National Guidance for Hurricane Katrina

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Underestimating Catastrophic Natural Disasters
  • Delayed Response to the Natural Disaster


The United States was not ready for the destruction imposed by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. There was not a guide or training manual to reference, everything was unique. Hurricane Katrina moved swiftly and was “under the radar” from its inception. Starting as a tropical depression on 23 August and upgraded to a hurricane on 25 August, Hurricane Katrina grew in strength as it approached the Gulf Coast. When Katrina made landfall on 29 August 2005, it was packing 145 miles per hour winds along with 20-30 foot storm surges. The city of New Orleans filled with water as the levees from Lake Pontchartrain failed. Only a few weeks later, Hurricane Rita hit the Texas shoreline then striking the same communities still dealing with damaged left in Katrina’s wake. Combined, these storms left over 1,800 people dead. Local state and federal government came under harsh criticism Nationwide when the response, mainly to the distressed city of New Orleans was slow and inept. Many also asked why the military did not respond sooner to help the clearly overwhelmed state and local governments, mainly after the levees failed in the city of New Orleans. This was due to several laws that have legal limitations like the Posse Comitatus Act, Insurrection Act, and Stafford Act.

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Underestimating Catastrophic Natural Disasters

National Guard troops deployed to the region, and only had enough food and water on had to last an estimated 24 to 36 hours. The emergency response system failed due to every known means of communication being non-mission capable. Hurricane Katrina destroyed all means of communication leaving the National Response Plan without the means to execute the mission. Communication was essential in order to aid emergency relief. The storm incapacitated cell phones, telephone landlines, and sat phones. Authorities struggled tremendously to communicate guidance to first responders and mobilized National Guard troops on the ground. Delays on supply trucks were foreseeable, and rational. Drivers refused to enter certain areas without police or military escorts. Over 20,000 residents gathered at the Convention center without food, water, and basic essentials. There was also no police presence due to more than 250 New Orleans police officers abandoning their duty.

Delayed Response to the Natural Disaster

Politics played a very vital role in the dissemination of supplies and who had overall authority. Governor Blanco was at odds with the Bush administration during Katrina. The administration was at odds over using the active military to relieve and fill in gaps with local law enforcement. The administration did not want implications that the President was seizing executive authority from a female governor from another party. There was a political “tug of war” as to who had the authority and how would the other be perceived politically. This banter went on until President Bush placed 7,200 active duty forces in New Orleans. However, five days after the initial flooding the troops were on the ground. President Bush understood the massive logistical and communication problems that plague relief efforts during Katrina. He lobbied for the military playing a bigger role. President Bush acknowledged that Hurricane Katrina was not a normal hurricane, the system at every level of government was not well coordinated, and the Armed Forces should have a broader role. The President understood that the Armed Forces were more than capable of massive logistical operations at a moment’s notice. The President was spot on in urging Congress to extend executive authority in the event of natural disasters. He understood that we should leverage our assets. We have an abundance of battle-tested combat veterans in our ranks that have deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Many of these veterans saw the logistical nightmares of these areas. Being able to deploy at a moment’s notice is something that the Armed Forces are accustomed to doing. As a result, a development of an active duty unit to respond to catastrophic domestic events, established by NORTHCOM (Northern Command). The unit would assist state and local law enforcement with relief capabilities under the authority of the National Guard governor.

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