FEMA: Hurricane Katrina Case Study- Communications Focus
By Natasha Barnes
On August 25, 2005 Hurricane Katrina crossed into the United States and caused more than 9,000 confirmed casualties and $96 billion in damages (Lessons Learned, p.6). “Katrina is the first disaster-- natural or man-made-- to have damage totals almost reach the $100 billion mark (Lessons Learned, p.7).” The magnitude of the effects of Katrina resulted in the cyclone being branded as the deadliest and costliest natural disaster in American history. In the event of such tragedies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is the primary respondent to restore and reduce future detriments.
However, FEMA was heavily criticized for its lack of action, languid response rate, and disorganized resolution plans. The catastrophe exposed the government emergency procedures as lacking in credibility and warranted improvements to enhance management of similar situations in the future. Communication methods and devices were crippled and in some cases destroyed completely. As a result all actions were prolonged, which contributed heavily to the amount of devastation caused by this catastrophe.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency was established in 1979 as an official governmental agency after combining various disaster response committees. “The primary mission of the Federal Emergency Management Agency is to reduce the loss of life and property and protect the Nation from all hazards, including natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other man-made disasters, by leading and supporting the Nation in a risk-based, comprehensive emergency management system of preparedness, protection, response, recovery, and mitigation (FEMA).”
There are 10 regional offices across the nation and two area offices that are responsible for directly interacting with state officials to properly plan and manage disaster response efforts.
As of November 2007, FEMA had responded to more than 2,700 presidentially declared disasters. The first disaster response committee began in 1803 to handle a destructive fire in New Hampshire. FEMA wasn’t established as the official disaster relief agency until 1979. On March 31, 2003 FEMA was considered to be an integral aspect to Homeland Security and became a division within the department.
A key aspect of understanding how this tragedy was handled is that FEMA is the primary coordinator of emergency response, not the sole organizational body responsible for handling all disasters. FEMA supervises and works with a variety of response teams to handle natural tragedies when they arise. The Urban Search and Rescue Response Team is an example of an organizational team within FEMA comprised of state and local respondents. The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Act (Stafford Act) operates on the principal that “response efforts should first utilize State and local resources” before requesting Federal aid (Lessons, p.12).
FEMA S.W.O.T Analysis
Although the FEMA Agency itself didn’t come into existence until 1979, government response committees had been successfully dealing with natural disaster management since the early 1800s. After handling a multitude of crises for more than 200 years, the organization has gained extensive experience with administering such situations. Personnel staff consisted of the most knowledgeable and competent individuals available. In regards, the FEMA Web site contains easily accessible disaster prevention materials and information about all types of nature-caused calamities. The Federal government emergency response division is comprised of a strong contingency of specified task units within it that includes teams from local, regional, and federal levels. This network system was built to ensure that resources would be available because assistance centers would be evenly distributed across the nation (FEMA Brochure).
As well-versed in crisis management as FEMA representatives may be, unprecedented issues can always arise and render plans ineffective. Especially when reviewing Hurricane Katrina, it’s evident that unexpected problems left officials at a loss without alternative plans in certain situations. Plus, with the wide-variety of emergency response teams involved management troubles could happen as a result of an inefficient chain of communication plan.
According to the Stafford Act, the order of responsibility starts first on the local level and then continues to rise up to the Federal level once the previous governmental body has been found incapable of handling the situation on its own. In extreme situations such as Hurricane Katrina, this chain of communication is overridden and the Federal Government intervenes and takes control (Lessons, p.75). Scenarios such as this are defined by the National Response Plan as a “catastrophic incident.”
Catastrophic Incidents result in high “levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the population, infrastructure, environment, economy, national morale and government functions (Lessons, p.75).”In addition to ensuring that all levels of government are in unison about plans of action, there are hundreds of organizations within each level that must also cohesively work together. Yet, this is another obstacle because all of the teams must coordinate together. However, if communication and management difficulties occur, this isn’t necessarily as successful as it could be.
The extensive international experience with disaster, rescue, and crisis management overall creates the opportunity for FEMA and the Federal Government to be one of the most credible organizations for disaster planning and administration. The United States has been both criticized and hailed for their involvement with other countries during a time of need. As a result, American emergency response teams have been able to handle a wide-variety of situations.
FEMA’s relationship with media outlets is not only a possible threat to the confidence citizens have in the agency’s qualifications, but also to accurate coverage during a crisis. Investigative reporters strongly criticized FEMA for any shortcoming the government possessed. It is the responsibility of these news sources to ethically and accurately report information to do what is best for all citizens. With that being said, not clearly communicating with or working with the media is a detriment to the agency because reporters will expose any flaws they discover if it appears as if something isn’t being done properly or ethically.
An internal threat would be the structure of the agency itself. An issue with crisis management planning is that it’s all planning until an actual catastrophe happens. Therefore, it’s imperative that thorough research is conducted and every possible obstacle is considered when developing emergency response plans.
The FEMA Web site currently features basic details about Hurricane Katrina and the government plans implemented to cope with the economical and personal devastation that arose. General information about proper protocol for dealing with natural disasters is also a part of the site content. There is not any information answering any criticisms the agency received. Figures about the amount of casualties and total cost of damages are also unavailable according to this statement, “The total number of lives lost, number of injuries sustained, and value of property damaged as a result of Hurricane Katrina are still being tabulated.”
The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina Lessons Learned report from February 2006 was an essential resource. The document contained extensive and thorough information about how Katrina, FEMA, and other organizations were structured and logged each step taken in handling the catastrophe.
Non-governmental site research was also conducted to gain the perspective of those who believed FEMA’s actions as being unsuccessful. Local Louisiana and regional newspapers were reviewed from the time of the calamity, in addition to the subsequent months afterwards. Video coverage of news segments and events related to Katrina were also researched. A video of the former FEMA director Michael Brown’s perspective on the way Katrina was handled and the reasoning for his resignation was also watched. Andrew Thomas, FEMA External Affairs representative at the Louisiana Office, was interviewed to gain his insight on the management of the situation. Redevelopment progress was provided by Derrick LeBeouf, Director of Government and Legal Affairs for the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority.
As to be expected news coverage of Katrina was heavy during the first few months of after the Hurricane. The following news sources were reviewed to assist with the content analysis comparison between FEMA press releases and articles in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and local Louisiana Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper The Times-Picayune. All of the articles reviewed and included in the resources section of the case study.
A key difference between the local and regional articles was the level of humanism included. The Times-Picayune stories featured an actual account of what happened to a victim of the storm by personalizing the content with the individual’s name and background.
Newspaper Content Analysis
1) FEMA Release Aug. 2005 vs. Washington Post/NY Times Aug. and Sept. 2005
The first subject was the initial announcement that Hurricane Katrina posed a threat and its arrival date. FEMA issued its initial release about Katrina on August 25, 2005. The article discussed information about the impending arrival of the hurricane and what preemptive actions were being taken. This precautionary information was included in the Times-Picayune and other local newspapers. The Washington Post September article content was very similar to the release listed by FEMA as it focused on all of the Federal efforts dispensed to handle the situation.
2) One Week Later Coverage: FEMA vs. The Washington Post
A week after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, two different messages were expressed by FEMA and The Washington Post. The article issued by FEMA focused on all the progress the government had made thus far and gave status reports for assistance applications and associated events. In contrast, The Washington Post took a more analytical viewpoint and critiqued the shortcomings of FEMA and cited possible reasons for the issues that arose. FEMA also disbursed articles explaining how to find information and apply to assistance programs, yet none of this information was contained in The Washington Post Article.
3) One Year Later: FEMA vs. The Times-Picayune, and The Washington Post,
In the “one year later” analysis, the differences in the writing styles were interesting to read. A Times-Picayune reporter chose to write a story illustrating the affects of Katrina to emphasize the fact that the management of this tragedy was “one more tale of institutional breakdown (Grace, Times-Picayune).” On the other hand, the FEMA news release for the anniversary of the calamity highlighted all that the government had done thus far to administer the situation.
The local newspaper article didn’t contain any positive information about FEMA or successful actions. Instead, it discussed the fact that FEMA officials did a poor job of explaining the cause of death for an elderly man by declaring reasons that were obviously not possible due to location. On a regional level, The Washington Post chose to publish testimonies from citizens around the country about how they were personally affected by the tragedy.
In retrospect it may have been in FEMA’s best interest to put additional effort into local news affiliates because they were the ones that wrote articles that tended to primarily have a citizen focus. These articles usually used an actual incident involving a victim of Katrina to further emphasize their point about whether the government’s actions were up to par or lacking.
The Times-Picayune and Nola.com
This Louisiana newspaper, Times-Picayune, received a 2006 Pulitzer Prize for its “courageous and aggressive coverage of Hurricane Katrina, overcoming desperate conditions facing the city.” NOLA.com is the Times-Picayune online affiliate. Once the Picayune offices were flooded and printers were damaged by Katrina, journalists published solely on NOLA.com. The site became a primary source of information for external news outlets, but it was especially useful to local citizens. Journalists posted listings of those in need of rescue that were able to SMS text their families and friends with their location. As a result, the U.S. Coast Guard and other relief teams relied heavily on this site to help victims.
Although many news outlets provided ethical and accurate coverage and seemed to know more information at times than government officials, there were some rumored fabricated stories that detracted from the otherwise aggressive and commended reporting due to communication issues. For example, there were various claims of violence and rape within the Superdome and Convention Center.
However, such alleged accounts were scrutinized for their validity after individuals such as Lt. Col. Jacques Thibodeaux of the Louisiana National Guard said certain stories were untrue on a segment of the News Hour with Jim Lehrer. September 6 on Oprah, New Orleans Mayor Ray Ragan discussed murders and rapes occurring in the refuge centers with the host. Such contradictory stories are found throughout the handling of this entire situation especially, with the unconfirmed death toll.
To confirm, there was an influx in crimes committed due to unprecedented management of convicts and correctional facilities affected by storm conditions. Injustices were done against authorities and assistance agencies. However, due to the extensive damage on communication methods and devices, confirmation of such incidents was difficult to obtain, which attributed to rumors and fabricated accounts (Lessons, p.40). Even in the Federal Government report on Hurricane Katrina, researchers state that “reliable crime statistics are unavailable and it’s clear that violent crime was less prevalent than initially reported.”
“A Concert for Hurricane Relief”
This event was broadcasted by NBC to raise support for storm survivors. The concert featured Louisiana jazz performers such as Harry Connick Jr. and Wynton Marsalis, in addition to an eclectic group of international acts as well. Plus, artists of various genres and entertainment personalities reported on different aspects of the crises, such as Chris Tucker and the event was hosted by Kanye West and Mike Meyers.
The main topic of discussion from this concert was rap artist Kanye West’s deviation from the script as he personally spoke out against President Bush and the poor handling of the situation. West expressed that the delayed response and lack of action for Katrina victims was race. The infamous quote was, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people (MSNBC).” Statistics from the Louisiana Department of Health do support the fact that majority of residents in affected areas were African-American. However, West was alluding to race being the primary reason for delay. However, officials site management issues and unprecedented obstacles as the true causes for postponed assistance.
Several stations continued to air similar benefit concerts and some featured artists voiced their opinions about the government, which added to the already existing critiques. "When the hurricane struck, it did not turn the region into a Third World country ... it revealed one," said actor Danny Glover. Infamous musician Harry Belafonte also commented on the crises management issues, "Katrina was not unforeseeable," Belafonte said. "It was the result of a political structure that subcontracts its responsibility to private contractors and abdicates its responsibility altogether."
Despite personal views expressed during these benefit concerts, the primary goal of raising awareness and funds for Katrina relief was accomplished.
Geraldo Rivera & Shepard Smith Plee
The unique aspect of all coverage of Katrina is the overwhelming amount of emotion displayed. These sentiments are not only shown by news anchors, but celebrities as well especially with their disdain for the lack of governmental action. Such is the case with these anchors too. Reporters Geraldo Rivera and Shepard Smith were on the scene at the refuge centers to attest to the conditions survivors were experiencing. Both journalists expressed their outrage at the injustices going on in the entertainment arenas turned into refuge centers.
Social Media Efforts
Numerous social networking sites were used to spread awareness and raise funds to support the Katrina Relief Effort. On Facebook, a site creator promised to donate $1 for every set of 100 people that joined the group. The outcome of this site was not only to increase visibility of the crisis, but also served as a medium for other assistance groups to advertise and victims to express their gratitude. The particular Facebook group mentioned didn’t have a posting with an update on how the fundraising effort was going and the site creator could not be reached for a total either.
“Thank you to everyone who supports or has supported the Hurricane Katrina recovery. I'm a survivor and if it were not for all the wonderful volunteers, we would be in even worse shape than we still are. It's been over two and a half years since the storm and there is still so very much to do,” said Sherri Joubert of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This comment was left on the wall of the mentioned Facebook group.
Education was also a focus of social networking sites such as Global Kids, Inc., which is a New York City non-profit organization created to “educate urban youth about civic engagement and international affairs.” The site called “Hurricane Katrina: Tempest in Crescent City” was developed to celebrate the three year anniversary of the catastrophe to educate youth on the event and inform them of ways to continue to assist the redevelopment initiative. After entering the URL for the interactive site, http://www.tempestincrescentcity.org, one can play a game that helps them understand the experience that many refugees had with trying to assist one another, finding missing loved ones, and acquiring basic necessities.
American Express Credit Card Company sponsors a program called Member Projects, where they supply funding to members who have outstanding ideas to improve their communities. A member wanted to obtain financial support for redevelopment of areas devastated by the storm. The organization that assisted with the realization of this idea was Global Green USA, which rebuilds homes to ensure that they use the least amount of energy, assist with the restoration of schools, and finalize projects on affordable homes that meet green standards.
In 2004, FEMA developed and funded a Southeast Louisiana Catastrophic Hurricane Planning Project to create an action plan for the area in the event of a hurricane. The purpose of the organization was to bring “all levels of government and the American Red cross [together] to identify, analyze, and address the overwhelming operational complexities that would be involved in responding to a catastrophic hurricane striking southeast Louisiana (Lessons, p.24). “ More than 300 representatives from all levels of government were involved.
Unfortunately, the committee took a reprieve and the planning committee didn’t meet again until late July 2005—only a few weeks before the arrival of Hurricane Katrina. At the initial meeting, shortcomings in current plans and FEMA were identified. However, former FEMA Director Michael Brown stated that the problem with the existing plans is that it would take about two years to complete all revisions (Kansas University). Plus, Brown noted that the government’s focus wasn’t crisis planning and had switched to terrorism after the 9/11 Attacks on the World Trade Centers. Therefore, in his opinion these plans weren’t a priority which also attributed to the issues experienced.
Before the storm FEMA worked with The Hurricane Center and other weather service authorities to ensure that advisories were sent out. All states forecasted to be effected had their emergency plans ready to put into action, but as the storm progressed it became evident that the intensity of it was also increasing and the effects would be more severe than originally anticipated.
A State of Emergency was declared for the influenced regions and the storm was announced as an “Incident of National Significance.” Temporary shelters were created as well. In preparation of the storm, press releases were distributed to media outlets to inform the public of preventative measures to be taken. The first news release about storm preparation was issued on August 25, 2005, the same day that Katrina touched down in Florida. It contained information about preparing for the storm.
Federal resources were strategically placed around the forecasted areas to be affected and awaited deployment. Materials included ice, water, Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) and additional supplies. The image on page 30 of the Lessons Learned report has a map of the U.S. and notes all of the areas and the quantities of resources at each location.
In the days leading up to Katrina’s landfall, government officials continued to touch base with the state and local representatives to determine if there was a need for Federal aid. The responses did not contain many requests for Federal assistance until the very last minute before the storm. Due to the short window of time before Katrina hit, some needs could not be met. For instance, Louisiana asked the government for 180,000 liters of water and 109,440 MREs for the Superdome refugees however, they were only able to receive 90,000 liters of water and 43,776 MREs before Katrina made landfall (Lessons, p.29). The day after the storm hit, each of the 15 National Response plan Emergency Support Functions (ESFs) were on standby and ready to act.
An unprecedented 80 percent of the city was flooded in New Orleans (Lessons, p.6). All emergency response teams were deployed, but the overwhelming intensity of the storm rendered the effort to be insufficient.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Radio, NOAA Internet, and the Emergency Alert System (EAS) were crucial to disseminating messages to the public (Lessons, p. 28). Director Brown held daily video teleconferences with the media at noon to provide status reports for the recovery and search and rescue efforts. FEMA also released numerous press releases to continue to keep citizens aware of what was going on in their communities.
In the affected regions, the communications infrastructure was completely the destroyed. The mayor of New Orleans was unable to remain in his office and was forced to retreat to a Hyatt hotel where he was unable to contact anyone during the first 48 hours after the storm hit. 911 and public safety radio was inoperable, in addition to the State of Louisiana’s 800 MHz radio system which received repairs days later (Lessons, p. 37). Slowly, communication capabilities were restored and resulted in an outpour of emergency calls. Plus, The Times-Picayune’s aggressive coverage and postings on their online affiliate NOLA.com was a crucial resource for authorities to assist victims.
Response teams and emergency aid organizations were essentially on their own and were unable to receive information or orders from any level of management. Both governors of Mississippi and Louisiana requested additional aid from the National Guard to assist with these issues. Despite these obstacles, FEMA US&R (Urban Search and Rescue) teams were able to successfully rescue 6,500 people (Lessons, p.38). However, the US&R and CS&R (Civil Search and Rescue) emergency response organizations could’ve maximized their efforts by improving their communication with one another and coordinating their resources in a more effective manner together. The FEMA US&R, Coast Guard, and Department of Defense were the primary search and rescue authorities.
Due to the severity of the damage done to communication resources, FEMA was unable to contact other Federal Agencies to effectively distribute government supplies (Lessons, p.45). An accompanying issue to this problem was that the different Federal agencies were unfamiliar with the procedures associated with the other branches. This created a dilemma because FEMA employees who were not well-versed in the resources other branches were offering ,such as the United States Department of Agriculture, which prevented necessary products from being distributed (p. 45).
Hurricane Katrina was officially declared an “Incident of National Significance” on August 30, 2005 by Secretary Chertoff. He also put FEMA Director Michael Brown in charge of “coordinating overall Federal incident management” as the Principal Federal Official (Lessons, p14). The PFO is also responsible for being a “primary point of contact and situational awareness locally for the Secretary of Homeland.”
Organizational Structure Issues
In an article published by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on October 20, 2005, the conflicting opinions of former FEMA Director Michael Brown and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff were compared. According to Brown’s testimony, the budget and quality of FEMA was “emaciated” after the 9/11 Attacks on the World Trade Center. However Chertoff made a comment later on stating that the budget “had expanded from 2001 and 2005, FEMA’s core funding increased from $349 million [annually] to $447 million," and its number of employees swelled from 2,057 to 2,445. "I would take issue with the idea that FEMA had been cut (Sentinel)," said Chertoff.
In regards to execution from FEMA concerning this issue, it only continued to contribute to the negative reputation that FEMA was being branded upon anything related to FEMA. It also made the planning measures taken by FEMA in preparation of the storm appear even more incompetent due to this discrepancy.
A new official to oversee the restoration of the Gulf Coast has been appointed by R. David Paulison, Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, He announced that the new Assistant Administrator of the Gulf Coast Recovery effort would be James W. Stark (FEMA). Former FEMA Director Michael Brown resigned and is currently starting his own disaster management agency (Associated Press, MSNBC).
Redevelopment and financial assistance are the key focus points for FEMA as it continues to aid in the restoration of the areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
Officials are especially working toward reinstating public schools and providing hazard mitigation funding for those attempting to reconstruct their homes. In the Three Years Later FEMA report, it details the actions the government has taken so far and breaks down initiatives by Federal dollars spent. In the press release issued on August 26, 2008 it detailed that the “more than $11 billion in Public Assistance grants have been provided to communities along the Gulf Coast to continue rebuilding (FEMA).”
Employee & Community Relations
A December 10, 2005 press release from FEMA highlighted two employees who had created a “donation collection effort” that assisted with allocating contributions to designations that were in critical need of the aid (FEMA). This was able to put FEMA in personnel in a positive light, as they were going above and beyond their roles to continue to assist with the relief program. In regard, to community interactions FEMA disseminated messages, updates, and application policies on a regular basis. Communication method complications, such as towers being damaged, did make the disbursement of such information difficult. Again mismanagement continued to be an issue and that clearly showed when trying to interact with citizens to help them rebuild their lives. Yet, over time relations and management structure improved so that the community and FEMA can work together to rebuild the affected regions.
Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006
This legislation was created to restructure FEMA and expand upon the previous mission statement of the agency. After Katrina, a multitude of areas of improvement arose and this act forced officials to systematically ensure weaknesses were identified and addressed.
Resignation of FEMA Director Michael Brown
According to an article published in The Washington Post on Sept. 9, 2005, Director Brown was “stripped” of his role and replaced by Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen of the Coast Guard. The continued negative publicity and accusations by the public of mismanagement were identified as they key factors for Brown’s demotion. At a press conference, Mr. Chertoff clearly expressed that the change in management was of his own accord and Director Brown would retain his position of being the director of the agency, but not the primary federal official residing over the recovery effort. Director Brown eventually resigned from FEMA and is currently planning on establishing his own disaster management planning agency.
There were 9,000 confirmed casualties however, there are almost 200 bodies that have yet to be identified and claimed at the Victim Identification Center in Carville, Louisiana (Lessons, p.8). Plus, 2,096 people were still listed as missing from the Gulf Coast region on February 17, 2006.
The American government requested that Katrina and Rita be removed from the list of the potential names to be used for future hurricanes, due to the level of devastation caused. The names were retired by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and will never be used again. The International Committee selected the replacements names of Katia and Rina for the 2011 edition of hurricane names.
Receipt of International Support
FEMA officials couldn’t respond to government officials to notify them of how to accept or use donated funds and supplies due to communication obstacles. Countries around the world showed their compassion with financial contributions and assorted materials. An “integrated satellite and cellular telephone system” was offered by a German company to supplement the damaged and destroyed communication methods. However, they didn’t receive a response until five days after the storm hit (Lessons, p. 46). Italy sent medical supplies, but the materials were damaged by weather due to negligence by the American officials responsible for them.
Greece proposed transporting a cruise ship to provide housing for Katrina victims but was declined by the U.S. government because officials didn’t believe the vessel would arrive in time to be useful. However, Louisiana ended up purchasing crew ships anyway, which were overcrowded at the expense of tax payers (Sloan, CFRE). The government has created a new system for facilitating these contributions and explained the procedure as one of its “Lessons Learned” revisions.
Convention Center & Superdome Victims
One of the main critiques of FEMA’s response tactics was the lack of action taken in the days following the impact of the hurricane. “[The] Federal government” was unaware of victims in the Convention Center until day 4 after Katrina hit, “said Michael Brown former FEMA director (CNN). The CNN reporter that interviewed Brown challenged him on being unknowledgeable of those taking refuge into the Convention Center and other entertainment arenas. Those staying in these buildings were also prevented from leaving and travelling to safer regions by authorities until further notice, so even if they wanted to depart it wasn’t an option.
The flooding caused by the storm made it difficult to send supplies to the convention center. Disbursement of materials was also a challenge because the structure wasn’t stocked with any food or water as it wasn’t originally designated as a shelter location (Lessons, p.39). Plus, when the site was categorized as a refuge center it was initially only for those with special medicinal needs, but this purpose was expanded to offer support to the general public to meet the surge in demand, which significantly increased the population. The American Red Cross considered the Superdome conditions to fall short of its standards for safe environments and thus did not send any staff members to the site. However, the ARC did send supplies when transportation of the materials was available.
Unfortunately, authorities were unable to evacuate victims in the Convention Center until September 3. By this time all occupants at the Superdome had already been rescued (Lessons, p.29).
According to the CNN segment, few transportation methods were provided for those who either chose not to evacuate or were physically unable to do so due to disabilities or had no available means of travelling. Plus, the state did not issue an official evacuation decree until 19 hours prior to the estimated arrival of the hurricane. Due to the late request for support from response teams, local resources were unable to be used as a substitute because the majority of transportation vehicles were inaccessible because of flooding.
In regards to victims receiving financial support from the government, there were several scams that involved false claims which detracted from those truly affected receiving the support they needed. There was an incident in which a convict successfully requested damage compensation while being incarcerated (MSNBC). Another situation involved a woman from Queens who had successfully obtained a significant amount of funding from the government (The New York Times).
Analysis & Evaluation
Professional Insight and Analysis:
Two professionals were contacted for their opinions: Andrew Thomas, External Affairs FEMA Louisiana and Derrick LeBeouf, Director of Government and Legal Affairs for the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority.
Andrew Thomas gave his perspective from being in the FEMA Louisiana office at the time the storm made landfall. Some aspects of Thomas’ account mirrored information contained in the Federal Lessons Learned document, however he was able to provide additional insight into the housing situation of victims. As a middle-man of sorts between FEMA and the state of emergency response efforts, Thomas was responsible for communicating emergency response plans, evacuation information, and assistance program details to the citizens of the affected areas.
Thomas had direct interaction with the housing situation for affected victims in regards to trailers supplied by FEMA. By April 2008, he said that the amount of people using government supplied trailers had “decreased from 23,280 in Orleans Parish down to 7,282.” Thomas also discussed that the goal of FEMA was to have all of the families who were living in trailers, relocated into permanent homes by June. “We will work with each of these families, one-on-one, to help them return to their homes," said Thomas. FEMA is currently still working on this initiative.
A housing issue that arose was related to the government created Road Home Program. The initiative was created to families who wanted to sell their homes to the government. FEMA and related officials encountered various problems, such as residents living on a property unknowingly maintaining ownership because of bookkeeping errors. There were also incidents in which original occupants of Federally provided trailers left those temporary homes and new unregistered residents moved in instead. In these cases, Thomas said FEMA would provide alternative housing to the original occupants.
Director LeBeouf was able to provide insight into the redevelopment process. In regards, to the initial handling of the situation LeBeouf believed that the elected officials in charge did not have a good understanding of the purpose of the Redevelopment Authority, which attributed to the slow progress. He estimates that it will take 10 years for the New Orleans area to be restored to its original state prior to the storm. Director LeBeouf noted that he predicted it would take a decade when the storm initially hit, and three years later he maintains the same time period because of the lack of recovery action that has taken place.
In regards to government relations, Director LeBeouf cited that the Stafford Act is contributing to lengthy processing times for obtaining Federal funds. He said that the state of Louisiana has been a tremendous ally in assisting with getting around some of the “red tape” involved with procuring financial assistance from the government to help citizens rebuild their homes.
Director LeBeouf personally experienced a negative interaction with FEMA representatives from the rental assistance program. He and his wife were homeowners who recently purchased an additional home to renovate. The devastation of the storm caused them to have to rent an apartment and when they requested aid from the government, they were told that LeBeouf was ineligible because he made too much money. This was a very trying time to say the least for the LeBeoufs as they were paying for two mortgages and an overpriced apartment. Due to the fact that lodging was scarce, their landlord added a premium to accommodate demand.
Strong community relations have also been crucial to the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority. To ensure that citizens view the NORA as being “transient” as possible and that they play an active role in the restoration of their historical neighborhoods, Director LeBeouf has led community outreach forums. He said that NORA has been successful in meeting the majority of the needs expressed by community members. “They don’t want chocolate covered roofs or anything, they wanted basic services and we were able to meet those needs,” said LeBeouf.
The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina Lessons Learned report includes a multitude of specified area for amelioration and restructuring within FEMA as a result of issues experienced during the management of Katrina. After reviewing all of the Federal suggestions I developed my personal analysis based on information that wasn’t discussed in depth within the document. There are three areas I would recommend improvement within to ensure that FEMA appropriately handles such disasters in the future: pre-disaster planning, overall communication, and aftermath conflict resolution.
Although, extensive research was completed prior to the hurricane’s arrival to ensure that all preventative measures were taken, sufficient back up plans were not created. Hours before Katrina hit, technical experts evaluated the levees and judged that in their current state it was evident that the flood barriers might not withstand the potential impact of the storm (MSNBC). Government officials also forecasted that the flood barriers could be overwhelmed by the hurricane. Improved versions of these structures need to be designed and tested to make them more effective prevention tools.
The impact of the physical devastation caused by the hurricane was predicted by various meteorologists. So, methods of handling the effects, especially the spread of inhabitable land, should’ve been better prepared. An earlier evacuation time could’ve assisted with this in addition to, publicly provided transportation to safety. Plus, the state of Louisiana could’ve reached out more to FEMA and vice-a-versa to ensure all vehicles, equipment, and miscellaneous items were accounted for prior to Katrina’s landfall. Louisiana Governor Blanco admitted that she should have asked for buses sooner because all available buses within the state were unusable due to flooding (Lessons, p.34).
Navigation was also an obstacle because the traditional method of using street signs was not possible because of the high water levels due to flooding. An alternative way of travelling should be discovered to be utilized during such situations. I recommend that some buildings of high elevation could be marked with their location. Also, GPS navigation may be ideal in these situations as well so it could be an essential investment.
Additional tests should also be conducted to ensure the chain of communication is efficient and flows appropriately. A key factor to the breakdown of governmental control of the situation was noted to be a lack of competent leadership with clear plans. Officials should run through this procedure as many times as necessary to identify and remove any problems.
The planning committees comprised of representatives from every level of impact, such as the Southeast Louisiana Catastrophic Hurricane Planning Project, should meet more frequently to ensure that plans work for all parties involved. Most of these groups were able to identify areas of improvement, but due to a lack of funding and actual meetings these issues were not addressed thus the plans were not completed.
During the Situation
During the crisis all of the plans will be put to the test and it’s imperative that officials adjust accordingly and ensure that basic needs are being met. When Michael Brown, former FEMA director, was interviewed by television news shows days after the hurricane made landfall, he admitted that “the Federal government did not know that there were victims at the convention center (ABC, Nightly News).” The news anchor interviewing him found that hard to believe considering the fact that several news outlets had been covering the refugees at the Convention Center and Superdome. This clearly showed that the media was more informed about certain aspects of the situation than the government. With this in mind, I recommend that the government strengthen its relationship with news media outlets to ensure that the primary mission of FEMA is upheld which is to “reduce the loss of life.”
It would also be in the best interest of everyone involved to educate news media outlets on Hurricane Terminology. A huge problem with deteriorated communication methods was that authorities had to rely on a variety of sources that weren’t always credible because they weren’t familiar with hurricane terminology. In particular, there were several incidents of confusion involving the words “overtopping” and “breaching (Lessons, p.35).” Overtopping occurs when the water flows at a height above the levee however, this will cease when the flood level decreases. On the other hand, a breach is a more serious matter because it’s a continuous overtopping situation that could destroy the levee completely. It might be helpful if the government made this information available on its Web site and stressed to the media to reference this document when covering hurricanes.
Another issue that arose within the first few days of the crises was a lack of basic necessities being delivered to refugees. Officials stated that it was difficult to evacuate anyone from the Convention Center or Superdome due to inaccessibility caused by flooding. However, I think in these situations supplies could’ve been airlifted and dropped off much sooner. Also, the Red Cross declared the locations inhabitable because of poor conditions and the unsafe quantity of people inside. These victims were not rescued until September 3.
News outlets constantly aired segments with photos of survivors who had made signs asking for help that detailed a lack of food and water for a certain amount of signs. To prevent this situation from occurring again in the future, I recommend the special task forces with the sole purpose of providing food, shelter, and other vital materials intensify their efforts, especially during the first few critical hours and days after a storm hits.
A similarity between Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Andrew, the second costliest hurricane to Katrina, was that many lives were lost days after the initial landing (FEMA Archive). To prevent this, I recommend a significant increase in authorities and personnel during the first 24-48 hours of the storm to rescue the survivors. Deaths were primarily caused by those who were trapped and unable to receive aid and those who suffered injuries from damaged buildings, trees, et cetera.
“The magnitude of the storm was such that the local communications system wasn’t simply degraded; it was, at least for a period of time, destroyed,” said Paul McHale, the assistant secretary of defense for Homeland Defense (Lessons, p.34).
After reviewing press releases issued by FEMA and other news outlets’ coverage of Katrina, it was apparent that more could’ve been done to inform the public of what was happening and with managing the overall situation. FEMA did send out news releases and plans of action to state officials prior to the hurricane. Before Katrina’s landfall, advisories were sent out by The Hurricane Center and other weather authorities. Yet, the first official FEMA press release listed on the Web site was on Aug. 25, the day the storm hit Florida. However, in light of the fact that Louisiana Governor Blanco had concerns about people not taking the warnings seriously and thinking they could wait out the storm, advisories and information probably should’ve been sent directly from the Federal level to ensure the message was heeded (Lessons, p.34).
In regards to following the emergency plans put in place, some aspects were found to be unsuitable. Some of the details in the plan weren’t applicable to the situation and a poor chain of communication efficiency resulted in a lack of proper management to execute tasks. The major issue was the demolition of traditional communication methods. The strong severity of the damage done to news outlet locations, technology, and phone towers was unprecedented. One of the 800 MHz communications towers for the Louisiana State Police was deemed “inoperable” and thus, the officers were unable to talk with one another (Lessons, p.30). To accommodate this problem a significant increase in the amount of Mobile Emergency Response Support vehicles (MERS) for “communication, operational, and logistical support” should’ve been deployed (Lessons, p.27). Upcoming research studies should focus on finding alternative means of communication in situations such as this.
A religious operation known as “Brother’s Keeper” was a citizen organized effort to transport those without means of travelling to safety. There is definitely room to make adjustments to increase the success rate of this program. At the time Katrina hit there were only four congregations involved. If the amount of groups, religious or with an unreligious affiliation, involved was expanded the amount of victims rescued could be much greater (Lessons, p.26).
Locations for evacuees to seek temporary refuge at were not pre-determined. As soon as a state has been notified of a potential disaster, they should enter into negotiations with surrounding regions to discuss the possibility of housing victims in that area. Or there could be set agreements about such situations in advance. For example, Louisiana and Texas could create a pact that states that in case of an emergency, each will allow the other to use certain areas as refuge centers. The Louisiana Evacuation Plans did not contain any “post-landfall evacuation” information about how to handle such matters, which is why external refuge shelters were not finalized until days after the hurricane arrived (Lessons, p.38). An agreement with Texas was not reached until August 31 to evacuate victims to Texas’ Astrodome (Lessons, p.39).
The most significant number of deaths occurred in , which flooded as the levee system catastrophically failed, in many cases hours after the storm had moved inland. Eventually 80% of the city and large tracts of neighboring regions became flooded, and the floodwaters lingered for weeks. However, the worst property damage occurred in coastal areas, such as all Mississippi beachfront towns, which were flooded over 90% in hours, as boats and casino barges rammed buildings, pushing cars and houses inland, with waters reaching 6–12 miles (10–19 km) from the beach.
The Bush Administration sought $105 billion for repairs and reconstruction in the region, this didn’t include potential interruption of the oil supply, destruction of the 's highway infrastructure, and exports of commodities such as grain.
Katrina damaged or destroyed 30 oil platforms and caused the closure of nine refineries;
1.3 million acres (5,300 km2) of forest lands were destroyed costing about $5 billion
Before the hurricane, the region supported approximately one million non-farm jobs, with 600,000 of them in .
It is estimated that the total economic impact in and may exceed $150 billion
Additionally, some insurance companies have stopped insuring homeowners in the area because of the high costs from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, or have raised homeowners' insurance premiums to cover their risk
The storm surge caused substantial beach erosion, in some cases completely devastating coastal areas. In , approximately 90 miles (150 km) to the east of the point where the hurricane made landfall, the sand that comprised the barrier island was transported across the island into the , pushing the island towards land
The Geological Survey has estimated 217 square miles (560 km2) of land was transformed to water by the hurricanes Katrina and Rita
The lands that were lost were breeding grounds for marine mammals, brown pelicans, turtles, and fish
The damage from Katrina forced the closure of 16 National Wildlife Refuges.
The storm caused oil spills from 44 facilities throughout southeastern , which resulted in over 7 million gallons (26 million L) of oil being leaked.
Finally, as part of the cleanup effort, the flood waters that covered were pumped into , a process that took 43 days to complete. These residual waters contained a mix of raw sewage, bacteria, heavy metals, pesticides, toxic chemicals, and oil, which sparked fears in the scientific community of massive numbers of fish dying
Katrina redistributed over one million people from the central Gulf coast elsewhere across the . For example, , had an increase of 35,000 people
By late January 2006, about 200,000 people were once again living in , less than half of the pre-storm population.
By July 1, 2006, when new population estimates were calculated by the Census Bureau, the state of showed a population decline of 219,563, or 4.87%
Many people were totally traumatised
Racial tensions were exposed and intensified, as many of the victims were black African Americans
Most of the management and aid in response to hurricane Katrina came from within the (INTERNAL FEDERAL aid). The storm was predicted by the National Hurricane centre and they gave a very accurate plot of the Hurricanes track and expected landfall, not far from . This allowed for a coordinated EVACUATION but many people were left behind and many refused to move. This warning also allowed some disaster recovery response to Katrina began before the storm, with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) preparations that ranged from logistical supply deployments to a mortuary team with refrigerated trucks. Many volunteers gave assistance to local residents and residents emerging from New Orleans and surrounding parishes as soon as the storm made landfall (even though many were directed to not enter the area), and continued for more than six months after the storm.
Of the 60,000 people stranded in , the Coast Guard rescued more than 33,500. The also had a military on-scene response on Sunday, August 28. Approximately 58,000 National Guard personnel were activated to deal with the storm's aftermath, with troops coming from all 50 states.
Early in September, Congress authorized a total of $62.3 billion in aid for victims. FEMA provided housing assistance (rental assistance, trailers, etc.) to more than 700,000 applicants—families and individuals. However, only one-fifth of the trailers requested in Parish were supplied, resulting in an enormous housing shortage in the city of . Many local areas voted to not allow the trailers, and many areas had no utilities, a requirement prior to placing the trailers. To provide for additional housing, FEMA has also paid for the hotel costs of 12,000 individuals and families displaced by Katrina through February 7, 2006, when a final deadline was set for the end of hotel cost coverage. As of March 30, 2010, there were still 260 families living in FEMA-provided trailers in and .
Law enforcement and public safety agencies responded with manpower and equipment from as far away as California, New York, and . This response was welcomed by local authorities as their staff were either becoming fatigued, stretched too thin, or even quitting from the job.
Two weeks after the storm, more than half of the states were involved in providing shelter for evacuees. By four weeks after the storm, evacuees had been registered in all 50 states and in 18,700 zip codes—half of the nation's residential postal zones. Most evacuees had stayed within 250 miles (400 km), but 240,000 households went to and other cities over 250 miles (400 km) away and another 60,000 households went over 750 miles (1,200 km) away (source)
The government was critised for its response, with many critics claiming it was very slow to respond and that the management lacked coordination. The use of emergency centres was also criticised, with the Superdome (designed to handle 800, yet 30,000 arrived) and the (not designed as an evacuation center, yet 25,000 arrived) deemed by many as inadequate. Race and class were also stipulated as issues, with Kanye West claiming that there was a racial reason for the slow response, given that most of the stranded people were African American.
The international community also responded quickly, with over seventy countries pledging monetary donations or other assistance. Kuwait made the largest single pledge, $500 million; whilst sent tarps, blankets and hygiene kits. An Indian Air Force IL-76 aircraft delivered 25 tonnes of relief supplies for the Hurricane Katrina victims at the Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas on September 13, 2005. Charitable NGOs such as the American Red cross also waded in with assistance.
Timeline of the Crisis from the BBC
BBC special report