On August 29th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the southern coast of the United States with devastating effect. The hurricane made landfall on the Gulf Coast, destroying lives and leveling homes. It was reported that more than 1,800 people lost their lives, and more than $81 billion dollars in damages occurred. Hurricane Katrina, of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, was the costliest hurricane, as well as one of the five deadliest, in the history of the United States.
As a result, efforts to assist those affected by Hurricane Katrina still continue, as those impacted by the terrible hurricane continue to work to regain the health and livelihood that they had before the storm (Hurricane Katrina, n.d.).
Failed Leadership in Aftermath
Hurricane Katrina not only devastated the city of New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast of the U.S., it initiated a bitter debate about the leadership, or lack thereof, exhibited by government officials before, during and after the storm. Called into question have been the actions of an array of leaders: President Bush, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, and former Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael Brown (, 2005).
Widespread Dissatisfaction at all Levels
There was widespread dissatisfaction with the early governmental response to Hurricane Katrina. The normal process of government response to a natural disaster is a bottom up movement starting with local government then moving up to states and, finally, reaching the federal government. With Hurricane Katrina the initial response proceeded slowly and with uncertainty.
Local government, overwhelmed by the disaster, failed to take the immediate steps necessary to avoid chaos. The omissions percolated up. At the state level, Gov. Blanco did not declare martial law or a state of emergency. She also declined the White House’s offer to bring in National Guard troops. The federal government took little action in the initial days after the storm. President Bush pledged assistance, but stressed that “recovery will take years.” These delays and hesitations at all levels opened the doors for chaos in the most critical recovery time.
Finally, FEMA shifted its focus from natural disasters to counter-terrorism. Structural changes also took place as FEMA moved in to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — taking away FEMA’s independence as an agency (Schneider, 2005).
Less than three months after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, relief legislation remained dormant in Washington and despair grew among officials who feared that Congress and the Bush administration were losing interest in their plight.
As evidence, the state and local officials cited an array of stalled bills and policy changes they said were crucial to rebuilding the city and persuading some of its hundreds of thousands of evacuated residents to return, including measures to finance long-term hurricane protection, revive small businesses and compensate the uninsured. Congressional leaders were scrambling to rein in spending, and many in Washington grumbled that Louisiana’s leaders asked for too much, while failing to guarantee that the money would be spent efficiently and honestly (Dao, 2005).
Time for Accountability
There is definitely a time for accountability; but what isn’t fair is to dump on the federal officials and avoid those most responsible — local and state officials who failed to do their job as the first responders. The plain fact is lives were needlessly lost in New Orleans due to the failure of Louisiana’s governor, Kathleen Blanco, and the city’s mayor, Ray Nagin (Williams, 2005).
The primary responsibility for dealing with emergencies does not belong to the federal government. It belongs to local and state officials who are charged by law with the management of the crucial first response to disasters. First response should be carried out by local and state emergency personnel under the supervision of the state governor and her emergency operations center.
The actions and inactions are a national disgrace due to their failure to implement the previously established evacuation plans of the state and city. Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin cannot claim that they were surprised by the extent of the damage and the need to evacuate so many people. Detailed written plans were already in place to evacuate more than a million people. The plans projected that 300,000 people would need transportation in the event of a hurricane like Katrina. If the plans had been implemented, thousands of lives would likely have been saved (Williams, 2005).
In addition to the plans, local, state and federal officials held a simulated hurricane drill 13 months before the disasters, in which widespread flooding supposedly trapped 300,000 people inside New Orleans. The exercise simulated the evacuation of more than a million residents. The problems identified in the simulation apparently were not solved.
The federal government does not have the authority to intervene in a state emergency without the request of a governor. President Bush declared an emergency prior to Katrina hitting New Orleans, so the only action needed for federal assistance was to request the specific type of assistance needed. She failed to send a timely request for specific aid (Williams, 2005).
Dao, J. (2005, Nov 22). Louisiana sees faded urgency in relief effort. Retrieved March 24, 2009, from the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/22/national/nationalspecial/22louisiana.html?ex=1290315600&en=96a67d624f89c525&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss#
Hurricane Katrina. (n.d.). Retrieved March 24, 2009, from U.S. Department of Health & Human Services HHS.Gov: http://www.hhs.gov/disasters/emergency/naturaldisasters/hurricanes/katrina/index.html
(2005, Oct 05). A month after Katrina: lessons from leadership failures. Retrieved March 24, 2009, from: http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=1289
Schneider, S. (2005). Administrative breakdowns in the governmental response to Hurricane Katrina. Public Administration Review, Pages 515-516, Volume 65 Issue 5.
Williams, B. (2005, Sept 07). Blame amid the tragedy. Retrieved March 24, 2009, from the Wall Street Journal: http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110007219
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