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Reflective Essay on Lessons Learned after Hurricane Katrina

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The power or ability to begin or follow through energetically with a plan or task; enterprise and determination.

Hurricane Katrina has left us with many questions and lessons. To start with:

  • Why situational awareness was so foggy, for so long.
  • Why all residents, especially the most helpless, were not evacuated more quickly.
  • Why supplies and equipment and support were so slow in arriving.
  • Why so much taxpayer money aimed at better preparing and protecting the Gulf coast was left on the table, unspent or, in some cases, misspent.
  • Why the adequacy of preparation and response seemed to vary significantly from state to state, county to county, town to town.
  • Why unsubstantiated rumors and uncritically repeated press reports – at times fueled by top officials – were able to delay, disrupt, and diminish the response.
  • And why government at all levels failed to react more effectively to a storm that was predicted with unprecedented timeliness and accuracy (Select Bipartisan Committee, 2016).

“Emergency” means any occasion or instance for which, in the determination of the President, Federal assistance is needed to supplement state and local efforts and capabilities to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in any part of the United States. (STAFFORD ACT > TITLE I > § 102; Sec. 102. Definitions (42 U.S.C. 5122)*2)

“The Five Phase of Emergency Management;” Prevention, Preparedness, Response, Recovery, and Mitigation. The main purpose of following through with each phase is to properly provide guidance and an effective system which would essentially reduce loss of life, injury, and property damage and loss resulting from natural or man-made emergencies; prepare us for prompt and efficient response and recovery activities to protect lives and property impacted by emergencies; better our response to emergencies with the effective use of all relevant plans and resources deemed appropriate; allow us to recover from emergencies by providing for the rapid and orderly implementation of restoration and rehabilitation programs for persons and properties affected by emergencies; and finally it allows us to educate our communities on awareness, recognition, prevention and mitigation of emergencies that may be caused or aggravated by inadequate planning for, and regulation of, public and private facilities and land use.

Prevention ensures that all human hazards, primarily from potential natural disasters or terrorist attacks are assessed. Taking preventive measures will provide the community protection from disasters; even those that arise from the element of surprise. The risk of loss of life and injury can be limited with good evacuation plans, environmental planning and design standards.

Emergency Managers are constantly receiving alerts from systems such as (WEA) Wireless Emergency Alerts, (EAS) Emergency Alert Systems or (NWR) NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards for example; that bring you and your immediate emergency responders to your feet. Understanding what the situation at hand is and how you will be approaching is important.

Preparedness includes planning, organizing, training, equipping, exercising, evaluating, and taking corrective action. Training and exercising plans are key to obtain max levels of readiness.

Response is consists of the logistics management and resources (including personnel, equipment, and supplies) utilizing the Incident Command System in an all-hazards approach; and measures taken for life/property/environmental safety. Recovery consists of all the steps a community must take together to restore all functions at full efforts. The goal of the recovery phase is to bring the affected area back to some degree of normalcy.

Mitigation will always reduce the numbers of casualties and property loss. Mitigation involves structural and non-structural measures taken to limit the impact of disasters and emergencies. Structural mitigation actions change the characteristics of buildings or the environment; examples include flood control projects, raising building elevations, and clearing areas around structures. Non-structural mitigation most often entails adopting or changing building codes.

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Receiving and distributing communications before, throughout and after the disaster is vital but isn’t always a big hit. It must be done in a timely and effective manner. Social media, web interfaces, radio communications and satellites’ have minimized the amounts of labor and upkeep that it was to stay up to date with most recent facts. During Hurricane Katrina, one of the biggest issues became the lack of communication. Massive inoperability had the biggest effect on communications, limiting command and control, situational awareness, and federal, state, and local officials’ ability to address unsubstantiated media reports. They were not prepared for the communication loss. The National Communication System met many of the challenges posed by Hurricane Katrina, enabling critical communication during the response, but delayed responses remained along with the fact that there was a lot of misinformation being fed to the communities. Failure to order timely mandatory evacuations, Mayor Nagin’s decision to shelter but not evacuate the remaining population, and decisions of individuals led to the many deaths that took place during the flooding (Select Bipartisan Committee, 2016).

Disaster responders are constantly receiving alerts from systems such as (WEA) Wireless Emergency Alerts, (EAS) Emergency Alert Systems or (NWR) NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards, and web interfaces like HURREVAC for example; to stay on track. Situational awareness has saved many lives and understanding the situation so that it is intelligently approached has save many more. Technology is quite the advantage when it is functional. During Hurricane Katrina they faced issues with the warning systems due to lack of repairs.

An EOC must be properly staffed with both alternate and support staff because they are up 24/7 and it can’t just be anybody. All personnel must have the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for the duties assigned. Being prepared also means having the proper equipment to keep up to date and able to communicate with all those associated. When a disaster breaks out there should be teams consisting of Federal, State, Local, and Private Sectors, and community affairs all working together to properly respond and mitigate risks at hand. There are five major management functions need to be properly staffed. The Command, Operations, Planning, Logistics, and Finance/Administration are all very important to keep communities with their heads above the water. The response time and effectiveness will vary depending on how prepared a community was at the time the disaster struck.

Commands have a play intact, there is an objective, providing the staff with strategy and outline the priorities and responsibilities each team takes on. Operations provide the operational tactics and direct how we approach the scenario. Planning supports the incident; tracking, collecting, analyzing, and providing up to date information to all available staff. Logistics arranges for resources and supports achievement to incident objectives. Where would we be without Finance and Administration? Nothing is free in life and we have to find a way to monitor costs and provide up to date expenses, time recordings, and cost analysis.

According to researchers, there are eight fundamental principles of community emergency planning that can be used to increase a community’s level of preparedness, regardless of the amount of funding available: anticipate both active and passive resistance to the planning process, and develop strategies to manage these obstacles, address all hazards to which the community is exposed, include all response organizations, seeking their participation, commitment and clearly defined agreement, identify the types of emergency response actions that are most likely to be appropriate, address the linkage of emergency response to disaster recovery, provide for training and evaluation of the emergency response organization at all levels – individual, team, department and community, and to recognize that emergency planning is a continuing process. (M. K. Lindell, R. W. Perry. 2008)

Negligence of government officials and the lack of attention that is given to the infrastructure of a community has become one of the biggest downfalls for many countries currently getting hit with natural disasters and this was the very case scenario for Hurricane Katrina. Building codes were not up to par with the living situation of these water front communities. The buildings need to meet the codes and standards set and they should have the ability to withstand hurricane force winds. Height standards need to be reevaluated and the communities been protected by the levees’ there would not have been so much damage.

What we saw unfold in the days after the hurricane was the most naked manifestation of social policy towards the poor, where the message for decades has been: “You are on your own.” Well, they really were on their own for five days in that Superdome, and it was Darwinism in action—the survival of the fittest. People said: “It looks like something out of the Third World.” Well, New Orleans was Third World long before the hurricane.

– CORNELWEST, “Exiles from a City and from a Nation,” Observer, September 11, 2005

To add on to the chaos, DHS and the states were not prepared when they did show up. This was a time when most of the focus had shifted towards terrorism attacks due to the attacks of September 11th. Hurricane education and response was on the back burner for many. DHS and FEMA lacked adequate trained and experienced staff for the Katrina response which reduced their effectiveness. At least 1,100 Louisianans died as a result of Katrina, this was also due to the fact that 56 hours prior to Katrina coming ashore the public was notified. Where is one supposed to go with such little notice?

There was talk that FEMA had been under-funded and under-staffed, that it had become “emaciated,” and that Congress had undermined FEMA’s effectiveness when the agency was folded into DHS. This just goes back to unit readiness. Officials need to make sure they are properly staffed during and for oncoming shifts as well as having all the resources necessary. Throwing uneducated responders is not only adding onto the risks but it is always creating quite the setback in response time. We need to take initiative, we need to train together on a local and state level at the very least, and drills make for practice, prepare for the worst and hope for the best. It is always better to be safe than sorry.


  1. (2016), The Five Phases of Emergency Management, Emergency Education, Office of Emergency Management, Bexar County Emergency Management. Retrieved from,
  2. (2016), IS-775: EOC Management and Operations, Independent Study, FEMA; Emergency Management Institute. Retrieved from,
  3. (2019). Mississippi Coastal Mapping Project. Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). Retrieved from,
  4. Godfrey, N. P. (2009). Hurricane Katrina : Impact, Recovery and Lessons Learned. New York, NY: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.
  5. Levitt, J. I., & Whitaker, M. C. (2009). Hurricane Katrina : America’s Unnatural Disaster. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
  6. Davis, L. E. (2007). Hurricane Katrina : Lessons for Army Planning and Operations. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.
  7. Select Bipartisan Committee. (February 15, 2006). A Failure of Initiative. Final Report of the Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina. Union Calendar No. 205. 109th Congress, 2nd Session. Report 109-377. Retrieved from, 109hrpt377.pdf.
  8. Stafford, R. (2013), Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, as Amended; The Stafford Act. Retrieved from, 21f970b19e8eaa67087b7da9f4af706e/stafford_act_booklet_042213_508e.pdf.
  9. Vulnerability to hurricane damage on the U. S. Gulf Coast since 1950. Geogr Rev. 2015 Apr; 105(2): 133–155. Published online 2015 Mar 20. doi: 10.1111/j.1931-0846.2014.12064.x. Retrieved from,

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