempt to enhance the integration of different federal states in the search and rescue mission (The White House, 2006).
Hurricane Katrina caught the transportation department unprepared to evacuate people. This challenge may be attributed to low situational consciousness on the disaster. The challenge was even made worse following the breakdown of communications infrastructure. Consequently, the state and federal governments experienced challenges in terms of coordinating the flow of many buses, aircrafts, and trains that were scheduled to vacate people.
The transportation department learned the need to work with different departments in planning and preparing for mass evacuation. Hurricane Katrina did not spare the justice systems of the affected areas (The White House, 2006). The witnessed mass movement of detainees created challenges in record keeping.
Some files that contained crucial information were lost. Indeed, challenges were experienced in the process of identifying and repositioning criminals. This situation called for the Justice Unit to coordinate with the Department of Homeland Security to review its disaster response mechanisms.
The government of the United States encountered various criticisms concerning its response to Hurricane Katrina. The storm was a primary test of the capability of the Department Of Homeland Security to prevent the citizenry from harm that was caused by natural and human catastrophes after the September 11 attacks. Unfortunately, the response was accompanied by delays, especially during the evacuation of people from the flooded New Orleans (Burns & Thomas, 2011). The collective discussion emerged days after Hurricane Katrina occurred concerning the vigilance of different national governments and countries to counter the catastrophic tornado. The criticisms were escalated by the televised live images of terrified, frustrated, and shaking political bosses. Residents were also depicted in a terrible state where they had no water and food. Despite having their shelters destroyed by the storms, they had not been evacuated from Orleans. The succumbing of scores of citizens from thirst and exhaustion particularly attracted immense criticism concerning the preparedness of the US federal government to deal with catastrophes. The response and speed of treating people who were already evacuated from the tragic tornado also received criticisms (Delisi, 2006).
The New Orleans county boss received a major share of blame for his failure to implement a mass departure plan. He also issued a direct order for residents to relocate to a last resort shelter before guaranteeing adequate water, food, refuge, and sanitary conditions. Nagin delayed in issuing an evacuation order until one day before the landfall occurred. This delay led to scores of deaths as the evacuation could not be done effectively before people were exposed to significant dangers. After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was identified as a non-regime municipality. Regime metropolises encourage cooperation between governmental and non-governmental agencies to increase response rates to disasters (Burns & Thomas, 2011). However, New Orleans has only put in place temporary strategies for handling dangers such as Hurricane Katrina. This lack of permanent disaster fighting mechanisms translated to the ineffective evacuation process. Non-governmental organizations such as the Red Cross could not come to a consensus in establishing a coalition with New Orleans to deal with the aftermaths of Hurricane Katrina. Poor cooperation between agencies led to misunderstanding and instabilities among different actors.
Natural disasters are hard to prevent. Therefore, the only way of dealing with them entails putting in place strategies for detecting them and responding to their effects whenever they occur to minimize the agony of the affected people. Indeed, natural disasters such as hurricanes destroy power lines, gas supply systems, buildings, and other infrastructural developments. Such destruction creates economic and social losses.
Some nations even suffer in terms of their capacity to respond to natural disasters since they may destroy even the installed response facilities as it was witnessed in the case of NOFD following the occurrence of Hurricane Katrina. Preparation for the response, recovery, and relief as fundamental concepts of natural adversity management calls for a collaborative effort among various stakeholders within and outside a given nation.
This recommendation is appropriate considering that New Orleans suffered extensive damage to its facilities. The damage hindered its capacity to implement its disaster response strategic goals. Therefore, if NOFD’s facilities had been destabilized, it could have established alternative ways of dealing with the effects of Hurricane Katrina through other parties that were located in other states. Hence, the organization that is in charge of responding and implementing recovery programs should have buffer solutions.
Burns, P., & Thomas, M. (2011). The Failure of the Non-regime: How Katrina exposed New Orleans as a Regimeless City. Urban Affairs Review, 41(4), 517-527.
Coppola, D. (2007). Introduction to International Disaster Management. New York, NY: Elsevier.
Delisi, L. (2006). The Katrina Disaster and its Lessons. World Psychiatry, 5(1), 3-4.
NOFD. (2006). Recovery Reconstruction Planning Process after Hurricane Katrina. Orleans: New Orleans Fire Department.
The White House. (2006). The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned.
Wormuth, C. (2009). The Next Catastrophe: Ready or Not? Washington Quarterly, 32(1), 93-106.