What lessons should be learned from the government’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina?

Hurricane Katrina will be remembered as one of the most embarrassing episodes of governance failure. This failure is palpable in both the lead-up as well as the aftermath of the event. In the lead-up to the event, local administrators could not act expeditiously in evacuating vulnerable populations to safer ground. After the event, authorities were overwhelmed by the ensuing chaos and their efforts were inadequate in providing relief to those distressed. The least government agencies can do now is to recognize areas of deficiency so that disaster management efforts in the future are better executed. The following passages will outline some of the key lessons the government can learn from Hurricane Katrina fiasco.
One of the key failures is the response time taken by local authorities in getting personnel and other resources to vulnerable locations. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, authorities waited too long before taking a decisive action. In the future they have to move resources in a proactive fashion. It would be rather prudent to deploy resources in anticipation, even if they turn out to be unnecessary in retrospect, rather than waste precious time in red-tape and transportation. (The Washington Times, 2007, p.A03)

As Katrina unfolded, vital issues such as food safety and protection of public water supplies were overlooked, as attention was diverted to more important activities. This resulted in pollution of drinking water sources to go with worser health and sanitation issues at shelters for evacuees. Also, the shelters were over-crowded due to a high volunteer turnover rate and un-anticipated inflow of victims. Streamlined distribution of volunteers to different shelters has to be improved. Valuable lessons can be learnt from defects in current practices:

“Local contacts who were not part of the official response were found to be important resources. Church groups, local business, and other private organizations can help. Environmental health staff must recognize that these resources are vital in an effective response effort. As with almost every emergency response effort, communication and disaster planning were the weakest components.” (Journal of Environmental Health, 2006, p.23)

State governments (especially in Hurricane prone regions such as Florida, Louisiana and Iowa) have to have a robust Emergency Response Plan, which was found wanting in the case of Katrina. In order to make co-ordinated environmental public health measures, the response team should have a comprehensive emergency response manual that it can refer to. It is imperative that environmental public health practitioners do get involved by offering their services during crisis situations.

It is also important not to underestimate Emergency Preparedness. During a natural disaster, people skills of volunteers and other relief workers can be paramount, for no meticulous execution of plans will work without the human touch. While authorities are caught up in contacting and deploying qualified and trained health-care personnel to storm-hit areas, it is equally important to avail of untrained volunteers. While saving the lives of evacuees is the primary task, workers also need to take care of themselves through protective clothing and precautionary medications. (Krane, 2007, p.32)

Works Cited

“Government Agencies Use Lessons Learned from Katrina.” The Washington Times 25 Oct. 2007: A03.

Krane, Dale. “The Unavoidable Politics of Disaster Recovery: Hurricane Katrina Offers Lessons on the Interaction of Technical Matters with Decisions That Distribute Benefits and Burdens.” The Public Manager 36.3 (2007): 31+.

“The Response to Hurricane Katrina: Iowa’s Interstate Cooperation and Lessons Learned.” Journal of Environmental Health 69.3 (2006): 22+.

Yates, Steven. “Expanding Federal Power: The Real Lessons of Hurricane Katrina New Government Programs Mean Expanded Federal Powers and Increased Dependence on Government.” The New American 14 Nov. 2005: 12+.