Recovering from Katrina: A Work in Progress-2007: Gulf Coast States Have Improved Local Emergency Management, but More Is Needed to Upgrade Overall Performance as the Region Struggles to Recover from the Storms of 2005

By Edwards, Frances L. | The Public Manager, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

Recovering from Katrina: A Work in Progress-2007: Gulf Coast States Have Improved Local Emergency Management, but More Is Needed to Upgrade Overall Performance as the Region Struggles to Recover from the Storms of 2005


Edwards, Frances L., The Public Manager


The American Society for Public Administration's (ASPA's) Hurricane Katrina Task Force continued its multiyear study of the disaster and its management, providing its second report at the 2007 ASPA annual conference. The task force examined areas that have improved and those that still need to, as the Gulf Coast states struggle to recover from the disastrous storm season of 2005. The task force discussion was joined by a highly engaged audience, which included members of the Hurricane Katrina Advisory Commission. This article offers public agency leaders information to improve local emergency mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery planning.

Advances

Mitigation's Role

As a result of the failure of the levees shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has acknowledged the importance of mitigation against disasters. This failure forced the recognition that prevention and mitigation are not the same when dealing with natural hazards and that focusing national emergency preparedness solely on terrorism is no longer appropriate.

New Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Flood Insurance Rate Maps are posing a challenge to community recovery, with First flood elevations as high as twelve feet, but promise long-term benefits in lives saved during future floods. In addition, Louisiana voters have seen the need to restructure the levee boards that manage the funding, development, and maintenance of these essential structures. In the post-Katrina environment, the multiple independent levee boards of the past have been integrated, and their work has taken a turn away from special interests, with a renewed focus on long-term flood protection and the development of a comprehensive flood protection system. The National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) is creating a report on integrated flood protection for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Although this flood protection is currently a state and local responsibility, the Corps may need to create an interstate compact to adequately address the protection of the Gulf Coast states from future hurricane storm surge and flood damage.

Dissemination of accurate public information is another important type of mitigation. Max Mayfield of the National Hurricane Center was a hero of Hurricane Katrina. Eighty percent of the population of New Orleans evacuated, in part because they believed and understood Mayfield's televised scientific explanations for the disaster that was coming. Meteorologists, engineers, and geotechnical professionals need to clearly communicate with policymakers to inform emergency management decisions.

Integrated Rebuilding

The NAPA report (referenced above) includes the development of budget priorities for reconstruction of flood protection in New Orleans. Levees need to be rebuilt and strengthened, but restoration of natural barriers such as wetlands may also provide cost-beneficial flood protection. New Orleans lost its natural protection from storm surge when the wetlands were filled in or removed for development without regard for the loss of a crucial flood mitigation mechanism. Future development needs to have more regard for the interrelationships of the natural and built environments.

The NAPA report also concerns ensuring environmental justice for the community as new flood plain definitions and rebuilding requirements are developed. The Gulf Coast states and their jurisdictions are the least likely to have building codes, which contributes to the number of buildings that do not survive storm surge and flooding. The poverty of these areas, however, influences the continuing culture of owner-built homes. Post-disaster recovery is integrally related to the planning for sustainable development in communities. Rebuilding plans have to balance safety and community revitalization, recognizing a need to repair the injustice that preceded Katrina. …

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