Hurricane Katrina as one of the Most Catastrophic Natural Disasters

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Hurricane Katrina was among the most catastrophic natural disasters within the United States history. On August 23, 2005, the tropical storm formed off the coast of the Bahamas. Throughout the next seven days, “the tropical storm grew into a catastrophic hurricane” (Townsend, 2006) first making landfall in Florida, then along the Gulf Coast of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, “leaving behind a trail of heartbreaking devastation and human suffering” (Townsend, 2006). Katrina brought astonishing destruction, flooding the historic city of New Orleans, and ultimately killing over 1,300 people.

On August 29, in the early hours of the morning, Americans awoke to reports of Katrina’s landfall on the Gulf Coast and watched the events unfold. Viewers watched in amazement at the fierceness of nature which quickly changed to disappointment after seeing the inability for government agencies local, state and federal, to effectively respond to the disaster. Hurricane Katrina “exposed significant flaws in Federal, State and local preparedness for catastrophic events and our capacity to respond to them” (Townsend, 2006). Emergency plans at all levels of government were incompetent at aiding during a time of complete devastation. Millions of Americans were left to protect themselves and their families.

Hurricane Katrina’s damage was so extensive. It effected the economy, regional power infrastructure, and communications. Between the months of August and September, the most affected areas of Louisiana and Mississippi saw the unemployment rate increase from 6 to 12 percent. But Hurricane Katrina did not just impact the Gulf Coast, it reached the entire country though the rising prices of gasoline. The storm “forced the temporary shutdown of most crude oil and natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico” (Townsend, 2006).

Gasoline prices rose dramatically across the nation. The storm completely devastated the regional power infrastructure leaving approximately 2.5 million power outages in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. All communication systems suffered as well. Katrina “crippled thirty-eight 11 call centers, disrupting local emergency services, and knocked out more than 3 million customer phone lines” (Townsend, 2006). Those who were stranded were unable to call for help and search and rescue teams had no way of communicating their need for more teams.

Communication systems were rendered useless. But the most terrible damage from Hurricane Katrina was the effect it had on humans. The aftermath of the storm left survivors feeling a mixture of depression, grief and fear. Victims found it difficult to reconstruct their lives. On many occasions, people had left behind basic paperwork such as insurance cards, birth certificates, marriage licenses and other documents that would later prove essential to rebuilding their lives. Many people were left without access to medical records which made it hard to receive treatment. Hurricane Katrina had a profound impact on society.

Despite the Federal government preparing for a possibly large-scale disaster in New Orleans, their efforts fell short with Hurricane Katrina. In June 2004, the federal government conducted the “Hurricane Pam” drill. Hurricane Pam was an exercise that “used realistic weather and damage information…to help officials develop joint response plans for a catastrophic hurricane in Louisiana” (FEMA, 2004). Hurricane Pam covered categories such as debris, sheltering, search and rescue, and medical- none were applied to Hurricane Katrina.

All forms of government were criticized for their slow and inadequate response as well as levee failures in New Orleans. Many officials including George W. Bush appeared to be unaware of the extent of destruction throughout New Orleans. Hurricane Kaina left behind a devastating path of destruction and people were becoming desperate. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency “took days to establish operations in New Orleans, and even then dd not seem to have sound plan of action” (Appleton, 2009). The federal government was completely unprepared to respond to Katrina. Whereas, had there been a system in place to ensure all levels of government worked together keep people safe the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina may not have been as significant.

In fact, there are many lessons to be learned following the lack of response to Hurricane Katrina including a better communication system, more public safety and security measures, and increased search and rescue. Katrina destroyed an unprecedented amount of communication systems across the Gulf Coast. The communication plans and assets the federal, state and local agencies prepared were insufficient and not adequate at effectively responding to the disaster. Rather, many communication assets were unable to be utilized because there were no plans on how to incorporate them in the plans. Therefore, in order to prevent another failure, there must be “a comprehensive, national emergency communications strategy to confront the challenges of incorporating existing equipment and practices into a constantly changing technological and cultural environment” (Townsend, 2006).

After Hurrican Katrina made landfall, floodwaters stranded thousands of people on rooftops and attics, requiring a massive search and rescue operation. FEMA Urban Search and Rescue (US&R), the Coast Guard, with local and state emergency responders combined efforts to rescue those stranded. These lifesavers put themselves at an unnecessary risk for a plan that failed to support them. In addition, the agencies lacked an incident command and the various agencies were unable to coordinate operations. “This meant that multiple rescue teams were sent to the same areas, while leaving others uncovered” (Townsend, 2006). Despite successful rescue being made, there was no direction on where to bring those who were rescued. Instead, there were brought to location that lacked enough medical care and communication resources.

State and local governments have a fundamental duty to provide for the safety and security of their residents. Shortly after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, government began to deteriorate. Seventy percent of New Orleans task force were victims themselves of the disaster and unable to arrest everyone witnessed committing a crime. It is clear the federal government should have offered more support to local and state officials.

There lacked coordination, unity, collaboration and planning and training between federal, local, and state forms of government. There is no doubt all forms of government were unprepared to response effectively to this level of disaster. An examination should be done by the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security to determine the federal government’s responsibility to support local and state law enforcement agencies with policies and procedures to produce an effective response.

In conclusion, Hurricane Katrina will always be remembered as one of the most catastrophic natural disasters within the United States. Katrina had a huge impact on society, law enforcement, government agencies and the economy. Local, state and federal agencies were unable to effectively respond to the chaos the tropical storm wreaked. Among all, FEMA was unprepared to respond to the natural disaster and left many people helpless and stranded. Search and rescue efforts were ineffective and left many areas without being searched. But despite the shortcomings in the response to Hurricane Katrina, it creates an opportunity to develop a national preparedness response that pertains to catastrophic events.


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Hurricane Katrina as one of the Most Catastrophic Natural Disasters. (2021, Mar 22). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/hurricane-katrina-as-one-of-the-most-catastrophic-natural-disasters/

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