This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Michael Walter January 27, 2010 PSAA 634 Public Management The George Bush School of Government & Public Service Texas A&M University Dr. Scott Robinson
Introduction and Key Decision Hurricane Katrina was the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States, causing over 1,000 deaths and costing over $90 billion in damage. (Federal Commission. 2006) While compelling arguments can be made in regards to the slow action from on all levels of government in the immediate aftermath, it does not negate the lack of proper preparation and mitigation necessary to prevent the flooding of New Orleans. Perry and Lindell (2007, 5) define mitigation as, “activities [that] try to eliminate the causes of a disaster… [by] either reducing the likelihood of its occurrence or limiting the magnitude of it’s negative effects.” One of the most evident failures was that of the inaction in creating the infrastructure necessary to protect the city against a category 3 (or higher) hurricane. The previous attempts at mitigating the hazard of river flooding from the Mississippi
may have contributed to the lack of action to minimize the effect of storm surge on the city. In fact, the Army Corps of Engineers used techniques that would lessen the impact of an 800-‐year river flood as opposed to a 200-‐year hurricane. This coupled with the building of infrastructure for economic purposes and the failure to take into account their effect, either positive or negative, during a hurricane may have led to more deaths. Grunwald and Glasser cite the example of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, which, during a hurricane, became a “storm surge shotgun” into the heart of New Orleans (2010, 231). While these two factors significantly contributed to New Orleans’ demise, one of the
most telling and manageable effects was the lack of political will, on all levels of government, to adequately identify, and mitigate the effect that a category 3 hurricane with a base as large as Katrina’s would have on the city. Grunwald and Glasser cite examples ranging from local
officials not wanting to participate in mitigation practices so that they wouldn’t have to pay their half of the project (2010, 227), to Congressmen pushing for projects to create navigable rivers in upstate Louisiana while the threat of a disastrous hurricane was imminent. (2010, 231)
In order to address the issues expressed above, I recommend that the following action
should have been taken. The notion that New Orleans could be destroyed by a major hurricane was not unknown in Louisiana or Washington, DC (Grunwald and Glasser, 2010, 227) and even as early as 1956, the Army Corps determined that a “Standard Project Hurricane” could flood a major swath of the city. After hurricane Betsy in 1965, it became apparent that the disaster scenario was realistic. At that time, Congress should have used the “window of opportunity” that follows a disaster (Perry and Lindell, 2007, 402), which allows for easier passage of disaster preparedness policy, to direct the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) to evaluate the threat of a hurricane larger and stronger than Betsy; and to create a systematic plan that identified weaknesses and provided ways to reduce the hazard. Alongside that commission, a congressional evaluation led by both governmental entities, constituency groups, and private industry should have evaluated and made a final recommendation for appropriations to move forward with the projects. In essence, the recommended course of action reflects Lindbloom’s rational-‐comprehensive or root method of decision making rather than the disastrous use of the incremental or branch method (Lindbloom, 2010, 215). By identifying the problem (in this case, the fact that in a strong enough hurricane, the city would be inundated with water from both Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borgne as a result of storm surge,) they could create infrastructure to guard the city against the effects of the storm.
“The Corps is America’s water resources agency. But American does not have a water
resources policy.” (Grunwald and Glasser, 2010, 227) The fact that our nation does not have comprehensive water resources policy contributed to the disorganization that led to the Katrina disaster. Another recommendation would be that a body of law be adopted to reorganize the preexisting pieces of water and environmental policy into a central piece of governmental authority; whether that be a piece of legislation or the creation of an agency.
The action described above would have benefited the people of New Orleans and, arguably the people of the United States in numerous ways. First and foremost, by identifying the issues ahead of time and creating a singular plan for defense against storm surge, an inherent fiscal efficiency would have taken place. The cost of mitigating storm surge near Lake Pontchartrain vastly exceeded what the original budget allocation was, by over 1,000 percent between the late 1960s and 1982. Had the project been evaluated ahead of time, with interested parties as part of the discussion, and been properly allocated appropriation, then the project may not have encountered the legal and organizational hurdles that it did. One former aid to Sen. J. Bennett Johnston Jr. even said, in regards to the money spent on mitigation in New Orleans, “ They could have built the Hoover Dam around New Orleans with the money they brought home,… But they always pissed it away on politically attractive projects.” (Grunwald and Glasser, 2010, 231) Undoubtedly, by creating a singular approach to storm surge and hurricane protection,
the city’s defenses would have been heightened. The piecemeal plans that were executed in the forty years between hurricanes Betsy and Katrina resulted in the expression of numerous
approaches to flood and storm surge mitigation. What you had were numerous types of mitigation techniques, such as levees and storm gates that were not necessarily designed to work together to prevent or diminish the impact of storm surge. In fact, there were some projects that had been deemed to negatively affect the city’s ability to resist waves of ocean water during a hurricane. An example of this is the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, which provided a path of least resistance for surging ocean water to inundate parts of Eastern New Orleans, the Lower Ninth Ward, Holy Cross and St. Bernard Parish (Grunwald and Glasser, 2010, 229). By involving community organizations and private industry into the discussion of protection procedures, the ACE could have foreseen conflicts and created mutually beneficial responses to their concerns. The lack of political will for proper protection at all levels of government, including the
Bush Administration’s reduction in ACE and hurricane protection funding in 2002 (Grunwald and Glasser, 2010, 235-‐236) is demonstrative of a culture that tends to not think ahead. If political forces paid closer attention and expended the political effort to establish water resources policy and include that with already preexisting hazard mitigation policy, the devastation to the gulf coast would have been less. A reorganization of governmental agencies and/or the adoption of a body of water resource law that took into account public safety, environmental protection, and economic development may have been able to coordinate the necessary forces to bring about responsible hazard mitigation.
The recommendations found above constitute one person’s view of the necessity of
protecting human life and property in hurricanes. However, the political realities that
accompany any policy change are multi-‐faceted and in many cases, infinite. The interests of business, citizen groups, environmentalists, and even personal interests of elected and appointed officials will always have an impact on the policies set forth within a representative democracy. The idea that a single plan to address the need for hurricane protection could even be created still leaves room for both error and political meddling. Any plan put forth by the ACE would still need to be funded by Congress, a body which is constituted of members from all across the United States, who serve the interests of their individual constituencies. Necessary funding would be subject to the scrutiny of individual committees and would be compared to what “other districts” are getting. As we have seen over and over again, congressional projects tend to be underfunded and need to be matched by state or local jurisdictions, which involve their own tangled web of political wrangling. The singular plan would also need to be implemented in the window of opportunity that
Perry and Lindell (2007, 402) describe as the time after a disaster where public opinion on hazard mitigation and preparedness policy is positive. The reality, as they describe, is that plans need to be preexistent before the initial disaster in order to be adequately executed during the window. Another drawback to the recommendation of the singular plan is that although
intentions may be positive, we are, as people, not blessed with omniscience and the plans that we may make and implement may not be the best for us in the end. This can be illustrated by ACE’s plans to create floodgates at the eastern end of Lake Pontchartrain, whose construction, subsequent research has found, would have made the flooding worse during Katrina.
While hindsight may give us the whole picture of what occurred, and the lapses in
forecasting the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, it is important to note that failures at the political level caused inadequate preparedness and mitigation to take place even after the threat was known. As we move forward in our nation’s history, let us not forget the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina and create and adapt policy to protect future generations.
Federal Commission on the Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina. 2006. The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned. Washington, DC. <http://georgewbush-‐ whitehouse.archives.gov/reports/katrina-‐lessons-‐learned.pdf> Accessed: 25 January 2010. Grunwald, Michael and Susan B. Glasser. 2010 “How a City Slowly Drowned.” In Public Management, ed. Richard J. Stillman II. Boston: Wadsworth Lindbloom, Charles E. 2010. “The Science of Muddling Through.” In Public Management, ed. Richard J. Stillman II. Boston: Wadsworth Perry, Ronald W. and Michael K. Lindell. 2007. Emergency Planning. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley