View Full Version : Lessons from the Private Sector and Coast Guard During Katrina

03-22-2008, 12:37 PM

This paper focuses on improving response to natural disasters, but I wonder if at least some of its recommendations couldn't also help improve response to terrorist acts:

Many assume that the only viable option for emergency response and recovery from a natural disaster is one that is centrally directed. However, highlighted by the poor response from the federal government and the comparatively effective response from private retailers and the Coast Guard after Hurricane Katrina, this assumption seems to be faulty. Big box retailers such as Wal-Mart were extraordinarily successful in providing help to damaged communities in the days, weeks, and months after the storm. This Policy Comment provides a framework for understanding why private retailers and the Coast Guard mounted an effective response in the Gulf Coast region. Using this framework provides four clear policy recommendations:

1. Give the private sector as much freedom as possible to provide resources for relief and recovery efforts and ensure that its role is officially recognized as part of disaster protocols.

2. Decentralize government relief to local governments and non-governmental organizations and provide that relief in the form of cash or broadly defined vouchers.

3. Move the Coast Guard and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) out of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

4. Reform "Good Samaritan" laws so that private-sector actors are clearly protected when they make good faith efforts to help.

If disaster situations are to be better handled in the future, it is important that institutions are in place so that actors have the appropriate knowledge to act and incentives to behave in ways that benefit others. The framework and recommendations provided in this paper help to provide a good understanding of the appropriate institutions.

John T. Fishel
03-22-2008, 01:44 PM
This article is simply replete with factual and conceptual errors. Most glaring is the author's assertion that the USCG was moved under DHS in the wake of Katrina. Wrong! :rolleyes: It was moved from DOT under the terms of the Homeland Security Act of 2002.

Conceptually, the author argues that over centralization was the cause of failure in the Federal response. The fact is that by law the Federal response is in support of the state and local response. What the author never addresses is the highly successful response to Katrina by Mississippi with generally excellent support from the Federal agencies. Leadership was exercised by gov Haley Barbour in contrast to the lack of leadership shown by the governor of Louisiana and the mayor of New Orleans. Indeed, had it not been for the LA Adjutant General's contacts the senior Army general would never have been sent by Northcom and effective coordination would not have been established with Admiral Thad Allen of the USCG to get some degree of organization out of the chaos.

Most commentary on FEMA has been that it was seriously underfunded by DHS and generally neglected in the wake of 9/11 and DHS' emphasis on counterterrorism. That, however, is not a problem inherent in FEMA's being housed within DHS. Again, it is a problem of leadership as well as problem definition and focus.

Finally, I will reiterate a point that I have made on other threads. Reorganization will not, of itself, fix a problem. Reorganization can only make fixing problems easier or harder. Creating DHS made addressing some problems easier and others harder. The problem DHS faces is the one DOD faced when it was established in 1947 but it is in spades. Where DOD took 3 big agencies with relatively compatible cultures and put them under one roof, DHS has taken 22 agencies with wildly divergent cultures and is trying to bring them together. We need to remember that it took DOD 40 years until Goldwater-Nichols (1986) to simply get the legislation right and another 10 years to internalize the required cultural changes. One can reasonably hope that DHS will learn some of the lessons of DOD and not take 40 to 50 years to get it right.



03-22-2008, 02:08 PM
It is interesting to me that it is now taken as an article of faith that the federal governent's response was so poor as to be reprehensable. This despite the fact that the response was quite a bit faster than the response to Andrew, which generated quite a bit less protest. I also find it interesting that many of the same people heaping derision on the federal government for for the slowness of its response generally give the local governent a free pass for its lack of a reponse. Mistakes were clearly made by all parties but politics have so badly contaminated the debate, distorting or ignoring the facts that I am not entirely sure that rational debate is possible any more.


Ken White
03-22-2008, 03:30 PM
and was totally involved at a fairly high level the Andrew response and, living where I do watched the response to Opal, Ivan and later Katrina. There are more myths about Katrina than there are about Britney Spears -- and most of them dead wrong. Katrina response was really pretty good and New Orleans peculiarities and the local political milieu caused most of the problems.

That said, the basic point -- that private industry responds more rapidly than does the Federal Government -- is quite true. What then arises is what motive would they have to assist everyone affected as opposed to restoring their service and customer base. While the government could contract for services, my experience with that is the contractors get as badly bureaucratic as the government that hire them.

It is not a simple task...

03-22-2008, 04:20 PM
This article is simply replete with factual and conceptual errors. Most glaring is the author's assertion that the USCG was moved under DHS in the wake of Katrina. Wrong! :rolleyes: It was moved from DOT under the terms of the Homeland Security Act of 2002.



Great point John and from it's creation one of the main purposes of the Coast Guard was Rum Runner Interdiction who avoided taxes hence the reason it was placed under the Treasury. They have a long history of counter smuggling operations and are really one of the most under appreciated services we have.

Also Alabama and Mississippi have had a mutual aid pact for years which came in very handy down by the coastline. MI was in a better position to help in some areas AL was better positioned in others and it worked very well.

Even though I lived just outside Montgomery the effects of Katrina were powerful( No power in Slapout for almost a week,warm beer hot days:mad:) and it taught many lessons that we are still learning,or I hope we learn. At the time 80% of the Al. Guards vehicles (but not personnel) were over there and everywhere but in Al. there was some teeth gnashing over that. And I ain't even gonna get into the Law Enforcement issues that came out of this.

Ken White
03-22-2008, 05:34 PM
...And I ain't even gonna get into the Law Enforcement issues that came out of this.

Our Sheriff sent a crew over and they came back with horror stories about NOPD. Youngest son's Brother in Law went down from GA as Firefighter/Paramedic and he has a few as well and some scathing commentary on the LAArNG...

The one big similarity between Andrew and Katrina was the reluctance of the Governors from one party to ask the President from another party for help. In Andrew, Governor Chiles refused for three days to ask for Federal Assistance; the only thing that got him off the dime was the then Adjutant General of the Florida Guard threatening to resign and go public with why. IMO, for politicians to politicize a disaster is criminal.

That doesn't even address the blithering stupidity and culpability of all the mainstream media in reporting both Hurricanes -- but Katrina was a textbook example of how not to do it...

08-06-2016, 05:21 PM
Thread re-opened after a "lurker" recommended this 2015 article 'The Katrina Disaster and the Politics of Disavowal' by an academic from New Orleans:http://www.newclearvision.com/2015/09/21/against-resilence/

This figure alone suggests the recovery has not happened:
In fact, as a recent report shows, “New Orleans is now at about 78 percent of its population before the storm” and the recent growth rate has been 1.4%.Aggregating the population with surrounding parishes is a transparent ploy to confuse the public. Many have not come back to New Orleans because of lack of opportunities here and because the dominant model of development has created obstacles to their return. To make them disappear through fake statistics is an outrage. Landrieu obviously didn’t grasp the ludicrous but painful irony of calling the post-Katrina era, in which almost a quarter of the population did not return, “the best come-back story” in U.S. history!