Federal and state emergency managers are acting decisively in an
attempt to avoid the mistakes of hurricane Katrina in 2005. The
result has impacted millions of lives.
Even before hurricane Irene makes landfall, it has already had a
powerful impact on millions of Americans rushing to adjust their
In part, this is no surprise for any hurricane targeting such a
densely populated area, as residents rush out to snap up supplies of
bottled water and D batteries.
But it also represents an attempt to apply the lessons of past
emergency-management failures, particularly by federal agencies.
With hurricane Irene's current path taking it directly toward the
thickly settled Northeast corridor, the nation's emergency-response
capacity is facing scrutiny not seen since hurricane Katrina in
August 2005. Even as projections of the storm's clout weakened on
Friday, the official response remained the same: not Katrina, not
For Washington's Department of Homeland Security and the Federal
Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), shamed by a slow and inadequate
response to Katrina in 2005, Irene presents a special test. The
federal bureaucracy did not mobilize for Katrina - or even follow
its own procedures for emergency response.
This time, Washington is pushing itself and local officials from
the Carolinas to New England to get out ahead of the storm. The
National Hurricane Center is mapping storm surges at a worst-case
high-tide scenario, and FEMA mobilized assets along the storm paths
days ahead. "We're taking this storm very seriously, and I know that
our state and local partners are as well," said Department of
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano at a teleconference
with reporters on Friday. "In fact, we've already seen a number of
states declare emergencies even ahead of the storm."
Asked whether the government might be overhyping the threat by
comparing hurricane Irene (a weakening Category 2 storm) with
Katrina (a strong Category 3 storm), FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate
told reporters on Friday: "I think when people think of Katrina,
they think of the homes that were destroyed with the flooding. And
that may be something we see in the storm surge areas along the
The point of the official warnings and preparation was to save
lives, he said. Government may not be able to prevent storm damage
or avoid power outages, "But the one thing we can change the outcome
on is loss of life, and that's why the evacuation orders that are
being issued in the coastal areas are key," he said.
This has resulted in traffic snarls, thousands of airline and
event cancellations, and mandatory evacuations affecting millions.
But, depending on the aftermath of the storm, that could be part of
a new emergency-response normal - at least so long as the sting of
By Friday morning, hurricane warnings, meaning hurricane
conditions could arrive withing 36 hours, extended from the
Carolinas to Sandy Hook, N.J. A hurricane watch, meaning hurricane
conditions could arrive within 48 hours, were issued north of Sandy
Hook up to the Merrimack River in New England, according to the
National Hurricane Center.
Not since hurricane Isabel in 2004 has the Atlantic Coast,
especially New England, prepared for such a powerful storm.
Govs. Andrew Cuomo (D) of New York and Chris Christie (R) of New
Jersey declared states of emergency on Thursday. Subway, commuter
rail, and buses will be shut down on Saturday across the region.
New York City ordered the first mandatory evacuation in the
city's history, including plans to shut down the city's subway and
transit system. The evacuation order now covers mainly shore areas,
affecting some 250,000 residents. If a major hurricane (Category 3
or 4) makes landfall just south of New York City, significant low-
lying areas in lower Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island
could be evacuated, according to the New York City map of hurricane
evacuation zones. …