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2009 Uncategorized

Comparing the 2008 Canadian Listeriosis outbreak and 2005 Hurricane Katrina response

Roles and priorities

Hurricane Katrina

The National Response Plan (NRP) set forth that “incidents are typically managed at the lowest possible geographic, organizational, and jurisdictional level.” (Department of Homeland Security [DHS], 2004, p. 6) In this plan, management of the Hurricane Katrina preparedness and response first fell to local authorities. For instance, in the most notably impacted city, New Orleans, the crisis was to be managed by Mayor Ray Nagin and Police Superintendent Eddie compass. According to the plan, after local authorities exhausted resources, they were then to request resources at the county level and proceeding upward to state, regional, and national levels. This chain moved upward from Nagin and Compass to Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco, and to

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director Michael D. Brown who was designated

Principle Federal Officer (PFO) for the disaster.  According to the NRP, roles are outlined as follows:

  1. A mayor or city or county manager, as a jurisdiction’s chief executive, is responsible for the public safety and welfare of the people of that jurisdiction. The Local Chief Executive Officer:
    • Is responsible for coordinating local resources to address the full spectrum of actions to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from incidents involving all hazards including terrorism, natural disasters, accidents, and other contingencies;
    • Dependent upon State and local law, has extraordinary powers to suspend local laws and ordinances, such as to establish a curfew, direct evacuations, and, in coordination with the local health authority, to order a quarantine;
    • Provides leadership and plays a key role in communicating to the public, and in helping people, businesses, and organizations cope with the consequences of any type of domestic incident within the jurisdiction;
    • Negotiates and enters into mutual aid agreements with other jurisdictions to facilitate resource sharing; and
    • Requests State and, if necessary, Federal assistance through the Governor of the State when the jurisdiction’s capabilities have been exceeded or exhausted.
  2. As a State’s chief executive, the Governor is responsible for the public safety and welfare of the people of that State or territory. The Governor:
    • Is responsible for coordinating State resources to address the full spectrum of actions to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from incidents in an all-hazards context to include terrorism, natural disasters, accidents, and other contingencies;
    • Under certain emergency conditions, typically has police powers to make, amend, and rescind orders and regulations;
    • Provides leadership and plays a key role in communicating to the public and in helping people, businesses, and organizations cope with the consequences of any type of declared emergency within State jurisdiction;
    • Encourages participation in mutual aid and implements authorities for the State to enter into mutual aid agreements with other States, tribes, and territories to facilitate resource-sharing;Is the Commander-in-Chief of State military forces (National Guard when in State Active Duty or Title 32 Status and the authorized State militias); and
    • Requests Federal assistance when it becomes clear that State or tribal capabilities will be insufficient or have been exceeded or exhausted.
  3. The Secretary of Homeland Security is responsible for coordinating Federal operations within the United States to prepare for, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies. HSPD-5 further designates the Secretary of Homeland Security as the “principal Federal official” for domestic incident management. In this role, the Secretary is also responsible for coordinating Federal resources utilized in response to or recovery from terrorist attacks, major disasters, or other emergencies when any of the following four conditions applies:
    • A Federal department or agency acting under its own authority has requested DHS assistance;
    • the resources of State and local authorities are overwhelmed, and Federal assistance has been requested;
    • more than one Federal department or agency has become substantially involved in responding to the incident; or
    • the Secretary has been directed to assume incident management responsibilities by the President

Brown’s position as Director of FEMA meant he was also the Undersecretary for Emergency Preparedness and Response for the DHS. As his position placed him under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security and in a critical office for national disaster management, he was appointed by the Secretary of the DHS as the principle Federal official to manage the Hurricane Katrina situation.

A major issue in the handling of the Hurricane Katrina response, however, was a lack of a clear and decisive leadership or even a clear chain of command.  In 2006, David Walker, Comptroller General of the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a statement assessing government preparedness and response for catastrophic disasters, specifically Hurricane Katrina. The statement, based on a GAO report, claimed the following:

• No one was designated in advance to lead the overall federal response in anticipation of the event despite clear warnings from the National Hurricane Center. Furthermore, events unfolded both before and immediately after the landfall of Hurricane Katrina that made it clear that governmental entities did not act decisively or quickly enough to determine the catastrophic nature of the incident. For example, the DHS Secretary designated Hurricane Katrina as an incident of national significance on August 30th— the day after final landfall. However, he did not designate the storm as a catastrophic event, which would have triggered additional provisions of the National Response Plan (NRP), calling for a more proactive response. As a result, the federal posture generally was to wait for the affected states to request assistance. At the same time, some federal responders such the Coast Guard and DOD [Department of Defense] did “lean forward” in proactive efforts anticipating a major disaster. Furthermore, other federal agencies took proactive steps to prepare for and respond to the disaster, such as the U.S. Postal Service and the National Finance Center

• Although the DHS Secretary designated a PFO to be the federal government’s representative under the NRP structure and to coordinate the federal response, the efforts of all federal agencies involved in the response remained disjointed because the PFO’s leadership role was unclear. In the absence of timely and decisive action and clear leadership responsibility and accountability, there were multiple chains of command, a myriad of approaches and processes for requesting and providing assistance, and confusion about who should be advised of requests and what resources would be provided within specific time frames. (Walker, 2006, p. 4)

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