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Disaster Management: the Case of Hurricane Katrina Research Paper

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Updated: Feb 9th, 2019


Disasters are an integral part of human existence. A major natural disaster to affect the United States in the recent past was hurricane Katrina, which was a category 2 hurricane that made the first landfall on August 25, 2005.

This hurricane was very powerful and by the time of the second landfall, it had attained speeds of up to 140mph (Rojek and Smith 594). Due to its tremendous negative effects, it is considered to be the most destructive and costly urban disaster in US history. The city that was worst affected by this disaster was New Orleans and the government implemented responses to deal with the situation.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is the United State’s coordinating arm for natural disaster and catastrophes, headed the disaster response efforts. This paper will set out to review the level of preparedness, response, and recovery efforts undertaken by authorities following Hurricane Katrina in order to highlight shortcomings. Recommendations for improvements will be offered to help increase the probability of better reaction in the event of future disasters.

Analysis of Hurricane Katrina

Preparedness Level

The level of preparedness for natural disasters in 2005 was very low for a number of reasons. To begin with, the government had dedicated most of its resources to fighting terrorism and the war in Iraq.

Chua, Kaynak and Schubert concede that following the 9/11 terror attacks, the US developed a pattern of placing greater emphasis on protecting the country against terrorist attacks (392). More resources were dedicated to Homeland Security thereby undermining the country’s preparedness against natural catastrophes such as Katrina.

The local authorities did not engage in sufficient preparation for a hurricane disaster in spite of the fact that New Orleans is prone to hurricanes. Before hurricane Katrina hit, a number of studies had highlighted the risk faced by the City. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had warned that a category 4 or 5 hurricane-strike would have catastrophic results (Rojek and Smith 594). Levee fortification in the area had therefore been proposed, but the construction work did not begin since the city had budget restrictions.

The federal, state and local authorities failed to provide enough emergency supplies in anticipation of the disaster. The US has a sophisticated weather warning system and scientists were able to warn that Katrina was developing into a major hurricane that would have devastating effects.

The National Hurricane Center Director was able to issue warning of an impending large-scale catastrophe after the first landfall on August 25 (Chua et al. 397). In response to these warnings, the federal government directed FEMA to engage in preparations for the disaster. However, the supplies procured in readiness for the disaster were not sufficient since the agency did not anticipate a major disaster (Nunenmacher 8).

Response and Recovery

A significant criticism leveled against local and state authorities concerns the speed of rescue operations during the disaster. The early reactions to Hurricane Katrina in the US were slow with initial rescue efforts being sluggish. Chua et al. note that the federal and state authorities took about five days before implementing full scale evacuation procedures in the storm devastated regions of New Orleans (391). During this time, people were left to spend nights in the cold and without food or water (Nunenmacher 10).

The capability and capacity of the first response teams in the devastated regions were greatly inhibited. The first responders are the most important personnel in a disaster. These are the first people at the site of a disaster and they attempt to mitigate the impacts of the disaster and save lives.

The first response team during hurricane Katrina was made up of the National Guard, local law enforcement officers, firefighters, and medical personnel. There was a catastrophic collapse of these first responders since the hurricane destroyed the National Guard headquarters and some of the vehicles that could have been used by responders were lost to floods. In addition to this, the severe storms that characterized Katrina made it impossible for the police and firefighters to move as the roads were flooded.

The communication network used by FEMA was devastated by the hurricane. Barnes reveals that FEMA did not have adequate backup communication facilities to take over when the telecommunication infrastructure in New Orleans was destroyed by Katrina (605). Due to the loss of electric power and destruction of the towers that supported radio communication, responders were virtually blinded in their operations (Sharman et al. 6).

The ground teams from the federal government were unable to coordinate their operations due to the breakdown in communication network. To make matters worse, there were issues of incompatibility among the radio systems that the emergency personnel were using. Chua et al. elaborate that rescue operations were hampered since local police could not communicate with each other and the rescue helicopters were unable to communicate with rescue boats (398).

As the nation’s coordinating arm for natural disasters and catastrophes, FEMA tried to ensure that the responses to the disaster were well coordinated to avoid redundancy. However, the manner in which this was accomplished was by following procedures that led to time wastage (McGuire 201).

In spite of the deteriorating conditions due to the massive flooding, FEMA continued to make use of bureaucratic procedures in its disaster management operations (Farazmand 400). The federal and state officials in charge of response and recovery failed to make use of local agencies that offered assistance in the disaster.

Recommendations for Improvements

Local and State authorities need to respond decisively in the event of a disaster. The government should not wait for politicians to speak out in order for action to be taken, as was the case during Katrina. Instead, resources should be dedicated as soon as the need is identified. It would be better to commit more resources than are needed for a disaster response instead of having a critical shortage of resources. The Federal government has an important role to play in addressing disasters since it has the resources and authority needed for such tasks.

The State and Local authorities should meet the minimum requirements for emergency procedures. Disaster management experts propose these requirements after thorough research on how to respond to a natural disaster. Each city should ensure that the required emergency vehicles are available at all times to aid in swift response.

Chua notes that in the case of Katrina, there was already a Hurricane evacuation plan in place (1519). This plan, designated as “Hurricane Pam drill” required the authorities to provide enough resources for evacuation (Chua 1520). However, the requirements of the plan were not met and this led to slow evacuation during Hurricane Katrina.

The government should invest in an alternative communication channel to be used by rescue personnel in disasters. This would enable effective communication among rescue workers. The negative impacts of the breakdown in communication networks during the Katrina disaster highlight the importance of communication in the event of a crisis (Barnes 605).

Traditional communication networks such as mobile phones may prove inefficient during disasters for a number of reasons. Alternative communication channels are therefore necessary for disaster management (Sharman et al. 6). The various communication devices used by first responders should be compatible. This would enable different responders to communicate with each other and coordinate their efforts.

FEMA, which is the body in charge of handling large-scale disasters, should make use of flexible management systems that take into consideration the agent needs on the ground. Instead of using strict bureaucratic procedures when dealing with disasters, authorities should make use of Incident Management Systems (Farazmand 401). This system enables different agencies to coordinate their efforts in the event of an incident.


This paper set out to analyze the preparedness, response and recovery efforts by the local, state, and federal government in order to highlight areas that need improvement in the future. The paper has shown that the overall response was ineffective and the government agencies at all levels failed in some aspect to protect the worse New Orleans. A set of recommendations on how to improve the situation have been offered.

The number of natural disasters is expected to increase around the world as climate changes, which increase instances of flooding, storms, and drought, become more prevalent. The knowledge obtained from the management of the Katrina disaster can be used to solve future disasters. The relevant authorities can make use of the lessons learnt from this disaster to respond more effectively to future disasters.

Works Cited

Barnes, Michael. “Analysis of Media Agenda Setting During and After Hurricane Katrina: Implications for Emergency Preparedness, Disaster Response, and Disaster Policy.” American Journal of Public Health 98.4 (2008): 604-610. Print.

Chua, Alton. “A Tale of Two Hurricanes: Comparing Katrina and Rita through a Knowledge Management Perspective.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science & Technology 58.10 (2007): 1518-1528. Print.

Chua, Alton, Kaynak Selcan and Schubert Foo. “An Analysis of the Delayed Response to Hurricane Katrina through the Lens of Knowledge Management.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science & Technology 58.3 (2007): 391-403. Web.

Farazmand, Ali. “Hurricane Katrina, the Crisis of Leadership, and Chaos Management: Time for Trying the ‘Surprise Management Theory in Action’.” Public Organization Review 9.4 (2009): 399-412. Web.

McGuire, Michael. “What if Hurricane Katrina Hit in 2020? The Need for Strategic Management of Disasters.” Public Administration Review 70.1 (2010): 201-207. Web.

Nunenmacher, Julie. “What a difference a disaster makes: The Role of Vicarious Leadership Learning in Differential Responses to Post-Katrina Hurricanes.” Business & Management Review 3.3 (2013): 6-13. Web.

Rojek, Jeff and Smith Michael. “Law Enforcement Lessons Learned from Hurricane Katrina.” Review of Policy Research 24.6 (2007): 589-608. Print.

Sharman, Raj, Raghav Rao, Kim Jin and Shambhu Upadhyaya. “An Investigation of Lessons Learned from Secondary Information of Katrina and Rita Hurricane Disasters: A First Responder Perspective.” Journal of Information Science & Technology 5.1 (2008): 3-30. Web.

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