Other than Hurricane Sandy of 2012, Hurricane Katrina is one of the most devastating hurricanes to hit the United States in the 21st century. It happened in the 2005 hurricane season and devastated the gulf of Mexico, specifically Louisiana and the city of New Orleans. Katrina is classified as one of the five deadliest hurricanes to ever hit the United States and is one of the six strongest storms to ever hit the country.
On August 25, 2005, Hurricane Katrina crossed into the United States and caused more than 9,000 casualties and $96 billion in damage. As a category 3 hurricane, it was able to sustain winds of up to 125 mph and caused widespread damage over Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. In the event of a major disaster, the Federal Emergence Management Agency (FEMA), is the primary respondent to help restore and reduce further damage.
Throughout the course of the disaster and the relief period, FEMA was largely criticized for lack of action, its delayed response time and how disorganized its plans were. FEMA’s response exposed how disorganized the government agency was and revealed how changes needed to be made to the operation of the organization so that they could effectively respond to other disasters. The communication procedures throughout the agency were horrible and most of the devices did not always work or were damaged to the point that they could not be used. As a result of poor communication throughout the agency all actions were prolonged and this contributes to the amount of devastation that happened in the catastrophe.
Even though FEMA is not a public relations agency they should know how to communicate with the other branches of their organization and respond to the president’s call to action. Many people in the country blamed President Bush for the poor communication and lack of response but Bush and his administration kicked their PR campaign into overdrive soon after the hurricane was over even after receiving news that the storm could have killed thousands of people.
Many high ranking government officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, were dispatched to their native states. Rice was sent to Alabama where she helped to bring food to people and move citizens in dangerous areas to shelters.
One of the many problems that the Bush Administration faced was a rumor going around that the African American people of Louisiana weren’t being rescued because of their race. “Nobody, especially the president, would have left people unattended on the basis of race”, Rice responded to the questioning media. Being an African American woman herself, Rice understood that the people of the city of New Orleans were being rescued as fast as they could get them out of there. The main problem with rescuing people arose when people wouldn’t leave their houses, even after the governor of the state issued a mandatory evacuation when he realized that the levees would break. The people that stayed in New Orleans for the duration of the storm were those of a lower income and education and many of those people were African Americans. Because FEMA was slow at responding and the areas that they were in were flooded, it was nearly impossible for them to be rescued in an easy manner. Many people accused them of not rescuing them because of their race.
Another great thing that the government did, with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, was to put together a hotline and a website so families that were separated could find each other again. This was a great step for the government to take because they were being proactive about helping people find their families, especially children who were separated during the storm. This not only shows that the government cared about helping people be reunited but also that they cared about the safety of their citizens.
The government also made another good decision with bringing in 100 tons of medical supplies and hundreds of federal health workers. This is important because they were trying to prevent against the diseases that might happen due to the amount of unclean water that was dispersed on the land. People could catch diseases due to the fact that some were swimming through the streets of their towns to get to safety. There was extremely hot weather, mosquitos and standing water holding human waste, corpses and other contaminants there was a large concern for diseases such as West Nile virus, salmonella, hepatitis and E coli bacterial infections. The massive amount of medical supplies that was brought in by the government was very important to the survival of many people and the fact that they were able to provide that much supplies was a huge help to keeping the government on good terms
This is about all of the good public relations that one can say the government did, the rest, was a disaster. It seems as if there was no crisis communication plan ever put in place and that FEMA had never handled a disaster before. There was poor planning and communication on their part and it seemed like that the government agencies were not communicating with each other, as well as with the country.
The Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Federal Emergency Management (FEMA) Director Michael Brown is where most of the blame is placed. Both were called out many times by the media for not knowing what was going on in the main spot of the disaster, New Orleans, and for having different information than the local officials.
“Mr. Secretary, how is it possible that you could not have known on late Thursday, for instance, that there were thousands of people in the [New Orleans] convention center who didn’t have food, who didn’t have water, who didn’t have security, when that was being reported on national television?” Fox News Channel anchor, Chris Wallace, asked Chertoff on Sunday.
The quote from Chris Wallace of Fox News is a prime example of how FEMA and the government had lost control of the situation, specifically in New Orleans. The fact that there was no communication between the convention center and the government is ridiculous and if there was communication and nothing was done is just as crazy. The convention center in New Orleans is where many people from the city were brought to provide shelter for them during and after the storm. What many Americans soon found out is that there was no food or water in the convention center and there were many fights breaking out there, making it unsafe for people to be there.
Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish, just south of New Orleans, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “We have been abandoned by our own country, it’s not just Katrina that caused all these deaths in New Orleans here. Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area.” This statement made by Aaron expresses how displeased the people of New Orleans were with the care that they were being given by the government. There should have been more attention paid to what was going on in the convention center and the superdome by the government but there was not and that is truly a shame because many more lives could have been saved if they had been paying attention.
Perhaps the biggest mistake of the entire disaster was how FEMA did not know for 36 hours that the levees in New Orleans had broken, even after this had been reported by the national weather service and was on the news. During a crisis, people should be assigned to monitor the news coverage so that they are able to keep up with what is going on. One would think that the federal organizations would send each other their press releases before they are sent out or at least phone the other organization so that they would be aware of a situation. They should have also been monitoring the media to correct any inaccuracies reported that could have gotten people into even further unsafe positions than the ones that they were already in.
The Bush Administration, up until this point was always praised for their handling of disasters as Bush had to handle 9/11 a disaster that he was unable to predict at all. Hurricane Katrina was able to be predicted a few days out and the administration and FEMA should have been able to prepare themselves for the disaster.
A few days after Katrina, President Bush was seen at a fundraiser in San Diego when he should have been taking charge and leading the country and giving them hope during this time of disaster. His late arrival in New Orleans is one of the main reasons that people claimed he did not care about the people affected by the hurricane.
Once he was on the ground in New Orleans, President Bush did not seem to be himself. He made an almost half-hearted speech to the people affected by the Hurricane and followed it up with another woeful speech and jokes about how he had many fun times in the city in his younger days. Of course, he was trying to lighten the mood and make people feel better, but in some ways, this only reminded the people of the ways that their city had been destroyed. Jokes are good but not when people are dying because the administration, specifically FEMA, cannot get together what they have to do.
The director of FEMA, Michael Brown was essentially removed from the media circuit because of his inadequacy to handle the disaster. Brown was not getting the facts straight and not keeping constant communication with the media. He is someone who was not cut out to be answering difficult questions in difficult circumstances in front of a camera. Someone like this should not have been made head of FEMA, a disaster relief service that is one of the highest stress jobs in the government. Brown, who clearly has a problem of working quickly under pressure, should not have been given the job as the public representative. He did a horrendous job of communication with the public and the media and that is why Michael Chertoff, Homeland Security Secretary, was soon passed the job of communicating with the media.