Ten years after Katrina, some lessons learned, other challenges remain, TROY professor says

Posted: Monday, 31 August 2015


To view video of Dr. Daniel Sutter’s comments on lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KgeZIEGVkY.

TROY -- A Troy University professor believes that while some positive lessons were learned in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, some troubling issues remain that could negatively impact the recovery process in future disasters.

Dr. Daniel Sutter, the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University, has done extensive research in the area of the societal and economic impacts of extreme weather and natural disasters.

While the response to Katrina could have been better, Sutter said the storm presented some unique challenges for government agencies.

“It was a very different hurricane for both federal and state officials to have to try to respond to and created a bunch of unique challenges,” Sutter said. “Government’s bureaucratic rules for trying to respond to disasters didn’t work very well in this relatively unique or different, fast-changing situation. FEMA rules that had been developed with an eye toward past disasters didn’t work very well in this case and in many ways they had their hands tied given the procedures they had to follow. Not to say that the response couldn’t have been better, but you certainly need to keep in mind that this was a relatively unique list of circumstances with the entire metropolitan area being flooded.”
Sutter said reforms put in place by Congress coupled with the increase reach of “peer-to-peer assistance” should aid recovery efforts in future disasters.

“The 2006 FEMA reform bill that passed Congress mandated that FEMA was to liaison with the voluntary agencies that are active in response to disaster situations,” Sutter said. “That was one area that we saw in Katrina – there was little coordination between FEMA, state and local officials with the voluntary and business sectors. The voluntary organizations have a great wealth of knowledge and experience in dealing with disasters. They have ties to groups within the community that have a lot of real time information about what the exact needs happen to be within that community. That’s very encouraging. We saw some of that in the research we did in the Johnson Center in the aftermath of the Joplin tornado in 2011. FEMA was working much more effectively with the voluntary agencies in that case.”
The growth of social media also has had an impact on disaster response since Katrina, Sutter said.
“Another thing that has emerged since Katrina has been the rise of peer-to-peer assistance through Facebook or through tweeting,” he said. “Individuals in an area affected by a disaster can create a Facebook group or send out tweets saying exactly what they need, allowing people outside the area to respond and assist them in a very direct manner. The fact of neighbors helping neighbors has never disappeared. It certainly took a backseat for many years to the idea that you have government relief or volunteer relief agencies that are more visible nationally and internationally, but you have always had a lot of local assistance that has sprung up after a disaster. I think what we are seeing is that with technology, we are able to extend that reach in many ways.”
Sutter said the politicization of the recovery process following Katrina was a major stumbling block, and he fears that may continue to be an issue in future disasters.

“The recovery process after Katrina was slowed because it became extremely politicized,” he said. “It started being used for other political purposes besides recovery. New Orleans went through three different major recovery plans. Although FEMA made some good changes after Katrina to ensure they worked better with the voluntary organizations and coordinate with businesses better, the trend toward more planning of the recovery process has continued unchecked and I think that is going to lead to greater problems with future disasters.”

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