Hurricane Katrina a Man Made Crisis Essay

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Hurricane Katrina

When former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial remarked "The New Orleans we all through we knew is dead," he was speaking about not only 2005 natural mega-storm Hurricane Katrina, but the events and effect the disaster would have on the City of New Orleans that even today still reverberate. The events surrounding the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina offer a winsome and remarkable case study regarding the continuing social divide between individuals and society, and the inability for big government to manage a crisis effectively. Yet, the disaster brought forward the juxtaposition between two sides -- the macroeconomic consequences of Mother Nature and the heart rendering and emotional plight of individuals.

One event factor, only partially controlled by society, was the almost $100 billion and counting effect of Hurricane Katrina on the U.S. Economy

. This figure is quite low, when one takes into account not just the repairs and reconstruction for the region, but the interruption of the Gulf oil supply, ruin of exports like grain, forestry in adjoining areas, hundreds of thousands left unemployed (fewer taxes into the government) as well as the huge economic impact the lack of tourism will have on the Louisiana economy (Reidy 2005; Cooper, 2007).

The hurricane, and lack of quick enough response, caused the largest movement of population in the entire history of the United States -- upsetting the economy by taxing social services in Texas, Alabama, and even Illinois.

A long series of critical issues surrounded the Katrina affair, most commenting on the government's slow response to the tragedy and the numerous secondary and tertiary economic effects caused by the natural disaster (Brasch, 2005).

Certainly, there were a number of archetypes that emerged during and after Katrina, as well as the way fear and uncertainty work as both psychological horrors causing fear and despondency, and psychological motivators causing the unextraordinary individual to do extraordinary things. There are glimpses of the darker sides of humanity -- looting, hoarding, selfishness, even downright cruelty; and yet, acts of uncompromising heroism and selflessness that truly show people can find extreme kindness in themselves even under the most arduous of circumstances. One consistent theme surrounding Katina, though, was the government's failure to act quickly and effectively manage a crisis.

Karina effectively changed the lives of many Americans- as well as a city and even state government. It disrupted business, community, tourism and had a huge economic impact on the region, as well as detrimental effects on culture. Once the deluge was cleared, there have been hundreds of reports, scholarly papers, and conferences on Katrina and crisis management, hopefully with the notion of finding ways to better prepare for the inevitable major storm (Mitroff, 2005). In general, these reports focus on three major issues: 1) What are the most effective ways to respond to crisis? 2) What does Katina teach in the way of how a crisis should be managed? And, 3) What is the most effective communication chain that should exist within national planning to help improve issues such as Katina? (Fink, 2000; Cooper, 2007).

Hurricane Katrina was an excellent case study in the divide between society, the government, and the individual -- as well as the inability for big government and law enforcement to manage crisis. One event factor, only partially controlled by society, was the almost $100 billion and counting effect of Hurricane Katrina on the U.S. Economy

. This figure is quite low, when one takes into account not just the repairs and reconstruction for the region, but the interruption of the Gulf oil supply, ruin of exports like grain, forestry in adjoining areas, hundreds of thousands left unemployed (fewer taxes into the government) as well as the huge economic impact the lack of tourism will have on the Louisiana economy (Reidy 2005; Cooper, 2007).

A running theme throughout most of the literature on Katrina shows that the inability for the bureaucracy to effectively manage the crisis contributed to human suffering, needless death and disenfranchisement, and frankly, in excess and drawn out repairs. What should happen? Again, there are local issues as well as broader national issues. Certainly, though, the billions of dollars in funding that go to crisis management at the national level should be honed and made accountable for doing exactly what their mandate indicates: effectively handling disasters. The money and time spent on cleaning up the disaster, though, led to increased criminal activity in New Orleans, public calls from new leadership, and governmental criticisms. In July 2012, the New Orleans Police Department and the Department of Justice finally reached an agreement to completely reform the troubled police force, specifically focusing on the issues of violence, racism, stereotyping, undue force, and leadership (Shankman, et al., 2012).

Of course the infrastructure of the city of New Orleans was in shambles after the hurricane. However, just after the hurricane and for the better part of a year there was a critical increase in holdups, carjacking's, assault and murder. What also became apparent was that local law enforcement was unable to mitigate this crime wave, may have overreacted in a number of cases, and thus hurting the city's tourism industry. Both Police Chief Warren Riley and Mayor Ray Nagin tried to be positive and optimistic about the situation, noting that the actual murder rate was lower than usual. However, according to criminologists, it is not the murder rate that is the issue, but the violence per capita percentage. Since about 1/2 the number of people lived in New Orleans after the Hurricane, the recent crime wave puts New Orleans back on track to be the "Murder Capital" of the United States. It appears that the lawlessness comes primarily from an understaffed police force with contrary orders, the lack of consequences for violent acts, turf and gangland violence, and no support structure for neighborhood watches and community-level policing (Jonsson, 2007).

Other scholars comment that one of the key problems as the New Orleans metropolitan area rebuilds is fragmentation. This fragmentation has sociological and political roots within policy, race, and economic. This is actually more serious for New Orleans post-Katrina than anyone could have imagined. The city itself faced horrible damage that bled from parish boundaries to county boundaries. This still creates complexity in rebuilding, a lack of responsibility for many, and both horizontal and vertical myopia and dysfunction. What, exactly, is the federal government's role in relation to rebuilding? More importantly, there is no history of a regional body working together to solve problems for the collective good (Flaherty, 2012). This fragmentation expresses itself in a number of ways, finally culminating in a 5,000 person rally specifically focused on a lack of consistent leadership. These people, while peaceful, said they were "fed up" with the violence. They wanted to know that their leaders cared, and as one protester remarked "Today is the day we realize that it's our job to make [the leaders] to their job, and that it's not our job to do their job" (Landis and Nagin, 2007).

Katrina as a man-made crisis is more than just the story, it is the leadership during and after the storm; FEMA, local agencies, national and regional miscommunication, and the bureaucracy. One consistent theme of the event was just how ineffective FEMA and crisis management can be in the United States (Mitroff, 2005). Thinking about the storm, it is hard to imagine that 7,500 public school employees were fired after the storm; every public housing development was either destroyed or partially torn down; rents were unfairly increased and the inner workings of the infrastructure simply failed in almost every way. In addition, due to the despondence as well as the ineffective nature of public administration at the local, regional, state and national levels, most of the public developed an apathetic attitude and lack of trust to government in general (New Orleans Since, 2012).

Thus, within the system of crisis management, whether public or private, there are several facets that are common and necessary to effectively conclude most any example of crisis behavior: 1) Be proactive -- develop a plan prior to the crisis. Take the lead in decision making, act decisively; 2) Implement the decision(s) as quickly as possible; 3) Communicate both internally and externally and always tell the truth; 4) Apprise the public and employees when the crisis is over, and inform why; and, 5) Assess what is learned from the crisis; implement new processes or procedures and communicate those through appropriate channels (Augustine, 2000). Only when firm and structured plans are in place, and logical and morality used, will the philosophy of crisis management translate appropriately to the tactics of crisis management. Perhaps the lessons learned from Katrina will somehow translate into an ability to match the quantitative with the qualitative and form a consistent and pragmatic local plan for rebuilding? Certainly, the people have spoken with a clear message: senseless and random violence will not be tolerated, bias will not be tolerated, and leaders in New Orleans need to step up to…[continue]

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