HURRICANE KATRINA CASE STUDY

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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 (Special Senate Report, 2006: 701). 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, 2007a & b).

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 (Stone, 2005).

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 (Jenkins, 2007: 5). Governor Blanco could not or would not make this decision (Bush, 2010). In spite of the numerous information about the uncertainty of the leeves, 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 (Collins and Lieberman, 2006: 3-4).

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 (Collins and Lieberman, 2006).

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. 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 (Collins and Lieberman, 2006). 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.

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 leadership 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).

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; Hsu, 2007). 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 abili.............


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