New Orleans: The Rising Sun? ASPA's Katrina Task Force Considers Public Management Implications of the 2005 Event for Future Disaster Response and Recovery Efforts

By Edwards, Frances L. | The Public Manager, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

New Orleans: The Rising Sun? ASPA's Katrina Task Force Considers Public Management Implications of the 2005 Event for Future Disaster Response and Recovery Efforts


Edwards, Frances L., The Public Manager


The American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) created the Katrina Task Force (KTF) shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on August 29, 2005. Each year, at ASPA's annual conference, members of the task force consider the implications of the event for disaster response and recovery, including intergovernmental relations. This article summarizes the 2009 ASPA Katrina Task Force Report.

Situation Report

The Upper Ninth Ward is sprinkled with state-of-the-art "green" houses, while Lakeview is dotted with the search and rescue "x" on boarded-up homes. Schools and hospital buildings sit idle. "Katrina Cottages" rise up on stilts by the water and sit flat in urban neighborhoods. The French Quarter reverberates with traditional jazz, while its restaurant kitchens are staffed by Hispanic cooks. New Orleans' 48,000 drug addicts have returned home to find members of the MS-13 gang in their former jobs as porters.

Has New Orleans recovered from Hurricane Katrina? New Orleans was the country's fastest-growing city in 2008, though it still has a long way to go before it regains its pre-Hurricane Katrina population of 484,674, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. New Orleans' population grew 8.2 percent between 2008 and 2007, increasing to 311,853. The city's population reached its lowest point of 210,768 in 2006. While the population is increasing, not all the current residents lived in the New Orleans area before the storm.

Relocation has become permanent for many New Orleans residents who moved to Atlanta, Houston, and even San Jose, California, following the storm. New Orleans civic leaders have developed multiple plans for the reconstruction of the flood-damaged community, many of which have failed. "The Road Home" program was criticized for supplying money to people who did not need it. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailers developed formaldehyde leeching problems in the heat and humidity of New Orleans.

Questions surrounding where to build housing, how to provide flood insurance, how to care for the most vulnerable community members, and what to do with the damaged areas that are below sea level still exist. Some returned residents are working to rebuild their communities. For instance, the African-American middle class in Lakeview is slowly restoring their stately brick homes, and the Vietnamese merchants are rebuilding East New Orleans.

The return of the underclass criminal element, however, has challenged the reduced capabilities of the New Orleans Police Department. The Louisiana National Guard shored up law enforcement for more than three years, but ended its duties in March 2009. The MS-13 gang entered the community with the influx of Hispanic construction workers who staffed the Blue Tarp program in the early days of debris removal and home restoration. This change in demographics makes the idea of "community restoration" seem unlikely and the concept of "community reconstruction" more appropriate.

A New Town in New Orleans?

One challenge to recovery is the lack of social infrastructure. Schools cannot attract teachers and hospitals cannot attract medical professionals because there are inadequate support systems for their families. But deficient schools and medical facilities become a vicious circle of need and lack of staff.

The Governor's Road Home program failed because it happened too fast. People were still trying to determine where and how they could rebuild, even with the program's funding. The program was managed by an out-of-state entity using people who were not well-trained to administer the funds. Inconsistent information was given to residents, so discouraged people sold their empty lots and left.

The first reconstruction plan, developed in Washington, D.C., failed because it did not involve the neighborhoods. The second plan, "Bring New Orleans Back," had the support of Mayor Ray Nagin and the Urban Land Institute, but the community did not embrace it. …

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