New Orleans was the worst affected area and some of the scenes witnessed therein questioned America’s status as an advanced industrial society. The number of homeless people in New Orleans was unprecedented and the flooding of the city was widespread. FEMA once again came under fire from media and social commentators for its incompetent handling of the event. This overall failure also exposed the recent structural arrangements in emergency management bureaucracy (most notably the inclusion of FEMA under the Department of Homeland Security ambit). As the post-disaster inquiry by the US House of Representatives committee revealed, the absence of a designated Principal Federal Official on the eve of the event was a major setback. The poorly trained service personnel were also criticized. It was recognized that, even if the FEMA was able to operate with full efficiency and training, the high magnitude of the disaster would have undermined its operations. For example, to provide temporary housing for more than 200,000 displaced citizens is simply outside of FEMA’s powers and resources. The logistics mechanism employed by FEMA was found to lack necessary targeting and co-ordination in delivering basic commodities to affected populations.
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 worse 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. Many key lessons were learnt from the Hurricane Katrina episode. One of it is that distribution of volunteers to different shelters has to be better streamlined.
It was also acknowledged by the House of Representatives Committee that 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 coordinated 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. Though numerous recommendations of this sort were made in the aftermath of the event, it seems that very little improvement has actually taken place. The usual underperformance in the management of the Buffalo Snowstorm of 2006 and the California Wildfires of 2007 underscore this point.
Murry, Justin (updated July 10, 2006). “Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Legislation for Disaster Assistance: Summary Data FY1989 to FY2006”, CRS Report for Congress, Congressional Research Service: The Library of Congress.
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+.