Disasters are recurring events that are global targets without boundaries and result in various levels of misfortune. However, with proper emergency management procedures the impact of a disaster can be less fatal and easily prepared for. A course of action in response to a disaster is imperative for governmental agencies at the local, state and federal level. Criticism is a natural response from the media and different levels of society when evaluating the events of a disaster and determining if proper procedures were followed to result in the best outcome. Since Hurricane Katrina, one of the first hurricanes to hit the coast of Louisiana has been Hurricane Gustav and evaluating the federal response to this disaster will identify whether lessons have been learned since the 2005 hurricane season. A detailed analysis of the four phases of emergency management, consisting of mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery, will identify if there was an efficient response of the federal government in reference to Hurricane Gustav and help recognize challenges that we still face today.
Hurricane Gustav formed as a tropical storm in the eastern Caribbean Sea on the morning of August 25, 2008, quickly strengthening as it moved towards Hispaniola, the island including Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where it became a category 1 hurricane killing 84 people. Gustav then continued on to hit Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, Cuba and then the United States causing over $20 Billion dollars in damages and has been named the fourth most destructive hurricane to hit the coast of Louisiana at a category 2. A total of 120 casualties have been an effect of this natural disaster and about two million people moved inland due to evacuations. Due to the catastrophic flooding of Katrina three years prior, evacuations were ordered for New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast region. The government supplied 700 buses for those evacuating from coastal areas and provided tens of thousands of beds for the evacuees.
An ongoing phase of emergency management is known as mitigation and should be taken into account before a disaster actually occurs to help reduce the amount of risk toward people and property. In creating a proper mitigation plan it is important to evaluate and make an assessment of possible risks that can occur in the area. The impact of Hurricane Katrina, which killed about 1,500 people in 2005, gave proper acknowledgement to the fact that some adjustments were considered necessary in mitigation procedures during the redevelopment of communities and repairing of infrastructure. A federal investigation in the levee breaking was conducted by 150 government experts and as a result “the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has repaired and restored 220 miles of floodwalls and levees since 2005.” (DHS) They have improved them by reinforcing weak areas against erosion, constructing storm proof pumping stations and adding floodgates to protect against potential storm surges. Therefore these proper mitigation procedures have lead to the levee being able to withstand a twelve foot storm surge when Hurricane Gustav pushed into the coastal region of Louisiana this year. In addition, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) gave the State of Louisiana a projected $1.57 billion dollars in mitigation grant funding and administered the approval of all mitigation programs throughout the affected areas. These are just a few examples of mitigation that occurred prior to Hurricane Gustav ever forming in the Caribbean Sea. Even though there are positive proceedings toward the improvement of some structures, there is still an issue will buildings being properly constructed to withstand hurricane winds and potential flooding. A strategy for overcoming these important mitigation procedures would be to efficiently disperse grants in a timely manner and establish proper building codes in high risk areas, such as elevating structures that are currently below sea level or including proper additions to homes to reduce damages from hurricanes.
The Federal government was heavily criticized by their inefficient preparation and response to disasters that had previously occurred, thus, in 2006 a report was released titled, “The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned.” In this report they identified “deficiencies in the government’s response and laid the groundwork for transforming the nation’s vision of emergency preparedness and response, making 125 specific recommendations for improving the Federal government’s capability to respond to future disasters.” (DHS) The Department of Homeland Security has also made a point to practice hurricane related exercises, conduct weekly meetings with federal departments and agencies on disaster preparedness and make proper changes to the National Response Plan that where needed. The federal government prepositioned disaster management teams, ambulances, doctors, search and rescue teams, aircraft and supplies throughout the southeast region of the United States as to have a sufficient number of people ready to respond to the disaster.
By the time Gustav hit the coast of Louisiana specific measures were already set in place to decrease the effects of this natural disaster. In response to the hurricane, President Bush made emergency declarations for the states of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. The federal government was not going to make the same mistakes as in 2005 with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita; proper response procedures were set into motion as federal agencies began taking action. The United States Department of Health and Human Services had helped evacuate 900 patients with special medical needs from areas in Texas and Louisiana, which were to be hit by Hurricane Gustav. Two million people were also safely evacuated from threatened coastal areas, resulting in one of the most well coordinated mass evacuations to date. In hopes of preparing for the worst, The HHS also brought in increased amounts of medical supplies to the region and had 1,100 personnel in place, including a number that are trained in emergency medical response. The American Red Cross supervised more than 330 shelters within the region and cared for more than 44,350 evacuees. Having these shelters in place was an effective way to organize for this scale of an evacuation and people were given an adequate place to stay, food and water. An issue that was mentioned numerous times had to deal with the inability of these federal agencies to deliver ice to regions that needed it and in many cases trucks sat for days waiting to deliver but were told to stay due to excessive flooding in the region. Furthermore, another concern was with the lengthy time it took to restore power in some areas. It took some regions over two weeks to restore power and even longer for businesses and schools to get back on track. This is a challenge that should be addressed by possibly bringing in supplies to assist with the issue on hand prior to flooding and having an adequate number of technicians ready to restore and restringing power lines where needed. Also with proper mitigation procedures there is a way to decrease the number of exposed power lines by placing them underground. The cost of doing so is substantially high but in areas where power lines are frequently damaged this can potentially be a benefit in the future.
Federal agencies were on the ground to assess damages and supply federal funding, through grants, to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster. The Environmental Protection Agency conducted aircraft storm damage surveys of regions hit by Hurricane Gustav and gathered information to assist in the recovery process of effected areas. They also monitored drinking water and waste water systems, restoring those that were damaged in a timely manor before the return of most evacuees. President Bush urged utility companies in neighboring states to assist in restoring down power lines and insured that assistance in rural areas was going to be provided, which they were experiencing flooding from the aftermath of Gustav. The President also took measures to increase the fuel supply by accessing reserves with the intention that severe shortages of fuel will not affect the American people as an outcome of this disaster. The property damage incurred from Gustav was approximately $15 billion dollars, only a small fraction of the economic affects of Katrina which were estimated at over $100 billion dollars.
Coordination of the local, state and federal levels have been more effective than previous disasters. The federal response to Hurricane Gustav was effective and well-organized especially since the number of casualties in the US was at a staggering sixteen people. It is better to be well prepared for a situation than to have an excessive number of fatalities that were unnecessary and a population that cannot rely on their federal government for support before, during and after a disaster. The reason for proper preparation and response to Hurricane Gustav was single handedly due to the impact of Hurricane Katrina and is being such a catastrophe especially on the federal level of response. It is only a matter of time before people begin to forget the capabilities of what nature can do to those unfortunate people in its path.
Department of Homeland Security. “Hurricane Gustav: What the Government is Doing.” 2008 September. http://www.dhs.gov/xprepresp/gc_1221144856738.shtm.
Department of Homeland Security. “The First Year After Hurricane Katrina: What the Federal Government Did.” 2008 October. http://www.dhs.gov/xprepresp/programs/gc_ 1157649340100.shtm
Hsu, Spencer S. & Salmon, Jacqueline L. “New Orleans Levees Tested As Gustav Lashes Gulf Coast.” Washington Post: 2008 September. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp- dyn/content/article/2008/09/01/AR2008090100539.html
Johnson, Bradley W. Johnson. “Out of Sight, Out of Mind? A study on the costs and benefits of undergrounding overhead power lines.” Edison Electric Institute, 2006 July.
U.S. Department of Health & Human Service. “HHS Supports Medical Evacuations in Preparation for Hurricane Gustav.” HHS Press: 2008 August. http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2008pres/08/20080831a.html.