Timeline and resources
In contrast to Maple Leaf, authorities handling the Katrina disaster seemed not to learn or apply as much as quickly from previous disasters, including Hurricane Andrew which happened 13 years prior to Katrina. A major problem in Hurricane Katrina was timing and coordination of resources. As each level exhausted its resources and ability to effectively cope with the crisis, they requested assistance from higher levels of government. Accusations and blame were cast from and upon all levels of government as mistakes came to light. “From the local level, officials complained of communication breakdowns and the lack of leadership from the federal government, particularly from FEMA Director Michael Brown.” (Shoup, 2005, par 22) These factors undermined public confidence in all levels of U.S. leadership regarding the crisis.
Though the government received many offers of aid from other states, businesses, and international governments – before and after the hurricane’s landfall – many of these offers did not get through to manifest as actual help to those affected. As of September 4, 2005, 59 countries and international organizations had offered aid to the United States. Foreign nations offered medical and water-treatment services, medical teams, hospitals, temporary housing, soldiers, firefighters, disaster specialists, fuel, generators, cots, tents, donations to the American Red Cross and other aid. But what actually got delivered was dependent upon FEMA’s identification of needs.
FEMA was ill-prepared to handle this responsibility due to the following:
No knowledge management plan existed for incident response. There was no central list of information needs, or listing of potential information sources, to help prioritize reconstitution efforts. Joint task force phone numbers were not preassigned, and several numbers changed while the response was underway. In many cases, key messages were printed and hand-carried around command centers to make sure incident managers had the right information. (Miller, n.d., p. 197)
There were challenges in integrating the efforts of the Salvation Army and smaller organizations, often local churches and other “faith-based” organizations. In addition, federal agencies involved in managing the international assistance were not prepared to coordinate, receive, distribute, or account for the assistance. Agency officials involved in the cash and in-kind international assistance told us the agencies had not planned for the acceptance of international assistance for use in the United States and, therefore, had not developed processes and procedures to address this scenario. (Walker, 2006, p. 8)
The local, state, and federal governments would have likely fared better if, in advance, a system had been developed for managing aid and assistance during a crisis. Such a system should have been included during the updated preparedness processes and in the NRP. As there were failures or gaps in the proactive response and deployment of governmental resources, a better arrangement for reactive response would have served as a valuable back up in a catastrophic scenario. This would have increased probability that appropriate resources would have reached the people and areas that needed them in a timely manner.
The disjointed chain of command, confusion on how to reach people, and ignorance on how to disburse aid were certainly detrimental to the preparation and relief efforts. There were also obvious lapses in judgment during the response, including a presidential visit that halted aid to the region. This and other tactics worked to counter the main goals, and therefore should have been avoided. In addition, there were some very useful tactics that were implemented too late or not at all. Reinforcement or re-engineering the levees and crucial structures in New Orleans could have decreased probability of the breach. This would have lessened destruction and loss of life that resulted from the levees breaking. Though authorities were likely attempting to prevent a panic and unnecessary interruptions to regional life and economy by waiting until August 28 to order the mandatory evacuation, this may well have been the wrong usage of caution. Had they been cautious in an alternative manner, by ordering the mandatory evacuation sooner, they might have reaped several benefits. There would have been more time and less of an urgent situation in traffic out of New Orleans. Mortality during the evacuation could have been lessened. More people would have been able to make plans to evacuate with the extra time available, putting less of a strain on shelters of last resort, and likely decreasing the overall mortality rate of the disaster and destruction afterward by those left behind.