The chaotic response to Hurricane Katrina stunned San Francisco Bay resident Nancy Davis Kho into renewing her personal earthquake plan. She also used a Google Earth map service to look up just where she lived relative to the "locked and loaded" Hayward Fault. She found it was at the end of her street. Between her home and her child's school.
"Just as the failure of the levees had been predicted, the notion of a magnitude 6.7 or stronger earthquake along one of the vein-like fault lines that run through our topography is a virtual certainty. We live with the knowledge that it's not if but when, and Katrina was a potent reminder."
She updated her neglected earthquake plan and emergency supplies and reflected on the importance of a personal preparation for a natural disaster in her free-lance piece for the San Francisco Chronicle, "No more head-in-the-sand act -- it may move / Katrina a wake-up call for those living in quake country" (April 15, 2006)
Find out where your house stands in relation to the Hayward Fault at: quake.wr.usgs.gov/research/geology/hf_map/GE_helicopter.htm.
An April 6, 2006 article at NOLA.com discusses Lt. Gen. Strock's admission to Corps. of Engineers "design failure" in the New Orleans levee system, leading to its failure during Hurricane Katrina. Corps chief admits to 'design failure'
"We have now concluded we had problems with the design of the structure," Strock told members of the subcommittee that finances corps operations, according to NOLA.com. "We had hoped that wasn't the case, but we recognize it is the reality."
Gen. Strock estimated that rebuilding the levees sufficiently to withstand a 100-year flood would cost approximately $6 billion, according to the article.
Mitchell Hoffman, a lawyer for class-action plaintiffs suing the Army Corps. of Engineers told NOLA.com that Lt. Gen. Strock's admission supports their theory of a government "taking" for which compensation is required under the U.S. Constitution.
Witness testimony from the federal, state, private and academic sectors is accessible from the October 18, 2005 hearing concerning "The Future of the National Flood Insurance Program," U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. In addition to statements by Senators Shelby, Bunning and Sarbanes, witness presentations accessible at that site include those from
For years, United States taxpayers, through the NFIP, have provided flood insurance to the minority of property owners most at risk for coastal and inland flooding, at prices below actuarially sound rates. Even so, many of those refused to buy the coverage because they regarded it as "too expensive." The fundamental weaknesses in the NFIP were exposed repeatedly by catastrophic flooding over recent years, and documented in widely published federal studies. See Unintended Consequences: 2003 GAO Report on Financial Challenges to NFIP (September 16, 2005).
Risk-management remedies mandated by Congress for implementation by FEMA were not implemented, and many have yet to be implemented even after the super-catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina. See Unintended Consequences: GAO re Katrina: 1993 Andrew Advice Still Holds; NFIP "essentially bankrupt" (March 8, 2006)
Will the financial and human devastation of Katrina make a difference? Or will the failure of initiative contine once another political issue pushes the issue off the agenda? Unintended Consequences: Hurricane Katrina Final Report by Bipartisan Committee (April 10, 2006).
At 569 pages (28 MB zipped), the Full Report of the government response to Hurricane Katrina is unlikely to hit the best seller list soon, but may prove to be an important historical document. The entire document is accessible as one zipped file and separate sections as PDF files from the GPO: Congressional Reports: H. Rpt. 109-377 - A Failure of Initiative - Final Report of the Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina
Its study may reveal valuable lessons about the response of complex systems to failure cascades, and the human dynamics of self-organization in the absence of central direction. Whether those lessons will be learned, and whether those lessons are politically palatable, is another question.
The Executive Summary opens with a tribute to those whose individual initiatives in the face of "bureaucratic inertia" saved lives and suffering, and closes with a warning that despite extensive studies following prior hurricanes and 9/11, we are "still not fully prepared." Some quotations from that summary follow below the break.
Quoting from the Executive Summary:
"The Select Committee identified failures at all levels of government that signifi cantly undermined and detracted from the heroic efforts of first responders, private individuals and organizations, faith-based groups, and others.
The institutional and individual failures we have identified became all the more clear when compared to the heroic efforts of those who acted decisively. Those who didn’t flinch, who took matters into their own hands when bureaucratic inertia was causing death, injury, and suffering. Those whose exceptional initiative saved time and money and lives. We salute the exceptions to the rule, or, more accurately, the exceptions that proved the rule.
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The preparation for and response to Hurricane Katrina show we are still an analog government in a digital age. We must recognize that we are woefully incapable of storing, moving, and accessing information – especially in times of crisis.
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We reflect on the 9/11 Commission’s finding that “the most important failure was one of imagination.” The Select Committee believes Katrina was primarily a failure of initiative. But there is, of course, a nexus between the two. Both imagination and initiative – in other words, leadership – require good information. And a coordinated process for sharing it. And a willingness to use information – however imperfect or incomplete – to fuel action.
With Katrina, the reasons reliable information did not reach more people more quickly are many, and these reasons provide the foundation for our findings.
In essence, we found that while a national emergency management system that relies on state and local governments to identify needs and request resources is adequate for most disasters, a catastrophic disaster like Katrina can and did overwhelm most aspects of the system for an initial period of time. No one anticipated the degree and scope of the destruction the storm would cause, even though many could and should have.
The failure of local, state, and federal governments to respond more effectively to Katrina — which had been predicted in theory for many years, and forecast with startling accuracy for fi ve days — demonstrates that whatever improvements have been made to our capacity to respond to natural or man-made disasters, four and half years after 9/11, we are still not fully prepared."