Civil–Military Relations in Hurricane Katrina: A Case Study on Crisis Management in Natural Disaster Response
In late August 2006, Hurricane Katrina struck the New Orleans region, affecting an area of over 90,000 miles. It began with a hurricane which led to flooding, disrupting millions of lives across multiple jurisdictions, and damaging or destroying much of the local critical infrastruc- ture—21 refineries, miles of electricity transmission lines, and telecommunications equipment—within these regions. Over 100,000 patients received medical treatment; housing assistance or direct housing was provided to over 390,000 displaced individuals and families; and over 1.7 million victims registered for disaster assistance.
In the end, Hurricane Katrina caused over $96 billion in property damage, destroyed an estimated 300,000 homes, produced 118 million cubic yards of debris, displaced over 770,000 people, and killed an estimated 1,330 people. In comparison, Hurricane Andrew (one of the costliest U.S. natural disasters before Hurricane Katrina) created $33 billion in property dam- age, destroyed approximately 250,000 homes, and killed 60 people. About 80 percent of the fatalities caused by Hurricane Katrina occurred in the New Orleans metropolitan area; 231 fatalities occurred in Mississippi.1
Many assessments have been issued on the failure of the Bush administration to contain and control this major disaster. How could the local authorities lack such basic logistics, like search and rescue teams on the ground? Why did the Government react so slowly? Why did the Fed- eral Emergency Management Authority (FEMA) appear as an irrelevant coordinator? Why was it so difficult to communicate between civil and military units? As a matter of fact, the events happening in the Gulf Coast the summer of 2005 only underlined one key dilemma of federalism as a political system when it comes to crisis management. More particularly, the 10th Amendment states that “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” This means that since the inception of the U.S. Constitution, policymakers have always preferred community-centered processes over Washington-centric planning.2
Indeed it is worth noticing that all the debates surrounding the aftermath of the events— when the Administration was attempting to learn lessons from its mistakes—turned around a few simple questions: What is the best solution between coordination and centralization when
1 Lynn Davis (ed.), Hurricane Katrina: Lessons for Army Planning and Operations (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2007), p. 2.
2 James Jay Carafano, Richard Weitz, “Learning from Disaster: The Role of Federalism and the Importance of Grassroots Response”, Joint Center for Operational Analysis Bulletin, vol. III, issue 2, June 2006, p. 43.
facing a national disaster? Shall we promote a single and unified chain of command? Or a joint management structure based on local authorities’ primacy? Shall we advocate a centralized logistic with an exclusive command and control structure? Or shall we preserve the existing and separate civil and military systems and only incite organizations to create some commonalities?
In that perspective, Hurricane Katrina is not only a case study to understand the American political system and the way it manages natural crises. It also sheds light on issues that interna- tional or supranational organizations like the European Union can face in the future. For instance, this research paper will demonstrate how comparing the deployment of neighboring states’ national guards in the New Orleans area to the potential deployment of the various national militaries in Europe on a member’s soil is relevant. Indeed, it helps to better under- stand the need for civil-military cooperation in disaster response. As we will see, this coopera- tion...
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