FEMA and Hurricane Katrina Essay

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The problem with the response to Hurricane Katrina was not that a National Response Plan (NPR) was not in place or that a National Incident Management System (NIMS) did not exist. It was that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had been in decline for years, was suffering from significant turnover among top leaders, and the individuals who were in charge lacked the appropriate leadership experience and knowledge to oversee an effective response to a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina (Lewis, 2009; Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina,2006). This paper will 1) describe 3 major examples regarding the leadership demonstrated in regard to preparing for and responding to Hurricane Katrina, give an assessment of each and explain why each was pivotal in the response’s outcome. It will also give an assessment of how each could have been improved. 2) It will describe 3 examples of interagency collaboration demonstrated in regard to preparing for and responding to Hurricane Katrina, assess each one and explain why each was pivotal in the response’s outcome. 3) The paper will consider the challenges for the leader of an interagency team involved with operating in such an environment and extend this view beyond the specific response effort, then name and discuss 3 significant issues for an IA leader—namely, information sharing, coordination of effort, and managing personnel directed by various leaders.

3 Major Examples of Leadership

First, FEMA had inadequately trained staff and New Orleans’ Incident Command System (ICS) was not ready or prepared to respond to a disaster like Katrina, and this was the fault of leadership under both Director Michael Brown, who resigned shortly after Katrina, and New Orleans’ local government. Second, FEMA had been unable to provide adequate shelter for all those affected by the hurricane and the following flooding, and this was a result of leadership’s failure to organize. Third, leadership failed to provide adequate logistics in handling the response and had to rely on the leadership of the U.S. Coast Guard to accomplish anything of substance in the aftermath of Katrina (Samaan & Verneuil, 2009). The U.S. Coast Guard excelled and surpassed expectations in the wake of Katrina because it acted as an independent, autonomous organization with a single purpose and spirit of mission (Samaan & Verneuil, 2009). This type of spirit, vision, organization and independence was what FEMA needed to demonstrate to show it was ready.

Pre-Katrina, the Incident Command System (ICS) in New Orleans was only being used for fire-related incidents and not for major flooding or hurricane relief. This could have been improved by incorporating hurricane response and flooding response into the concept.
As a result of this failure, response was delayed for days as teams struggled to understand what to do (Samaan, Verneuil, 2009). Additionally, the emergency operations center (EOC) was not trained in ICS either, which meant that the EOC ended up being a liability rather than an asset. The challenges that the hurricane brought to the ICS concept were that it exposed the lack of realistic prep and planning between agencies at the local and federal levels. Secondly, FEMA was unable to provide shelter for the homeless, which was pivotal in the response because hundreds of thousands were without homes and needed to be relocated. FEMA should have coordinated with local leaders to determine where and how to provide emergency shelters. Thirdly, logistical operations crumbled right out of the gate as there was confusion about who was in charge, a lack of communication among agencies, and mishandling of assets. Few were prepared to put the ICS concept into practice and ICS training had to be given on the spot, and too little on-site coordination among various departments added to the difficulty of putting the concept into practice (Samaan, Verneuil, 2009). For ICS to work properly, it must be understood, embraced, and utilized by all agencies concerned. At Katrina, this was not the case as only the US Coast Guard had demonstrated effective understanding of emergency response.

3 Examples of Interagency Collaboration

Interagency collaboration was shown under Admiral Allen of the U.S. Coast Guard, who managed an effective collaboration with all three levels of agency response. As The Brooking Institution (2007) noted, “the Coast Guard rescue teams had pulled roughly 33,000 stranded Katrina victims off rooftops and overpasses. [Admiral Allen] was personally responsible for injecting some capacity for interoperability among the various civilian agencies at different levels—local, state and federal—integrating with that an effective military response” (p. 3). This collaboration was pivotal to the response because it brought civilian agencies in line with the Coast Guard to allow all of them to pursue one objective: singleness of purpose allowed for prompt rescue of thousands of stranded persons.

Another example was that of collaboration between the Department of Defense (DOD) and FEMA. As the E-PARCC Collaborative Governance Initiative (2008) showed, the DOD was “sluggish” both in the days before landfall and immediately after Katrina hit. Then it decided to spring into action. Yet “even as the DOD became more aggressively involved in the response, it did so on its own terms. It established its own command, and frequently did not coordinate with FEMA….....

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The Brookings Institution. (2007). 9/11, Katrina and the future of interagency disaster response. Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/20070529.pdf

E-PARCC Collaborative Governance Initiative. (2008). Collaboration Amid Crisis: The Department of Defense During Hurricane Katrina Teaching Note. Retrieved from https://www.maxwell.syr.edu/uploadedFiles/parcc/eparcc/cases/Moynihan-%20Teaching%20Notes.pdf

Lewis, D. E. (2009). Revisiting the administrative presidency: Policy, patronage, and agency competence. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 39(1), 60-73.

Philipps, D. (2017). Seven hard lessons responders to Harvey learned from Katrina. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/07/us/hurricane-harvey-katrina-federal-responders.html

Samaan, J. L., & Verneuil, L. (2009). Civil–Military Relations in Hurricane Katrina: a case study on crisis management in natural disaster response. Humanitarian Assistance: Improving US-European Cooperation, Center for Transatlantic Relations/Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD/Global Public Policy Institute, Berlin, 413-432. 

Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina. (2006). A failure of initiative. Retrieved from http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/15feb20061230/www.gpoaccess.gov/katrinareport/mainreport.pdf

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