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Hurricane Katrina Case Study

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Overview of the Catastrophic

Devastating effects of the Hurricane Katrina were felt due to leadership constraints. George V. Voinovich’s views in the Katrina Special Report of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs indicate that FEMA did not at that time have appropriate leadership, staffing levels or budgetary resources ready prior to the Hurricane Katrina (Nohrstedt, 2009). Despite the prediction and forecasting of the disaster, effective response failed much as there were so many resources but which did not get to areas desperately needed majorly due to poor communication, poor coordination of the various operations, confusion as to agency scope of authority and a general lack of effective leadership (Roberts, 2007).

Leadership and the Katrina

As per U.S. law and national policy, the required focus of disaster responsibility and emergency preparedness is a bottom-up model in which efforts to defend communities from terrorists or hurricanes need proactive, knowledgeable and aggressive local leadership and not a dominating top-down national policy. Bottom-up philosophy applies to and supports resilience concept. Local authorities are primarily in charge even when the federal government or state does provide assistance (Nohrstedt, & Weible, 2010).

Due to ineffective leadership and decision making skills portrayed and applied by Governor Blanco who refuted the President’s several offers to federalize the response and recovery efforts in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina destroyed key communications infrastructure, overwhelmed state and local response capacity crippling their ability to perform expected roles, destroyed homes and affected families of first responders thereby reducing their capacity to respond (Oliver, 2011). Governor Blanco could not or would not make this decision (Bush, 2010). In spite of the numerous information about the uncertainty of the levees, needs of survivors and warnings about the threat level and Katrina’s strength from the National Hurricane Centre including personal warnings from the NHC Director, Max Mayfield, top officials at every government level never appeared to get the magnitude of the storms potential for destruction (Nohrstedt, & Weible, 2010).

In spite of the extensive hurricane warnings from a wide variety of professional sources, very little was made in addressing the issue especially following impacts of Hurricane Georges in 1998. State authorities, contractors and FEMA failed to follow-up with implementation proposals to address identified problems of ineffective evacuation and sheltering planning for New Orleans. This poor decision making and planning had disastrous effects. No formal request for aid from other agencies for help in transportation and sheltering problems were made by FEMA nor did it verify that the state had effectively addressed the issues (Nohrstedt, 2009).

Communication and Hurricane Katrina

Poor communication experienced was one of the major problems to deal with. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco who knew the shortcomings of their resources in addressing the disaster never specified the needs adequately to the federal government. Whereas Blanco did a letter to President Bush indicating state resources would be overwhelmed, she never specified any request for assistance in evacuating the tens of thousands of people with no means of transport (Oliver, 2011). Similarly, the states’ transportation secretary ignored his duties leaving no arm of the State government prepared to obtain and deliver additional transportation to those who lacked it. Much as the Louisiana federal officials failed in performing their duties and responsibilities, the federal government too did fail in setting up an example as was required of it. Their failure to prepare effectively for the role it ought to in response after Katrina (Anderson, 2011). DHS failed to perform its duties in response to Katrina, it never brought in any urgency to the federal government concerning Katrina. Secretary Chertoff himself only made top level inquiries into state preparations and quickly accepted the reassurances he received. Had he been further inquisitive, he’d have got rid of any uncertainty in the federal government, would have put all other agencies on toes to prepare in responding to Katrina by being ready with resources (O’Toole, 2000).

President Bush recognized the confusion, disunity and disorganization in the New Orleans emergency response team. He had identified that mistakes came at all levels from the failure to request for a timely evacuation. The president recognized and acknowledged the fact that New Orleans Mayor, Nagin and Louisiana Governor Blanco were not making any critical decisions required to quickly initiate an effective response team plus were unable/incapable of leading response and recovery efforts. Given the Governor’s inability to make critical decisions, lack of ladership and inability to control resources of the Katrina response, as the CEO and commander in chief of the United States, Bush should have made his decision to intervene much earlier. However, he was reluctant in doing so. His hesitation had a catastrophic effect on the people of New Orleans (Bush, 2010).

Inadequate response and selective participation

Another policy issue was the criticism mounted on the National Response Plan by state officials who complained they were left out from the disaster planning process (Roberts, 2007; Nohrstedt, & Weible, 2010). These complaints are proof enough for the need for the bottom-up participatory policy decision making. Immediately after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, terrorism became the priority disaster amongst policy decision makers applying a top-down approach thereby leaving out natural and technological disasters. Political, policy and managerial decisions made by the president and his administration had effect on the federal government’s ability to mitigate, prepare and respond to the disaster (Seed, 2005). Bush prioritized terrorism as a major threat and gave less emphasis on the all hazard approach to other disasters. The action also puts to question the top-down policy approach while totally looking down upon the weaknesses and the model’s ineffectiveness.

Politics, bureaucracy, and leadership

Despite massive flooding in New Orleans, President Bush and his men did not still act as though they appreciated and understood the severity of the storm, Katrina (Roberts, 2007). Military trained DHS personnel failed to understand the disaster procedures, did not recognize the severity threat that was looming and did not either understand the federal necessities for disaster response (Roberts, 2006). The National Response Plan placed the DHS secretary, Michael Chertoff to oversee federal assets instead of the FEMA director who coordinated these assets in the past. This was a major disconnect in the organizational policing thereby affected decision making. It appears the president mistakenly had so much trust in the leadership and decision making abilities of the New Orleans Mayor, Nagin and the Louisiana Governor, Blanco (Bush, 2010). The failure to come up with a unified command was caused by disaster severity, FEMA’s inability to have enough personnel with appropriate expertise and training to handle such a big disaster and finally failure by the Louisiana state to have adequate experts and trained experts ready to cope with the disaster and its big size (Anderson, 2011).

Delay in important resources like ice, food, bottled water medical supplies, emergency personnel plus even more delays in decisions as regards declaration processes, staff organization, evacuation directions, public announcements, and lack of situational understanding on both federal and state officials (O’Toole, 2000). Neither President Bush nor his advisors presented an image to the press that depicted confidence, understanding of what was taking place nor did they realize it was their responsibility to respond in a timely manner. Much as they were high profile leaders, their actions depicted a lack of concern, education and care for the people. It seemed they disregarded the mission of FEMA and the national emergency management system. According to the president, though it was a matter of bureaucratic, politics that played part. The actions of Governor Blanco showed a lack of education and training but no one was ready to mention it before the media.

The Katrina tragedy is wholly blamed on bureaucracy, poor leadership and indecision (Roberts 2007; Alexander, 2006). President Bush, FEMA, DHS and local officials were wholly blamed. Much as citizens had been alerted there would be inadequate evacuation mechanisms, communication on the alternative means was not given from the various government officials and any local officials. No effective preparations were made, neither were instructions done to the public by state officials on evacuation assistance if and when needed at the time of say the storm or flooding. Blanco’s failure to hold key decisions and provide critical leadership directions was a key factor that aggravated the Katrina.

The creation of unintended image of lack of leadership ability, experience and awareness concerning the importance of the effective emergency management policy and procedures was one of the greatest provisions of poor communication made to the press by the president. He said, ‘…the relationship between the federal, state and local governments is an important relationship and I need to understand how it works better’ (Seed, 2005). The lack of effective leadership prompted no one to think or even remember the large number of local responders who had already overwhelmed by the injured persons, displaced and confused residents. Leaders should have gone for well trained, experienced individuals to address the situation as part of a contingency plan to effectively respond to the demand by offering solutioons (Roberts, 2006). On the contrary, local responders quickly got tired from the overwhelming task, ran out of resources and together with their families were too at risk. Again, due to poor planning no one would help the responders or replace them from exhaustion and injury. Remaining decision makers were overwhelmed by the big demand for resources, personnel and supplies, evacuation thereby stopping them from reacting and responding effectively. The lack of organization and preparedness complicated and slowed response assistance capabilities (O’Toole, 2000).

Leaders and decision makers ought to listen to responders who have necessary expertise, those who know procedures, policies and required resources as well s when they are required. There must thus be some understanding, listening culture wit trust to effect policies and have them flourish. Some series of unidentified disconnects surfaced and were not being addressed. Mayor Nagin appeared on a radio station delivering a scathing criticism of President Bush and Governor Blanco for not responding to his requests and needs. He went ahead telling them to stop saying they were doing anything and proceed to put their words into actions, do what was critically required then (Oliver, 2011).

It is thus abundantly clear that four basic requirements for effective emergency response and recovery must be acquired, satisfied, performed and demonstrated by leaders at all levels of management. These are:

  • Training which tends to provide one with knowledge on what to do and how to do it.
  • Education which provides the why and future concern for impact decisions in life.
  • Experience for direction and guidance.
  • Leadership and decision making for implementing decisive actions.

Ineffective emergency management system

Despite the strong alarm and warning sounded by the rescue groups, the United States emergency department showed reluctance to the calls. The effectiveness of this department in during crisis such as Hurricane Katrina is affected by the collaborative and time-intensive processes involving a range of talents and organizations (Alexander, 2006). This serves as a test to the implementation of management policies and the collaborative management systems. Even after the stern warning of the potential threats of the Katrina, National Response Plan (NRP) complained for being sidelined in the planning process for the disaster (Bush, 2010). Other rescue and emergency groups also complained of being left out in the Katrina disaster planning. This restricted participation in the disaster planning is an indication of ineffectiveness of the emergency and response committees. Had all the participants been brought to board, divergent views would have been discussed (Roberts, 2007). However, limited participation and selective emergency response is partially criticized for the disaster.

The establishment of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the immediate melding of the FEMA as a subsidiary response agency raised concerns on the effectiveness and capability of the federal emergency management’s commitment to dealing with major attacks and disasters. Public awareness and recognition of the degree of vulnerability to all these disasters and hazards has raised major concern. It is worth recognizing that natural disasters are untimely and boundless. Therefore, no particular nation or region is immune to such misfortunes. Therefore, proper emergency planning starts from the local environment and not centralized as was in the case of Hurricane Katrina (Oliver, 2011). Consequently, intersectional cooperation (which lacked during the Katrina) is appropriate in order to increase our response and management of any potential catastrophic occurrence in future.

Not a single state, region, country, or section can survive major cataclysms without support from the rest. Regular reinforcement and maintenance are essential in retaining its effectiveness and efficiency. Being the primary-decision makers, the locals must be engaged in the planning and management of disasters. The Katrina disaster was a prove of the unacceptable response of the federal government through FEMA and Emergency department s of the United States (Roberts, 2006).   Further, it exposed the long-term failures of the federal government to plan and adequately prepare for catastrophic and other major disasters.  As explained the senate committee, “we were horrified when the response to the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe was revealed-all too often, and for far long-confusion, delays, misunderstanding, misdirection, poor coordination, inactivity, and lack of sound/professional leadership at all levels of government fueled the crisis” (Nohrstedt, & Weible, 2010) The decisions and resolutions proposed by President Bush’s administration demonstrated lack of purpose, importance, purpose, and functionality. Therefore, there was need to offer effective emergency training for the entire body of the emergency management and response unit. 

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