Nature has proved to be not only extremely beautiful but also damaging and threatening. Every year, the population of the planet faces many natural cataclysms which people are unable to prevent. Thus, the only way to survive such disasters is to minimize their negative impact and be fully prepared to the potential threat. Hurricane Katrina has shown the price of unpreparedness and underestimation of the forces of nature. Being the costliest hurricane, this extremely powerful and deadly storm caused a great damage and death toll (National Hurricane Center [NHS], 2005, p. 11).
One of the deadliest hurricanes began on August 23, 2005, when tropical depression developed (Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, 2006, p. 67). On the following day, the storm evolved into a deeper cyclone and turned towards southern Florida. On August 25, the tropical storm elevated to hurricane Katrina, reached Category 1, and caused a landfall in Florida. On the next day, hurricane reached Category 2 and moved westward. From of August 26 to August 28, there were two periods of intensification, and the storm reached Category 5. On August 29, the hurricane caused landfalls in Louisiana coast, resulting in a catastrophic flooding in New Orleans and in the Mississippi area (Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, 2006, p. 68). On August 30, Hurricane Katrina became tropical depression.
Hurricane Katrina caused a dramatic loss of life and a substantial damage to property. Thus, the total number of fatalities was 1,833 with the highest death rate in Louisiana (NHC, 2005, p. 11). Most of the deaths were caused by the storm surge-induced flooding and its aftermath in New Orleans. Thousands of houses, historical buildings, and facilities were destroyed in the New Orleans and Mississippi area (NHC, 2005, p. 12). Georgia and Florida were damaged by strong winds and tornadoes. Katrina caused a long-lasting impact on the population, tourism centers of the region, oil and gas industry (NHC, 2005, p. 12). Oil refining capacities were disrupted while oil rigs and platforms were damaged. Millions of gallons of oil spilled from the damaged capacities.
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What is more, key transportation arteries of the area were completely disrupted (NHC, 2005, p. 12). The hurricane had dire consequences for the terrestrial ecosystems as well. More specifically, the storm damaged barrier islands of the coast of Louisiana and ruined sixteen federal wildlife refuges. Aquatic ecosystems of the region were also altered by Katrina. Firstly, the hurricane struck the center of commercial and recreational fishing, ruining all the facilities. Secondly, immense flooding brought a mix of raw sewage, bacteria, heavy metals, and pesticides to Lake Pontchartrain (Sheikh, 2005).
Finally, Katrina became a deadly threat for people imprisoned in New Orleans. During the hurricane, prisoners were especially helpless. Around seven thousands of them were locked up in New Orleans Prison during the disaster. Many inmates reported being left in their cells while the water was rising above their heads. The entire building with prisoners was neglected in the evacuation process (Heldman, 2011).
A great number of experts consider government response to Hurricane Katrina hesitant and uncoordinated. The first step of the government in response to the upcoming natural disaster was done on August 26 when Mississippi and New Orleans Governors declared a state of emergency. On the following day, the first phase of the State of Louisiana Emergency Evacuation Plan was put into action. The second and final phases of the evacuation plan followed immediately (Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, 2006, p. 67). Louisiana Emergency Evacuation Plan was the first attempt of the local government to response to Katrina. Shortly after that, the National Response Plan was introduced as a federal government response to the disaster.
It is worth mentioning that the response to Hurricane Katrina varied across the governmental agencies (Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, 2006, p. 163). Thus, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which is charged of responding to natural disasters, failed to lead an effective federal response. The prime reasons for its failure were staffing shortage, inadequate training of personnel, poor commodities tracking, and insufficient plans for post-disaster communication (Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, 2006, p. 163). Furthermore, the Department of Homeland Security failed to activate the Catastrophic Incident Annex which permits to provide help without waiting for any requests. In addition, DHS did not appoint a Principal Federal Officer whose responsibility is to oversee the response (Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, 2006, p. 171). DHS and Secretary Chertoff failed to prepare the government to the disaster and did not understand its full potential.
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A prominent role in responding to the hurricane was performed by the Coast Guard, more specifically, by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The Coast Guard appeared to be well-prepared to the disaster due to its initiative and well-developed hurricane plans. At the same time, FEMA neglected some important aspects of the response plan and made many serious mistakes. Moreover, poor coordination between DHS and FEMA leadership led to the response failure. All in all, the Department of Homeland Security failed to recognize FEMAs limited capacity to address Hurricane Katrina (Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, 2006, p. 171).
After the deadly strike of Hurricane Katrina, the US Army Corps of Engineers was charged with fixing New Orleans levees and working with pumps to make the city dry again. However, this mission turned to be challenging and required emergency measures since the pumping stations in the region were not working (Murphy, 2005). As a part of the emergency measures, helicopters had to drop huge sand bags into the gaps to stop water running from the canals and flooding the city.
During its recovery efforts, the US Army Corps of Engineers faced another challenge: three weeks later, Hurricane Rita arrived. In order to prevent further damaging and flooding of the area, the Corps sealed the mouth of the canal with metal sheets (Murphy, 2005). Nevertheless, the second breach of the levee took place during Hurricane Rita and made the recovery work of the Corps more complicated.
More than three thousand people were involved in the recovery operations to repair damage caused by the hurricane and dry the city. The main task of the Corps was to repair levees and return them to the previous condition. However, many residents of the area started to complain about repairing the levees to the pre-Katrina level since people wanted the levees to be raised so that they could resist a hurricane of Katrinas force (Murphy, 2005). The US Army Corps of Engineers, in their turn, underlined a need for congressional approval and funding to build more protective and hurricane-resistant levees (Murphy, 2005).
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What is more, the post-fall evacuation of the citizens was full of challenges. Incomplete pre-landfall evacuation compounded the post-landfall evacuation process and made it more time-consuming. As the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Emergency ManagementAgency (FEMA) stated in their after-action report, Hurricane Katrina has presented the need for a national focus on evacuation and sheltering (Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, 2006, p. 359).
The catastrophic damages to the New Orleans and Mississippi area, large loss of lives, and immense flooding during Katrina proved that the government of the United States was unprepared to the disaster of such force. Moreover, there are lessons which should be learned for effective hurricane protection in the future.
Firstly, the government should fully understand potential risks. The authority must assess risks associated with potential failures of protective systems. Furthermore, the government must make emergency preparedness a gubernatorial priority and provide proper coordination and cooperation between governmental agencies (National Governors Association [NGA], 2010, p. 2).
In addition, the Department of Homeland Security should facilitate the exchange of experience by encouraging communication between colleagues throughout the country and by building strong relations with security agencies in other states (NGA, 2010, p. 3). Not less important for the government is to enhance the capacity to help other states to cope with the danger of natural disasters.
Moreover, unpreparedness of the hurricane protection system has shown that the Security Policy must ascertain that all its members properly understand their functions and tasks in the incident response process. The Security Policy must also properly assess the available resources not to overestimate the role and capacities of the Coast Guard, which did not manage to protect New Orleans from the hurricane (NGA, 2010, p. 3).
The next lesson which was learned after Hurricane Katrina is the importance of the integrated use of military capabilities during the federal response to a disaster. The Department of Homeland Security must overview the laws, practices, and strategies relating to communication between the agencies (The Federal Response, 2006, p. 55).
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What is more, the Department of Homeland Security, local governments, and the private sector should develop a modern, flexible, and transparent logistics system which would establish commodities for emergencies and provision of goods during these emergencies. The Department of Transportation should be prepared to conduct a mass evacuation operation in case of a natural disaster (The Federal Response, 2006, p. 57).
What concerns mass care and housing, Hurricane Katrina has urged a need for the Departmentof Housing and Urban Development to develop integrated plans and bolstered capabilities for the temporary and long-term housing of evacuees (The Federal Response, 2006, p. 59).
Another valuable lesson which was learned after Hurricane Katrina is the importance of a more focused health care delivery system during the emergency state. Thus, during the disaster, there were many citizens who suffered harm or died beyond the disaster itself (Ferdinand, 272). After Katrina, several hundred thousands of citizens became removed from their source of care. Hence, the hurricane has shown the government that patients can be unexpectedly removed from the patient-doctor relationship, displaced geographically, or disoriented in terms of health care (Ferdinand, 272). In this case, there should be special services or programs which will help to accept new patients in the healthcare system and fulfill their urgent needs.
Lastly, Katrina has also raised a need to rethink the evacuation plans regarding prisoners and their condition during disasters. When the hurricane struck New Orleans, prisoners were especially helpless and neglected in the evacuation process (Heldman, 2011). Consequently, the federal government should take into consideration the safety of all citizens of the area, including those who are in prisons.
The dramatic impact of Hurricane Katrina prompts the need to engage more experts in the investigation of the reasons why this event turned into one of the deadliest natural disasters in the world. Many after-action reports, articles and researches were conducted during the last decade to understand why the federal government failed to properly protect the city and its people from the storm.
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The experts of the United States Army Corps of Engineering prove that primarily, the catastrophic flooding of New Orleans was not caused by the powerful storm but by fatal engineering flaws in the citys flood protection system (Robertson, 2015). What is more, in 2006, the National Science Foundation presented a report which stated that local officials in New Orleans had contributed to the disaster by forcing the Corps to build a less effective protection for the city than the Corps had intended to build. The report disagreed with the view that the Corps were blindsided concerning the design of the protection system by the back-room deals in Washington (Robertson, 2015).
Furthermore, a report Hurricane Katrina External Review Panel conducted by the American Society of Civil Engineers states that both exposure to the storm engineering and engineering-related failures caused levee breaches. The first direct reason for the breaches was the collapse of several levees with concrete floodwalls which was caused by their specific design. Secondly, overtopping of the levees allowed the water to reach the city and erode the structures away (American Society of Civil Engineers [ASCE], 2007, p. 5).
In addition, the report mentions some other failures of the hurricane system in New Orleans. For example, the hurricane protection system of the city was not a unified system but rather comprised individual pieces. More importantly, the protection system was designed for less severe meteorological conditions (ASCE, 2007, p. 6).
Another expert, Dr. J. David Rogers, claims that lack of knowledge and communication between the US Army Corps of Engineers and other governmental agencies resulted in the installation of faulty flood walls. The expert also mentions misinterpretation of a full-scale load test carried out by the Corps a few years prior to Katrina (Stolz, 2015).
Understanding the dramatic impact of Hurricane Katrina, failures made by the federal government, and the priceless lessons learned from this disaster, the prime task of the American protection services and experts is to adopt a set of recommendations which will help to avoid failures of hurricane or emergency protection systems and save hundred thousands of lives in the future.
One of the most important recommendations is a need for the Department of Homeland Security to establish an interagency team of senior planners who will conduct a comprehensive review of the National Response Plan (The Federal Response, 2006, p.88). In addition, DHS should institute a formal training program on NRP for all departments and agency personnel with incident management responsibilities (The Federal Response, 2006, p. 89).
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Furthermore, the federal government should integrate and synchronize the preparedness functions within the Department of Homeland Security. The establishment of a unified and well-communicated emergency protection system is the only way to make all the mechanisms work in coordination and interrelation (The Federal Response, 2006, p. 90). Another recommendation focuses on the integrated use of military capabilities during the emergencies and the integration of the Department of Homeland Security with the Department of Defense in order to provide a more effective federal response (The Federal Response, 2006, p. 94).
Moreover, DHS should review the current policies, strategies, and laws related to communication. Provision of reliable communication and coordination in case of emergency should be a key element of a successful emergency protection system (The Federal Response, 2006, p. 96).
What concerns the health care system and insurance during the emergency events, the federal government should introduce an integrated electronic medical record system to ensure continuity of care and to help patients to survive the storms (Ferdinand, 2006, p. 274).
Finally, the fate of prisoners during any natural disaster and evacuation process must not be forgotten. Thus, the federal government should design and implement a coordinated emergency plan to ensure that all prisons are capable of immediate evacuation in case a similar disaster strikes (American Civil Liberties Union, 2006, p. 10).
In conclusion, Hurricane Katrina is just another proof of the might of nature and helplessness of a person. This deadly disaster has shown that people tend to underestimate the force of nature and overestimate personal capabilities. Katrina has demonstrated that the American government was still unprepared to such a catastrophe and could not protect its citizens in a proper way. The hurricane taught people valuable lessons which should never be forgotten. Katrina illustrated the government its failures in the emergency protection system, which, hopefully, will not occur in the future.