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The Emergency Planning Lessons and Experiences Learned from the Hurricane Katrina by the City of New Orleans

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According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the official Atlantic hurricane Season usually takes place every year between the months of June and November. According to the agency, the period between mid-August and mid-October is usually the peak of hurricane Season. These tropical storms which develop either in the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean grow into hurricanes and they normally hit the southeastern coast of the united states almost in a rotational cycle of once every three years. The States that are most likely to be hit by the major hurricanes are Louisiana, Florida, and Texas.

In the hurricane Season of the year 2005, a tropical storm from the Gulf of Mexico developed into a category 5 hurricane before weakening and making a landfall on the gulf Coast of the united states as a category 3 hurricane. New Orleans, a city in the State of Louisiana experienced the devastating hit of hurricane Katrina on that fateful day of August 29th 2005 (Brinkley & Brewer, 2006). The levee system that was supposed to shield new Orleans from flooding was overpowered by the aftermath of the hurricane Katrina and the city which is below sea level was flooded. The citys residents in hundreds of thousands were displaced, public and private properties worth billions of dollars were destructed and close 2000 people lost their lives over that incident.

The authorities responsible for creating and maintaining an emergency plan that should be used under circumstances like the hurricane Katrina include the respective local authorities, the city’s mayor specifically, the governor of the State of Louisiana and other private, volunteer and non-governmental parties (Huder, 2012). The existing federal agency responsible for the plan is the Federal Emergency management Agency (FEMA). Under the guidelines of FEMA, the other agencies are in principle supposed to coordinate their efforts in the development and management of an emergency operation plan.

I. Preparedness for Hurricane Katrina

Prior to Hurricane Katrina, the National Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers were responsible for the general emergency response for a hurricane striking. The National Guard would have been responsible for the evacuation and search and rescue process of the victims. However, the Army Corps of Engineers were responsible for the maintenance of the levee system that had been developed several years back to prevent the city from flooding after a category 3 hurricane. FEMA was also responsible for the coordination efforts as its mandate of ensuring that the nation is prepared for emergencies. Their efforts were assisted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration in the detection of impending potentially catastrophic storms. The warnings from this meteorological agency would provide grounds for preparedness and appropriate planning to manage the impending disaster.

Prior to hurricane Katrina, the city of New Orleans had made an evacuation plan to bus people out of the areas threatened by the impending hurricane Katrina into a safe place in a shelter of last resort referred to as the superdome. The mayor of the city had ensured that this information was posted on the city’s website. The evacuation process was scheduled to take up to 72 hours for everyone to have been evacuated out of the threat zone. The information posted on the cities website could not have been that effective since most people do not visit the cities website regularly.

Before hurricane Katrina, FEMA had initiated an emergency drill for a storm named Hurricane Pam in anticipation for a category three hurricane. The training and exercise was supposed to prepare the various stakeholders in anticipation for a hurricane in the magnitude of hurricane Katrina.

II. Emergency Planning Lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina

The major emergency planning failures that were uncovered by Hurricane Katrina included the lack of an organizational structure and lack of a clear chain of command in the federal emergency response plan. Other critical challenges that were identified included public communication, inter-agency communication, logistics and evacuation, search and rescue , foreign assistance ,training and preparedness and mass care and housing among others.

Organizational and policy factors that contributed to the poor response of the federal agencies were majorly anchored on too much bureaucracy. For example, in order to activate the military to provide assistance in the emergency operation it would require up to 21-steps (U.S House of Representative, 2006). Other factors included lack of coordination among various agencies. Each agency was working under their respective command structure and hence the separate missions hindered unity and cooperation in the emergency response.

One major lesson learned after the hurricane Katrina is that the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security should jointly plan for the inclusion of the military capabilities to support the federal emergency response. This should enable the military to lead the emergency response in situations where the federal agency is not equipped to do so. Consequently, the Department of Transportation, and other departments should develop logistical plans that will enable mass evacuations and mass sheltering of victims when the state agencies are overwhelmed (The White House. 2006). Among the several challenges uncovered during the Hurricane Katrina, the federal government has improved the coordination efforts between various agencies by improving the interoperability of communication devices .

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