It is rare that emergency-management officials have the opportunity to review two similar events that have occurred under fairly similar circumstances and see how the changes in procedures and plans implemented after the first event have affected the outcome of the second. Hurricanes Katrina and Gustav provided this rare opportunity to apply the scientific method to Emergency Management.
Several important changes implemented after Katrina occurred months and weeks – and a few of them years – before Gustav hit the Gulf Coast. One of the most significant changes was that the major players in both events met several times before the second storm and, among other things,entified the actual personnel who would take part in the preparations for Gustav. It was vital that not only the leadership but also the line personnel become comfortable with one another, and with
each other’s agencies, well before having to depend upon one another under extremely difficult
At the local level, the city of New Orleans worked closely with Louisiana’s Orleans,
Jefferson, Saint Bernard, and Plaquemines Parishes under the auspices of the Urban Area Security
Initiative (or UASI region) refining guidelines on evacuation procedures and other plans. In addition,
after the planning process was completed, federal, state, and local agencies tested various components
of the plans in a number of DHS (Department of Homeland Security) exercises.
Host-state agreements also were negotiated, in advance, with a number of other states that probably
would be asked to receive and shelter evacuees. As a result, those states were ready when the time came,
and the states directly affected by Gustav did not have to hope that these
potential host states would help – they already knew. This preplanning
effort also gave the host states the time they needed to have shelters selected, equipped, and ready if
and when another major hurricane would hit the Gulf Coast.
More than just meeting with one another and producing a plan on paper, the familiarity that this
cooperative effort generated meant that the leaders of the numerous local, state, and federal agencies
involved had the time they needed to
develop a level of mutual trust that allowed for rapid and coordinated action during the actual time of
crisis. Without such familiarity, decisions almost assuredly would have quickly bogged down in
introductions, the establishment of roles and hierarchy, and similar non-operational details.
A Careful Plan, Executed With All Deliberate Speed
In the months and years after Katrina, officials of DHS’s Federal Emergency Management Agency
(FEMA) met a number of times with their counterparts in state and local agencies, and put particular
emphasis on pre-event gap analysis. According to FEMA’s Mary Walker, the “real
lesson” of Katrina was that emergency management at all levels cannot simply wait until a
crisis happens to determine what resources are needed. The gaps that exist must beentified in advance;
doing so allows the operational plan agreed upon by the numerous agencies participating to cover the
known gaps by design, rather than by chance, and makes it easier for operational personnel to focus
greater attention on covering the unanticipated.
The gap-analysis process requires that the various levels of emergency management meet and discuss not
only the requirements for a successful response but also the resources likely to be available –
or, of perhaps greater importance, not likely to be available. This process not
onlyentifies the gaps in resources but also puts the various levels of government in close and direct
contact with one another, and that association fosters even more effective working relationships.
Experience shows that, in today’s world, any potentially catastrophic event such as a
hurricane requires the coordinated efforts of a relatively large number of agencies. For that reason
alone, even the physical size of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) must be reconsidered, according
to Mathew Kallmyer, deputy director of the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency
Preparedness. And, in fact, additional EOC space was provided during Gustav to
accommodate all of the agencies represented. Here it also should be noted that the duration of operation
of the EOC in a major disaster situation also is longer – in large part because recovery
operations after the disaster usually require as much time and effort between
agencies as the planning and coordination effort did before the disaster.
The expansion of the EOC into a regional resource where city, state, and other major players could meet
and work on problems during the emergency also was key to coping successfully with Gustav.
In the final analysis, the major lesson learned from Katrina – and applied successfully when
Gustav hit – is that effective emergency management cannot be done “ad hoc.”
The major players likely to be key participants must plan together, practice together, and work together
“in the off-season,” so to speak, or the operation on game day will suffer. In the
end, successful large-scale emergency-management and response operations are about people and agencies
working together – not because they have to, but because they trust each other.