Climate change as a result of global warming, which is associated with the accumulation of greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide, is responsible for natural catastrophic events. Some of the significant events attributed to climate change include droughts and cyclones; they not only cause immense destruction of property but also result in preventable deaths. One of the worst natural disasters in the American history, Hurricane Katrina resulted in unimaginable consequences (Marsh, 2015). According to Brunkard, Namulanda, and Ratard (2008), the devastating storm formed over the renowned Bahamas as a category one hurricane; however, it strengthened rapidly in the Gulf of Mexico. Katrina made the second landfall as a category three storm on the 29th of August 2005 in southeast Louisiana, causing immense damages to the surrounding communities (Earth System Science Education Alliance [ESSEA], 2010). Further, ESSEA (2010) reiterate that Katrina increased speed after hitting the warm waters at the Gulf of Mexico before exploding into category five hurricane on the 28th of August, with unstoppable winds peaking at the speed of 282 km per hour. The intensity of the hurricane reduced to the scale of 3 on the following day when it made a landfall. Therefore, Hurricane Katrina was of high intensity to wreak havoc on impacted communities and their property.
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The impact of this tragic storm was huge, making it not only the worst natural disaster in the history of the country but also the deadliest and costliest event that damaged economy, destroyed property, and most importantly, killed many residents. According to Marsh (2015), it is estimated that about 1,833 deaths occurred due to the storm, with the majority of cases taking place in New Orleans, in addition to more than $100 billion in economic damages. Additionally, Katrina displaced more than two million people after destroying 300,000 homes as well as property worth not less than $100 billion (Teitelbaum & Wilensky, 2013). According to Hartwig and Wilkinson (2010), the insured damages were about $41.1 billion, which resulted in 1.7 million claims across the six affected states. Marsh (2015) adds that further damages were recorded as a result of the storm, knocking out power for more than 2.5 million people in addition to damaging a minimum of three million phone lines, which was the primary cause of communication breakdown for the response teams. Besides, 75% of the New Orlean city was flooded, with most of the property submerged (Marsh, 2015). Consequently, the response was inadequate due to these damages, the lack of adequate preparedness, and poor coordination of response and recovery activities. Therefore, significant lessons have been learned, resulting in the formulation of recommendations for future improvements.
The local, state and federal government responded to the deadliest cyclone which killed and destroyed property of the affected communities. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (abbreviated as FEMA) is the central institution endowed with the responsibility of handling emergency scenarios in the country. This agency deployed many operational groups to the ground to help respond to Katrina. According to Plyer (2016), some of these groups were involved in search and rescue, disaster and medical assistance, and mortuary operational response activities. Additionally, FEMA was working together with the Department of Transportation, which was instrumental in delivering supplies, such as water, ice, and meals to storm victims. Besides, transportation of mobile homes and forklifts by the department provided substantial relief to displaced victims. Moreover, the government utilized the departments of Homeland Security, Education, Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, and Labor to respond to particular aspects caused by the storm and save lives (Plyer, 2016). Additionally, local governments provided their input by offering support in the form of search and rescue teams, ambulances, shelter facilities, disaster supplies, etc. In the end, the country was able to save thousands of lives in addition to evacuating residents from the affected regions.
Other Organizations and Charities
Apart from the government involvement in responding to Katrina, private agencies and institutions were of great significance for taking the response efforts. For instance, the American Red Cross (ARC) offered professionals as well as emergency response vehicles to perform emergency operations that included searching, rescuing, treating, and most importantly, ferrying victims to safer places (Teitelbaum & Wilensky, 2013). According to Plyer (2016), private institutions' response occurred through many players including the United Methodist Church, Camp Hope, the Salvation Army, and America's Second Harvest. The renowned Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was working together with FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and many other governmental agencies to provide medical assistance to the victims during and after the storm (Teitelbaum & Wilensky, 2013). Further, Home Depot and Wal-Mart swung into action following their emergency response plans by ordering and sending supplies such as water, food, batteries, and flashlights into the affected areas to support governmental response efforts. Basically, the storm attracted attention of both private and public institutions, which not only helped to search and rescue victims but provided essential supplies including food, water, and medical services.
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In addition to normalizing the situation after Hurricane Katrina, the federal and state government as well as other stakeholders started the recovery process. First, the federal government improved the law enforcement operations by establishing the Law Enforcement Coordination Center with the aim of helping coordinate personnel operations in the affected city and other surrounding areas (White House, 2006). This adjustment enabled New Orleans to have a unified command system for law enforcement for the first time during the hurricane. Security improvements increased the safety of the region for locals, some of whom wanted new settlements, which was associated with increased vandalism of private and public property by people who had taken advantage of the situation. Similar occurrences were in the education system. Thus, after the storm, the government and non-government organizations directed their efforts on enhancing education by rebuilding freedom schools, which targeted vulnerable groups such as African Americans to give them hope and mitigate poverty (Jorgenson, 2011). Basically, recovery efforts were aimed at providing security, education, and other necessities for the affected population.
Additionally, efforts to provide supplies and other forms of help to the victims of the Katrina storm gained momentum to help normalize the situation. Non-governmental agencies played a critical role in supporting the government’s recovery efforts. For instance, the American Red Cross (ARC) (2010) provided more than 1,400 evacuation shelters for victims in 31 states, aided 1.4 million families in buying necessities such as clothing, food, and other basic items, and 68 million snacks and hot meals. Additionally, this humanitarian agency relied on volunteer donations to provide more than $2.188 billion in funding for relief from the hurricane, which was instrumental in helping the victims recover from the devastating natural disaster (ARC, 2010). Federal teams started to overcome public health challenges as the number of medical personnel and supplies started to increase; subsequently, Hurricane Katrina's evacuees received vaccinations for a large number of communicable diseases that could have spread after the disaster. Further, mental health services, childcare support, and treatment for substance abuse were all availed. Therefore, all the stakeholders resorted to executing the recovery process so as to reduce further suffering and normalize the situation to the pre-storm condition.
However, the recovery process faced several challenges due to inevitable and preventable problems from both the natural disaster itself and the involved stakeholders. According to White House (2006), local, state, and federal officials were unprepared to mitigate the effects of the deadly storm, which made evacuation a problem and considerably hindered the recovery process. Besides, communication lines, such as phone systems, satellite and radio antennae, and cell phone towers were damaged by the cyclone, resulting in communication difficulties that hindered not only the response process but also the recovery efforts. Astonishingly, poor leadership worsened the crisis. Thus, it was found that the Bush administration and FEMA as well as governors and other leaders started to blame each other for leadership and coordination failures. Furthermore, at some point, the ARC was blocked from providing relief services to evacuees (Jorgenson, 2011). Besides, looters took advantage of the vulnerable situation and lack of trust to the government. Some of them started collecting donations to illegitimately gain wealth, which was a massive blow to the ARC and other organizations that relied on volunteer donations. Finally, equipment and resources for addressing the emergency during the response and recovery processes were damaged by the storm.
According the White House Report, significant lessons were learned from activities surrounding the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina. First, the federal government learned that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are significant players in the provision of relief efforts despite the government obstacles (White House, 2006). The government failed to coordinate relief operations as it worked with NGOs effectively. For instance, it was found that the government was unprepared to meet the fundamental operational, housing, and food needs of the population, which NGOs tried to address. Furthermore, the White House realized that the homeland security completely failed to provide appropriate frameworks to manage the crisis. Thus, the entire system had structural flaws in addressing storms and other disasters (White House, 2006). Some of the deficiencies that were identified in the report on national preparedness revolved around the command and control structures, processes for a unified response management, knowledge of the preparedness plans, and most importantly, regional planning and coordination.
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Other lessons learned involved inadequate communication as well as search and rescue efforts during the Katrina storm. If these issues are addressed properly, substantial improvements will be made in future years. From the report, this hurricane destroyed core communications infrastructure including the emergency call centers, local emergency services, and television stations (White House, 2006). As a result, the White House learned that communication challenges attributed to the problems of basic operability were the major consequences of the damages since the government and its citizens lacked communication networks to facilitate the response and recovery efforts. That notwithstanding, the absence of an integrated search and rescue incident command completely doomed coordination efforts of the involved agencies (White House, 2006). For instance, after rescuing victims, no unified command system was in place to direct further action. Additionally, a unified command system was lacking as some of the teams operated differently due to their training. Most importantly, the government learned that it had no mechanisms to utilize foreign support after failing to accept foreign aid or delays in using external resources due to bureaucracy. Basically, the country had no execution plan to prioritize and integrate foreign material assistance and valuable resources, which resulted in the need for pre-crisis planning to accommodate foreign aid.
The first area of concern is the national preparedness to handling catastrophic emergencies. From Katrina's perspective, a warning was enough to start evacuation of the regions that would be affected, yet officials of both state and federal governments failed to take it seriously (Hartwig & Wilkinson, 2010). Decisive actions were only taken when the storm hit the coastal lands, which resulted in efforts to rescue victims rather than prevent the loss of lives before the storm. Basically, the country should never ignore warning from specialists. Another concern entails communication and the subsequent coordination of response and recovery activities. The White House (2006) found that the country had mixed responses with uncoordinated efforts due to the absence of a unified system of command to coordinate the work of different emergency response teams, resulting in delayed response and aggravated adverse impact of the cyclone. Hence, the leadership in coordinating and directing actions during the emergency was under the expected standards.
Similarly, emergency planning and knowledge of the plans are critical for the emergency response and recovery actions. In addition to lacking structural plans and some of the essential emergency plans, the most fundamental reasons for inappropriate response to the storm is unfamiliarity of the key decision makers with the available plans (White House, 2006). The national response teams were found to be relatively new to the available plans. As a result, the lack of understanding the plans among the relevant stakeholders resulted in ineffective coordination of the crisis response efforts. Additionally, the White House report indicated that since the National Response Plan was deliberated as the base plan which outlines the response elements, federal agencies and departments were required to develop standard operating procedures as well as supporting operational plans (White House, 2006). Finally, property insurance and risk engineering are areas of concern since they can help recover damages and mitigate the effects of disasters in affected communities. Therefore, considerable efforts should be taken to address these areas of concern.
Many efforts are required in preparation for future catastrophic events including the natural and man-made disasters. According to the White House (2006), the government has to work with its fully-equipped homeland security partners to revise the existing plans, making them not only important but also effective. These plans should establish clear and accountable processes for all efforts of national preparedness. In doing so, the White House (2006) explains that the government should finalize and execute national preparedness goals and ensure that the executive agencies are not only organized but also trained and equipped to perform their roles. It is evident from the lessons learned after Hurricane Katrina that some response and recovery efforts were delayed due to the bureaucratic system of the government. As a result, the government is recommended to waive or surpass certain regulations when responses are urgently required due to their time sensitivity. Besides, all stakeholders should familiarize with the guidelines and rules that can and those that cannot be overlooked depending on the prevailing emergency circumstances (McKenzie, 2014). As a result, the communication, response, and recovery efforts can become quicker than during Hurricane Katrina, which is associated with better emergency response outcomes.
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Most importantly, all stakeholders including the impactful NGOs should be involved in planning activities and other emergency endeavors to facilitate unified response during similar emergencies. The White House (2006) recognized that NGO's contribution was outstanding despite barriers from the side of the government. As a result, federal agencies should integrate the contribution of both NGOs and volunteers into the national emergency efforts. A part of the integration entails engaging all the relevant parties in planning processes, provision of resource support, and credentialing their personnel. To avoid misunderstandings and communication challenges in the future, these stakeholders should have affective lines of communication and clearly defined tasks to avoid role coincidence and conflicts (McKenzie, 2014). That notwithstanding, risk engineering analysis should be done to ensure that essential measures such as designing and constructing infrastructural structures are resistant to catastrophic damages (Marsh, 2015). For instance, communication lines including some of those that were damaged by the storm should be installed at places or levels that cannot be destroyed. Finally, Americans in disaster-prone areas should seek to have their property insured.