Hurricane Katrina: Overview, Impact, Response

Subject: Environment
Pages: 10
Words: 2049
Reading time:
8 min
Study level: Master

Overview of the Hurricane

Hurricane Katrina is rightfully referred as one of the most destructive and largest disasters the United States has ever experienced. The financial losses amount to almost $110 billion, with thousands of people injured, hundreds becoming disabled, and 1200 dead. The events occurring on the Louisiana coast and those preceding them in August 2005 turned into a true apocalypse. A Category 3 storm and winds as fast as 120 miles per hour reached Alabama, Mississippi, and destroyed most of New Orleans, Louisiana. The hazard showcased the unpreparedness and flaws of the American emergency management system. Moreover, it became evident how much of a disadvantage lower socio-economic classes and people of color are at. Thus, it is apparent that the Hurricane highlighted several of the nation’s deep-rooted issues.

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Impact

In order to make accurate conclusions about the consequences Hurricane Katrina has had on the nation, it is imperative to examine such impact indicators as land and home destruction, financial losses, unemployment, etc. As a result of the disaster, more than 300,000 people have lost their homes and 90,000 square miles of land were damaged. In turn, this destruction has led to a substantial increase in unemployment as the unemployment rate more than doubled over the course of one month, rising to 12.1 percent in September 2005. The hazard has had an effect on the energy sector as well since around 8 million gallons of oil spilled as a result and 1.7 million people were left with no power for months. Furthermore, New Orleans has experienced an alarmingly big population decrease. In 2000, there were three times more New Orleans residents than in 2006. Even though 15 years have passed since Hurricane Katrina hit, the town of New Orleans has not yet recovered fully.

Timeline

The date for Hurricane Katrina that is used by officials is August 29, 2005 although it is apparent that the events before and after that day can be considered a part of the disaster. Thus, the events start in the Bahamas where storm is brewing on August 23 and slowly moves to Florida and Nassau a day later. Before arriving to the coast of Florida and the city of Miami, it strengthens and is classified as Category 1 Hurricane on August 25. The following day, the Hurricane gradually slows down as it moves through Florida but immediately strengthens as it crosses the Gulf of Mexico. Therefore, Mississippi and Louisiana both alarm their population and go into a state of emergency right before the Hurricane is re-classified into the Category 3 Hurricane. As it finally reaches New Orleans, the storm now directs winds as fast as 175 miles per hour, which makes it a Category 5 Hurricane. The town’s levee system cannot possibly withstand the amount of pressure from the rainwater and wind, ultimately breaking down. August 29 and 30 are the days when New Orleans becomes completely flooded, half of the city submerged in water. Following these events, the remaining residents start to steal, loot, and engage in other types of criminal activity as the reports of shootings and rapes rise. Almost 27,000 National Guard troops are deployed in Louisiana as of September 4, with a Hurricane Fund being announced by former Presidents Bush and Clinton. Although the majority of evacuation and recovery operations slow down after September 7, bodies are still recovered months later.

Phases of emergency management: mitigation

Mitigation measures are usually divided into two main groups: structural and non-structural. Structural efforts involve construction, engineering, or the application of new technologies. As for the Hurricane Katrina, the city of New Orleans was and the State of Louisiana, in general, were dependent on the federal levee system, which should have provided the protection from storms of potential floods. The Army Corps and Orleans Parrish upgrade the system a bit by initiating repairs and making certain improvements in 2004. However, the project remained incomplete due to budget cuts. The only parts, which were complete were an expanded pump station and a partially reconstructed box culvert. The Army Corps of Engineers repeatedly petitioned the authorities for taking action and not disregarding the risks. Despite that, months of warnings were insufficient to convince the local officials. In regards to collecting the necessary intelligence, there were relatively no mistakes. The government knew of the risks and possible consequences months prior yet they did not manage to ensure security. Experts gathered massive amounts of relevant information, which did not somehow prompt any action. Scientists assessed the threat of an event similar to Hurricane Katrina and concluded that the risk was very high years before 2005. Cole and Fellows (2008) note that “accurate Hurricane advisories were issued 36 hours before landfall; storm surge forecasts were issued 32 hours before” (p. 216).

Mitigation

Unfortunately, limited engineering and construction measures led to the New Orleans levee system remaining extra-vulnerable to the slightest pressure let alone a Category 5 Hurricane.

Regarding the non-structural efforts, they imply putting into action various regulations and laws. In addition, training, education, and efforts to raise awareness are a crucial part of non-structural measures. The largest project implemented by the government was undeniably “Hurricane Pam,” a large-scale and investment-heavy training exercise for local and state authorities back in 2004. Scientific prognoses and predictions prompted the development of “Hurricane Pam,” which was incomplete as of 2005. As a result, officials had no draft plans and lacked the competence needed to respond to the hazard such as Katrina efficiently. In terms of regulatory precautionary measures, they were rather limited in New Orleans. First, Nance (2008) notes that “large swaths of the city were allowed to be constructed slab-in-grade construction, and many residents in elevated homes were allowed to inhabit the first floor” (p. 26). Second, although big parts of the city were officially classified as floodplains, New Orleans residents were not required to have mandatory flood insurance. This led to thousands of people losing their houses and having nowhere to run for help. The decision-making process of so many federal, state, and local officials was ultimately flawed as they failed to consider the risks and take the proper action to mitigate them.

Preparedness

Preparing for an emergency is a complex tasks, which often involves a combination of pre-planning, resource allocation, and budgeting decisions. The states of Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana all engages in preparation efforts years and months prior to the tragic events of August 2005. For instance, according to the report published by the University of North Texas (n.d.), they initiated “county and state preparedness disaster response training (…); the establishment of local, state, and federal command structures (…); activation of emergency operation centers” (p. 59). The National Guard of Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi was each activated prior to the arrival of Katrina as well.

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Despite that, the absence of efficient and reliable operational plans has had a tremendous impact on evacuation and response efforts. After all, in regards to the hazard response, more than 70,000 people remained in New Orleans for a number of reasons. Evacuation operations failed to facilitate safe leave for people who were disabled, had no means of evacuating, or possessed no mode of transportation. The government and media failed to acknowledge that people might feel scared to leave their possessions. The messages shared with the population were unclear and confusing at times as they included such vague terms as “highly suggested,” “recommended,” and “voluntary.” Evidently, the officials failed to enforce mandatory evacuation, which made it all the harder for New Orleans residents to assess the risks. When examining the failure of the authorities to prepare for the Hurricane, it is important to mention the breakdown of communications. In the states of Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, communication channels became partially immobilized, which made the efficient response to the disaster less possible. The implementation of centralized command was often challenged by this breakdown as federal officials received limited information from local authorities, thus lacking the much needed situational awareness. Officials often had no way of sharing critical intelligence fast because the equipment they had kept malfunctioning. Limited and old equipment, the lack of knowledge, and the absence of reliable communication channels could all be considered major flaws of the preparedness efforts. In addition to lacking the crucial resources identified above, the distribution of funds by the Federal Emergency Management Agency was rather inadequate. Budgeting for a disaster such as Katrina was inefficient, which was evidenced by a number of examples. For instance, federal agencies’ communication networks received generous grants from FEMA year after year yet they ultimately failed and broke down during the Hurricane. Given the alarming predictions of experts at the time, the level of preparedness demonstrated by the United States was low.

Response

When analyzing the response efforts employed during Hurricane Katrina, it is crucial to highlight the polarizing distinction between the private and public sectors in their approaches. On the one hand, the performance of some federal agencies was certainly good. For instance, Edwards (2015) mentions that “the Coast Guard rapidly deployed 4,000 service members, 37 aircraft, and 78boats to the area” (para. 12). Thus, it is apparent that certain parts of the federal response machine were well-coordinated. The Coast Guard and the National Guard were decentralized, which was the main reason for their efficiency. They mainly relied on local authorities for information and, thus, were exceptionally situationally aware. Despite that, in general, the federal response implied numerous supply failures and indecision. This, in turn, has had a profound impact on redundancy and continuity of operations long-term. Moreover, it is crucial to mention that the efforts of the private sector were slowed down by the federal government’s intention to disrupt them. FEMA obstructing the delivery of emergency supplies initiated by the New Orleans Methodist Church is only one of the examples. It is evident that the assistance from the private sector could have played an even bigger role if the federal agencies cooperated instead of blocking any attempts.

Recovery

The process of recovering from the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina required a multi-stage process massive in scale and expenditures. The federal government created a number of initiatives directed specifically at overseeing and assessing the efficiency of the agencies in charge of funds distribution. Thus, even the operations and effectiveness of FEMA were examined in terms of delivering relief. More than $200 billion were in the budget for recovery efforts, including $195.5 billion from the federal authorities, $30 billion from a variety of insurance companies, and $6.5 billion from private donations. The issue with recovery and relief was the rise of fraud and scams. According to rough estimates, almost $2 billion of financial assistance provided to those affected by the Hurricane were invalid as people registered houses and other property, which had not existed in the first place. Therefore, it is apparent that the authorities could have done a better job at validating suspicious claims.

Recommendations for improvements

The only good thing about the disaster such as Hurricane Katrina is the learning opportunity it provides for authorities to improve their decision-making process in case of future hazards. The main issue with the response to the events of August 2005 is the abuse endured by local authorities at the hands of the federal agencies. The federal government should never usurp the power of local officials but rather assist them in their efforts to respond to the disaster. After all, only the local authorities get the most accurate picture of the events fast. It would also be a good idea to ensure that the structure of federal response initiatives is regional. Furthermore, there is a need to re-organize the National Guard. Although,the Guard performed exceptionally well in each of the states, some modifications might be necessary. As a result of re-organization, the federal government could utilize the Guard in preparedness efforts, and pre-planning, in particular. Carafano and Keith (2006) add that it would be beneficial to move “the National Disaster Medical System back into HHS from DHS” (para. 3). This would ensure that the public health response of the federal authorities is centralized. Finally, it is exceptionally important to develop a proper preparedness culture within the government bodies and among the population as well. The culture of community preparedness is the key determinant of individual residents’ decisions in regards to evacuation and precautionary measures.

References

Carafano, J., & Keith, L. (2006). Hurricane Katrina lessons learned: Solid recommendations. Heritage. Web.

Cole, T. W., & Fellows, K. L. (2008). Risk communication failure: A case study of New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. Southern Communication Journal, 73(3), 211-228.

Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. (2006). Hurricane Katrina: A nation still unprepared. Web.

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Edwards, C. (2015). Hurricane Katrina: Remembering the federal failures. Cato. Web.

Gajanan, M., & Brait, E. (2015). Hurricane Katrina timeline – how the disaster unfolded ten years ago. The Guardian. Web.

Gibbens, S. (2019). Hurricane Katrina explained. National Geographic. Web.

Nance, E. (2009). Responding to risk: The making of hazard mitigation strategy in post-Katrina New Orleans. Journal of Contemporary Water Research & Education, 141, 21-30. Web.

Plyer, A. (2016). Facts for features: Katrina Impact. The Data Center. Web.