5th Place - $1,000 Resolve to Evolve Scholarship Winner
It is impossible to place blame on a single individual or group for a lapse in preparation and response to a natural disaster as large as the Gulf States’ inability to deal with Hurricane Katrina. I believe that the majority of the blame rests with the state and local governments for their lack of planning and preparation for a disaster of this magnitude. While the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is partially at fault for not requiring local governments to have effective and feasible plans in place before disaster struck, the state and local governments should be competent enough to formulate effective evacuation and damage control plans without the constant supervision of the federal government.
Plans laid by the state and local governments to deal with a hurricane such as Katrina were woefully inadequate. The responsibility to protect residents from these types of disasters rests with local and state authorities because they are closer to the potential problems and therefore more accountable to the residents and better in touch with the specifics of the potential threat. The inability of relief workers to effectively help citizens threatened by flooding demonstrates the lack of effective planning on the part of local and state governments. FEMA cannot be expected to have evacuation and relief plans for every area of in the country. These specific plans must be the responsibility of local governments, who can create more effective plans that are better able to take into account specific characteristics of the region.
While not primarily responsible for the gross lack of effective disaster planning in the Gulf States, FEMA is partially to blame for not holding state and local governments accountable for their lack of planning. FEMA should have required state and local agencies to formulate better plans to minimize damage and loss of life. FEMA structure could also have facilitated better communication between different response units (such as responders from Louisiana and Mississippi).
Obvious and basic actions to ensure improving disaster preparedness include improving state and local plans for evacuation and plans to provide aid to flooding victims. Responses can also be improved by increasing communication between the different agencies responding to a disaster, requiring FEMA certification of evacuation and other disaster preparedness plans formulated by state and local governments, and a reorganization of FEMA to create regions made up of states that share similar natural threats.
Communication is a vital aspect of any disaster response, and improving FEMA channels of communication between different agencies can drastically improve emergency response. Improved FEMA channels of communication increase cooperation between organizations that are responding to disasters. Also, communication allows for coordinated evacuation and relief plans. Improved communication would be especially useful in disasters that cross state lines by allowing agencies of different states to work together.
By requiring FEMA certification of local and state preparedness plans, the federal government could ensure the effectiveness of disaster preparedness plans. While this requirement would probably not completely eradicate ineffective plans, it would significantly increase the average effectiveness of local disaster planning. By requiring preparedness certification by FEMA experts, FEMA is not required to actually formulate a plan for every possible disaster in every possible location within the United States, allowing state and local authorities to use their local knowledge to formulate an effective plan. While still allowing local and state officials to be the primary disaster planners, preparedness certification allows FEMA to maintain a certain degree of quality control over the plans and can hold plans to a federal standard of feasibility and effectiveness.
Another organizational feature of FEMA that could be improved is its regions. The current ten regions are not the best possible groupings of the states and territories of the United States. States should be grouped not only according to geographical region, but also by shared natural threats`. For example, Region VI includes Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. While these states are geographically adjacent to one another, the natural disasters experienced by New Mexico are nothing like the natural disasters experienced by Louisiana. The Gulf States (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and Texas) should be a single region whose main focus is on the minimization of damage from hurricanes. Georgia and the Carolinas could also be included in this region. These states are currently members of Regions IV and VI. Tennessee, Virginia, Arkansas, and Oklahoma could be another group focused on the flooding caused by heavy rainfall from hurricanes as they lessen in severity over land. New England could be a region focused on heavy snowfall. By incorporating these states in regions based on common natural threats, FEMA regions can be made into more meaningful units with a more important role in emergency response. FEMA regional offices could handle preparedness certification to better facilitate cooperation between states in the event of an evacuation.
By improving communication, requiring disaster preparedness certification, and reorganizing its regional management, FEMA can reduce difficulties of working with many different organizations to respond to a disaster. By facilitating a better working environment for the multiple agencies FEMA coordinates, streamlining and improving emergency response becomes easier. To ensure better handling of future disasters, FEMA must make improvements to its structure and procedures. I believe the improvements outlined above will improve FEMA the most and are therefore most advisable.