Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Two Years Later: Hurricane Katrina Still Poses Significant Human Resource Problems for Local Governments

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Two Years Later: Hurricane Katrina Still Poses Significant Human Resource Problems for Local Governments

Article excerpt

This study explores the impact of Hurricane Katrina on local government HR management for several cities along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The authors interviewed mayors, city managers, chief administrative officers, and HR directors regarding a range of topics, including the recruitment and retention of employees in the post-Katrina environment. Analysis of the interviews shows that the smaller cities and towns on the Gulf Coast continue to struggle with hiring and retaining qualified employees. While some local governments have faired better than others during the recovery period, discussions with city officials have shown that retaining employees has proven difficult and daunting following the catastrophe.

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in southeast Louisiana and southwest Mississippi. This storm spawned winds up to 175 miles/hour and destroyed homes and businesses across a 100-mile swath of the Gulf Coast. As the eye of the hurricane passed over southeastern Louisiana, the Mississippi Gulf Coast, which is located just to the east, was vulnerable to Katrina's strongest winds. A 25-foot storm surge spread inland for approximately six miles and destroyed 90 percent of the homes and businesses in its path.

As the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, Katrina caused an estimated $100 billion in damages, and in Mississippi alone, left 231 people dead. (1) Many coastal communities were physically destroyed, and some where utterly wiped off the map. While the federal government has and will continue to pay a large share of the monetary costs for Gulf Coast recovery, local governments will bear a huge burden of the other recovery efforts for years to come.

Two years post-Katrina, Mississippi's Gulf Coast still shows dramatic signs of the hurricane's wrath. Some localities have faired better than others during the recovery period, but much of the debris created by the hurricane still remains to be dismantled and removed. Some homes and businesses have yet to be rebuilt. Many residents have not returned to the area, and most are unsure of their plans. The governments of the cities that participated in this study have every intention of reaching their prehurricane operational levels; however, for most, this monumental task requires significant planning, funding, effort, and the return or hiring of numerous municipal employees. Many of the city governments in this study have found that the continuation of operations through a disaster such as Hurricane Katrina is greatly dependent upon employees who are willing to remain at work or willing to return to work.

The emergency management literature regarding public HR management is virtually nonexistent. Likewise, HR management literature is lacking when it comes to emergency management. Much of the emergency management literature focuses on emergency preparation, first responders, public health, and intergovernmental relations. This report seeks to establish a baseline in both the enqergency management literature and the public HR management literature. Specifically, the purpose of our research was to assess the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the retention and recruitment of local government employees in Mississippi. The findings should prove useful for managing public HR functions during future catastrophes.

Background

While no local government is immune from the effects of an unforeseen natural disaster such as a tornado, hurricane, earthquake, or flood, the ultimate goal for city officials when such an event occurs is to minimize interruptions of local government operations. Although each disaster a municipality may find itself dealing with is somewhat unique, there are four phases of emergency management that are common to all disasters. The Emergency Management Framework categorizes government activities before and after catastrophes into four phases: response, recovery, mitigation, and prearedness. …

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