The initial response and recovery processes after Hurricane Katrina were slow and inadequate. The magnitude of the storm’s destruction exposed serious systemic problems with how federal, state, and local governments were responding to disasters at the time. For example, opportunities to pre-stage important resources before the storm were missed. Chain of command coordination failures hampered the distribution of critical federal resources. There was a lack of well-qualified, well-trained, and well-funded emergency response personnel. Emergency communications hiccups — reminiscent of September 11 — undermined response efforts. And states lacked the ability to quickly or effectively drawdown much-needed federal recovery funds. Unfortunately, parts of southern Mississippi are still feeling the impact of these mistakes 10 years after the storm.
After Hurricane Katrina, Congress tried to address these gaps in preparedness, response and recovery by passing the Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act in 2006. This legislation aims to drastically improve disaster planning efforts, streamline leadership and authorities for future disasters, improve coordination with federal, state, local and private sector partners, and ensure we had effective evacuation and temporary housing plans as well as a public emergency alert and warning system.
Nationally, we have made marked progress on addressing many of these gaps. Our planning and exercise programs have led to quicker, more effective response and recovery efforts. The Integrated Public Alerts and Warnings System has saved lives by getting people out of harm’s way. However, significant challenges remain, particularly with respect to federal policies related to long term recovery. Interoperable emergency communications is still a vexing problem and substantive disaster housing options are still severely limited. During the remainder of the 114th Congress, I will continue to work to address these and other issues critical to improving our ability to respond and recover from storms like Hurricane Katrina.