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Hurricane Katrina: Military and Civilian Response


Hurricane Katrina was one of the most devastating and costliest natural disasters in the whole history of the United States with $108 billion in damages, at least 1,833 people killed, and thousands of citizens left homeless. The major responders to the catastrophe included the U.S. military, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The actions of FEMA were regarded as controversial, including the order of evacuation and their opposition to volunteers; consequently, the military, and civilian actions toward the hurricane victims should be thoroughly investigated and compared.

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Military Strategies and Interference in Civil Actions

The rescue measures taken during Hurricane Katrina are still widely discussed with doubts concerning military and civilian actions. To investigate the matter, the highly criticized strategy of FEMA needs to be analyzed with its actions pointed out. First, the disaster had been foreseen and its consequences had been long-anticipated with the evaluated dangers of a levee collapse. Meanwhile, there had been no significant preparation for the issue with the Hurricane Pam exercise in 2004 to identify the main governmental tasks that did not include such vital aspects as evacuation.

Second, when Katrina turned out to be inevitable, the reaction of the organization was not immediate, it rather lacked strategy, and its actions were poorly organized and obstructed the rescue conducted by civilians. One of the most evident illustrations of these hindrances is that Michael D. Brown, the head of FEMA, ordered fire and emergency services departments to respond to affected areas only after the official governmental requests. Third, FEMA did not investigate the disaster themselves and got the information from reporters. For example, Brown explained that he had found out that the convention center had been sheltering thousands of victims from the news media reports.

Fourth, the organization prevented civil forces to contribute to the rescue. This can be illustrated by such examples as the organization not having let the Astor Hotel help evacuees, then it turned away Wal-Mart trailer trucks with water, claiming that they could do everything themselves. Further, FEMA increased the disorder in statistics and started the loss of the hospital identification by replacing some original bracelets with FEMA ID. Sixth, the organization announced its help strategies but rarely implemented them. For example, FEMA claimed that it ordered nearly 100 000 tons of ice for hospitals, the price of their request was over $100 million, but nothing came to the area.

Apart from breaking official promises, the Federal Emergency Management Agency kept on discouraging external help. FEMA confiscated emergency relief supplies sent by nongovernmental medical organizations regarding this help as legally questionable. Next, aircraft operators complained that FEMA rejected several evacuation attempts. Another example of mistakes made by FEMA is its lack of cooperation skills. For example, such organizations as the Red Cross tried to work in coordination with FEMA, but they figured out that it tended to deliver supplies inadequately or slowly. Consequently, the Red Cross had no legal access to the Superdome in New Orleans and could not deliver emergency supplies.

With no exact strategies of performance, but with constant interventions into practices of other organizations and individuals, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s activities increased the number of deaths. Meanwhile, its vague responsibility to the rescue effort and the division according to gender, age, educational level, and income status impacted the evacuation decision-making process (Kyne et al., 2018). Poorer people were left more vulnerable during the disaster, rebelled, looted, and died.

Civil Reactions and Actions

Approaches of FEMA, lack of governmental support, the absence of a provision in the needed amount, redouble poverty, and the atmosphere of death provoked people to rebel. Then, the looting started with the police allowed to shoot on sight. Additionally, people protested against racial discrimination with evacuation decision-making based on gender, age, educational level, and race (Kyne et al., 2018). Meanwhile, civil powers were not destructive, and, unlike the representatives of the official organization, citizens united to volunteer. Additionally, the private sector played a significant role during Katrina. On the day Katrina made landfall, the Red Cross prepared 239 shelters for about 40 000 evacuees, then, expanded them for 14 000 evacuees.

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Non-governmental for-profit organizations and businesses were also efficiently rescuing people. Insurance companies accelerated pay-outs to covered homeowners, and electric utilities sent their workers o the devastated areas. Huge companies provided victims with financial help. For example, Walmart contributed $20 million, organized food for 100,000 meals, and claimed the promise of a job for every of its displaced workers.


One of the three most dramatic catastrophes of the millennium, hurricane Katrina highlighted weak points of government and military forces. Controversial actions of FEMA, its irresponsibleness, significant opposition to volunteers, and shooting people without a word of warning, resulted in the increase of deaths. Then, the consequences of their engagement provoked the negative reaction of citizens who started protesting and looting. Meanwhile, civil powers noticeably confronted FEMA and contributed to the salvage actions.


Kyne, D., Lomeli, A. S., Donner, W. & Zuloaga, E. (2018). Who will stay, who will leave: Decision-making of residents living in potential hurricane impact areas during a hypothetical hurricane event in the Rio Grande Valley. Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, 15(2).

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