The Danger and Consequences of Hurricane Katrina

Since the creation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 1979, there have been a significant number declarations of major disasters. A disaster is defined as an occurrence that has resulted in property damage, deaths and injury to a community. Normally a disaster is scholars today conclude that the definition of disaster is socially constructed. There are two types of disaster declarations provided for in the Stafford Act: emergency declarations and major disaster declarations.  Both declaration types authorize the President to provide supplemental federal disaster assistance. However, the events related to the two different types of declaration and scope and amount of assistance differ.

Ordinarily, presidents do not issue an emergency or major disaster declaration in the absence of a governor’s request unless the disaster or emergency involves a direct federal concern.  Emergency management is most simply defined as the discipline dealing with risk and risk avoidance. emergency management is integral to the security of our daily lives. Emergency management is an essential role of government. The Federal Government’s ultimate obligation is to help when State, local or individual entities are overwhelmed. “It is also fair to say that the definition of disaster is “politically constructed” by news the media portrayals of an event, how the president chooses to define and comprehend the event, and how people among the general public perceive and judge the event.” Pg 275. Many of these disasters go under the radar without much recognition due to the lack of publicity through the media.

The media is our primary source of information, news and so much more. The media shapes the volume and content of what it covers and helps create the issues public agencies address and largely determine the public’s perception. Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster that caught attention throughout the nation due to the severity of the disaster, and the widespread of information from the media.

Hurricane Katrina was a category 5 Hurricane that struck august of 2005 which devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast Region. Hurricane Katrina consisted of storms with sustained winds exceeding 156 mph. It caused catastrophic damage from central Florida to eastern Texas.  With varying depths of up to 20 feet, The city of New Orleans was 80% flooded, making Katrina the largest residential disaster in U.S. history.  After the wake of hurricane Katrina, the city of New Orleans was in complete disarray. Major issues stemming from mistrust, misconduct, and disorder of policy and procedure plagued the city.

Law enforcement agencies were unprepared for the mass destruction that the hurricane caused. Police were without power, vehicles were under water, stations were flooded along with 80 percent of the city, and the police radio system had completely shut down. The police department was surrounded by chaos and pressure, unable to create order within their agency they struggled to provide the necessities for the civilians. With the lack of help and resources from the government, the citizens took survival into their own hands; law enforcement officials labeled these people as looters. Lawlessness engulfed the city and the cops’ leadership was absent. Communication is the glue that holds an organization together and helps determine how information is processed and received. With nearly all means of communication down, there was no way to keep the organizations together to coordinate efforts to assist in rescue and recovery. Without a common command channel, each agency had to communicate independently. With no order amongst law officials, mistrust, misconduct, and miscommunication led to mass disorder. the government’s response to this catastrophic event had been beyond disorganized and dysfunctional. With hardly any local government able to assist, The Coast Guard, a unique branch of the military was responsible for an array of maritime duties and got much credit for the search and rescue efforts for hurricane Katrina.

The effects of hurricane Katrina brought put a spotlight on many issues within management and administration, more specifically the communication and coordination amongst the Governor, City Mayor, Police Chief, and the officers. New Orleans had no prior reliable plan or network to use for coordinating emergency response operations prior to hurricane Katrina.  Local public safety agencies suffered extensive damage to their facilities and equipment. Police were without power, vehicles were under water, stations were flooded along with 80 percent of the city, and the police radio system had completely shut down.

Some emergency personnel fled and did not report to work. There was no way for officers to communicate since the 911 service and public safety radio communications were inoperable. The Mayor was unable to neither establish reliable communications nor command local efforts with anyone. It was nearly impossible to establish incident command structures with no way to communicate with one another. Without an incident command structure, it was difficult for local leaders to guide local response teams. With the lack of a command structure and no way for personnel and agencies to communicate amongst one another, chaos and rumors filled the street. It was rumored that the Mayor commanded to put officers back on the street, to “take back the city”, and later called for martial law after he heard an officer had been shot in the head while doing search and rescue. It remains unclear who originated the orders for martial law or whether they were heard by any of the officers involved in the shootings. Misinformation and exaggeration about the state of the city caused disorder.

Police force interpreted it to authorize shooting of looters, Citizens being shot in the back. Martial law was in fact never declared, but was thought to be over mere speculation, and rumors amongst law enforcement agencies. They only believed they were given authority to shoot looters but it was never passed. Chaos and pressure against the police department caused things to spiral out of control, Deputy Chief Riley, told the mayor he had even heard an officer say on the radio, ‘I need more ammo. We need more ammo.’ The effects of hurricane Katrina demanded a national response that Federal, State, and local officials were unprepared to provide.

Ordinarily, presidents do not issue an emergency or major disaster declaration in the absence of a governor’s request unless the disaster or emergency involves a direct federal concern. “in March 1989 an executive order issued by president George h. W. Bush delegated Stafford act authority, with some exceptions (principally major disaster and emergency declarations), to the director of Fema. The Stafford Act, as mentioned, authorizes the president to issue major disaster declarations when an incident overwhelms state and local resource” pg 72The Stafford Act is designed to supplement the efforts and available resources of States. local governments, and disaster relief organizations. hurricane Katrina was a disaster that had probable cause for the Stafford act to come into play. The Stafford act would allow the president to authorize the Federal Government to provide essential assistance to meet immediate threats to life and property, as well as additional disaster relief assistance. Unfortunately, Hurricane Katrina showed the failures and limitations of the Stafford Act.

FEMA was unable to effectively implement the National Response Plan (NRP).  After a Presidential disaster was declared, decisions to activate parts of the NRP  to bring in the military and resources of the Federal government in support of State and local authorities were delayed This was particularly devastating because flooding caused by breached levees isolated thousands in their homes, the Superdome and hospitals. FEMA failed to work closely with its State and local counterparts and communications between these partners and the public were strained. The efforts of private sector support, as well as donations, were insignificant and some turned away completely.  Throughout the response phase of Hurricane Katrina it was nearly impossible for anyone to identify who was in charge. The question of who was in charge remained questionable. Communications among all parties and with the public were sporadic and incomplete.  The attempts of working closely with residents and law enforcement was nearly non-existent. The City of New Orleans and the effects of Katrina is the most illustrative example of the hindered recovery process.

The issues surrounding law officials responding to Hurricane Katrina illustrate the systemic weaknesses within our current national preparedness system for emergencies, in times of crisis professional training is supposed to kick in; during hurricane Katrina, New Orleans showed the lack of readiness and professionalism. The lack of response, recovery, and reconstruction highlight the insufficient planning, training, and interagency coordination amongst emergency respondent agencies. Hurricane Katrina proved the need for greater integration and emergency preparedness efforts, not only throughout the Federal government but also with the State and local governments. State and local law enforcement should have emergency operational plans, procedures, and policies to ensure an effective Federal law enforcement response.

In the aftermath of Katrina, the Department of Homeland Security has continued to disassemble FEMA’s emergency management programs and operations. The many disaster programs and operations that were brought together by President Carter in 1979 from across the Federal Government to form FEMA have been disassembled and spread among the many agencies and directorates of the Department of Homeland Security. Mitigation has gone from being the foundation of our emergency management system to an afterthought.  Leadership from FEMA and the Federal government in emergency management has been marginalized resulting in State and local emergency management organizations losing funding, authority and capability.  Efforts to partner with the public and the business sector have been minimized.  No one is in charge. Some of the major programs and features of Federal disaster relief dispensed to victims of Hurricane Katrina was under the Conventional Model.

The conventional model provided relief for victims which was set into three general categories, individual assistance, public assistance, and hazard mitigation assistance to ensure that individuals and families that have been affected by disasters have access to Response and Recovery programs in a timely manner. The Disaster Mitigation Act amended the Stafford Act, as a combination of two former FEMA programs – Disaster Housing Assistance and the Individual and Family Grants Program. When a major disaster occurs, this program provides aid to individuals in the area covered by the major disaster declaration.

In the Conventional Model there is no single representative to contact; disaster victims get shuffled from agency to agency, sometimes receiving conflicting advice. Immediately after the major disaster declaration, an array of relief assistance programs were established in affected communities where individuals could discuss their disaster-related needs. Confusion and inflexibility may slow or even stall the Conventional Model’s recovery capabilities. A program that is authorized under the Stafford Act is the Crisis Counseling Assistance which provides funding to the State to help relieve any grieving, stress, or mental health problems caused or aggravated by a disaster or its aftermath. There was also unemployment benefits provided through the Disaster Unemployment Assistance Program available to “Hurricane Katrina reminded Americans that disasters often have profound effects on people who are poor or who are struggling to make ends meet.

Disaster relief, especially long-term recovery relief to assist in the rebuilding, relocation, and economic recovery is also a matter of antipoverty social policy for the nation” 269. Although there was an out-pour of benefits most people did not have insurance on their properties which would leave many people homeless. Sometimes it takes a natural disaster to point out the shortcomings of social and economic disasters such as hurricane Katrina. American social and political cultural norms maintain that people need to make provision for possible disaster losses by purchasing insurance as a hedge. “Even though flood coverage has been required since 1973 as a condition for a federally insured mortgage, it has been estimated that less than 40 percent of the victims of Hurricane Katrina in Mississippi and Louisiana had flood insurance to cover their losses.” 19. FEMA may still be able to provide assistance under limited circumstances, such as documented delayed, insufficient, or denied insurance settlements. a vast number of NFIP policyholders in Katrina damage zones ended up having their claims denied by both NFIP and their private insurer due to conflicting agreements within the contracts.

Communication is like the glue that holds an organization together it helps determine how information is communicated, processed, received & stored. There was no inter-organizational communication, to lead both model organizations to engage in public relations to make significant adjustments in how they operated the rescue. Without communication, it was difficult to establish a leader. A leader needs to know the problems & methods of effective communication, Planning conflict resolution and providing resolution decision making. With no leader, it is difficult to set a plan for recovery. With the lack of leadership, there was no process set that would help direct and rescue and with no form of communication, there was a lot of misconstrued information. During Hurricane Katrina, communications were specifically ineffective which lead many to be confused. My suggestion would be to have an emergency plan set in place and communicate these efforts frequently through the media. I would have also recommended that the emergency personnel frequently communicate with other agencies and practice response to debunk confusion.