The Katrina Breakdown Flood Risk and Levee Failure

The Katrina Breakdown Flood Risk and Levee Failure Read Case Study 3.1 and “Government Saw Flood Risk but Not Levee Failure”;
Answer Questions 1 and 3 at the end of Case Study 3.1.
Each question should be answered in an essay format of approximately 250-500 words. Ensure your paper answers the questions and uses concepts studied in the module and from both readings. Support your answers with personal experiences, current events, and references to the readings.

The Katrina Breakdown Flood Risk and Levee Failure APA Assignment Paper Format

Prepare this assignment according to the APA guidelines found in the APA Style Guide, located in the Student Success Center. An
CASE 3.1
Catastrophe struck the Gulf Coast on August 29,
2005, when the eye of Hurricane Katrina made
landfall near Buras, Louisiana, packing high storm
surges and sustained winds of over 140 mph. The
Category 4 hurricane would move slowly inland,
carving a path of destruction across low-lying
regions of southern Louisiana, Mississippi, and
Alabama. See map.

The Katrina Breakdown Flood Risk and Levee Failure
The Katrina Breakdown Flood Risk and Levee Failure

Experts had long warned of the flood danger
faced by New Orleans, much of which lies
below sea level in a bowl bordered by levees that
hold back Lake Pontchartrain to the north and the
Mississippi River to the south and west. In fact, in
the summer of 2004, hundreds of regional and
federal officials had met in Baton Rouge for an
elaborate simulation exercise. The fictional “Hurricane Pam” left the city under 10 feet of water.
The report from the simulation warned that transportation would be a major problem.

The Katrina Breakdown Flood Risk and Levee Failure

The simulation proved disconcertingly accurate.
Katrina caused breaches in the levees,
leaving about 80 percent of New Orleans under
water and knocking out electrical, water, sewage,
transportation, and communication systems. Katrina
also flattened much of Gulfport and Biloxi,
Mississippi, flooded Mobile, Alabama, and leveled
or inundated small cities and towns across
an area the size of Great Britain. Up to 100,000
people were stranded in New Orleans for days in
squalid and dangerous conditions awaiting relief
and evacuation.
Katrina was the deadliest hurricane to hit the
The United States in more than 75 years. The confirmed death toll exceeded 1200, with more
than 80 percent of the fatalities in Louisiana,
predominantly in the New Orleans area. It was
among the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history.
Nearly three-fourths of all the homes in New
Orleans, the fifty-ninth largest city in the United
States were damaged or destroyed.
Poor coordination between local, state, and
federal officials raise important questions not only
about U.S. disaster preparedness but also about
federalism. The following five government officials,
in particular, were criticized for their response to
the disaster: New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin,
Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, Federal
Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director
Michael Brown, Department of Homeland Security
Secretary Michael Chertoff, and President George
W. Bush. Before considering those criticisms, we
need to review the facts of the case.

The Katrina Breakdown Flood Risk and Levee Failure Timeline

Saturday, August 27, 2005
5:00 A.M.: Hurricane Katrina is in the Gulf of
Mexico 435 miles southeast of the Mississippi
River Delta, gathering strength and moving forward
at just 7 mph.
10:00 A.M.: FEMA Director Michael Brown appears
on CNN to encourage residents of southeastern
Louisiana to leave as soon as possible for
safety inland.
5:00 P.M.: Governor Kathleen Blanco and
Mayor C. Ray Nagin appears in a press conference
to warn residents of the storm. Nagin declares
a state of emergency in New Orleans.
7:25–8:00 P.M.: Max Mayfield, director of the
National Hurricane Center, calls officials in Alabama,
Louisiana and Mississippi to warn them
of the severity of the coming storm
Sunday, August 28, 2005
7:00 A.M.: Gulf Coast residents awaken to the
news that Katrina is a Category 5 hurricane, with
winds blowing steadily at 160 mph. The eye is
250 miles away, moving now at 12 mph.
9:25 A.M.: President George W. Bush calls
Blanco, advising that she and Nagin order a
mandatory evacuation.
9:30 A.M.: With the storm due to come ashore
in about 15 hours, Nagin orders a mandatory
evacuation of New Orleans.
4:15 P.M.: Mayfield conducts an electronic
briefing for Bush, Brown, and Chertoff and warns
them of the danger of destruction and flooding in
the wake of Katrina. Brown also tries to prepare
federal leaders for the magnitude of the coming
disaster: “We’re going to need everything that we
can possibly muster, not only in this state and in the
region, but the nation, to respond to this event.”
10:30 P.M.: The last people seeking refuge in
the Superdome in New Orleans are searched
and allowed in. Between 8000 and 9000 citizens
are in the stands and about 600 are in a
approximate area of hurricane force winds
path of hurricane
New Orleans
Mississippi R.
0 100 km
100 mi
Gulf of Mexico

The Katrina Breakdown Flood Risk and Levee FailureSource: National Hurricane Center

temporary medical facility. About 550 National
Guard troops provide security.
Monday, August 29, 2005
6:10 A.M.: The eye of Katrina makes its landfall
near Buras, Louisiana.
6:30 A.M.: Buras is obliterated.
7:50 A.M.: A massive storm surge causes immediate
flooding in St. Bernard Parish and eastern
neighborhoods of New Orleans. Water levels in
most areas are 10 to 15 feet.
10:30 A.M.: Bush declares emergency disasters
in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.
11:00 A.M.: Brown issues a memo ordering
1000 FEMA employees to the Gulf Coast and
gives them two days to arrive.
8:00 P.M.: Blanco speaks with Bush to impress
upon him the destruction caused by Katrina: “Mr.
President, we need your help. We need everything
you’ve got.”
9:27 P.M.: FEMA officials give Chertoff’s chief
of staff a first-hand description of the levee breaks
and the extensive flooding in New Orleans.
9:30 P.M.: Bush goes to bed without taking any
action on the Katrina disaster or Blanco’s request
for assistance.
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
7:00 A.M.: In San Diego, staff tells Bush of the
severity of the crisis along the Gulf Coast and
advises him to end his six-week vacation early.
He agrees.
9:00 A.M.: Chertoff flies to Atlanta, where he will
attend a conference on avian flu.
10:00 A.M.: The breach in the 17th Street Canal
has grown to about 200 feet. Looting is reported
all over New Orleans.
10:53 A.M.: Nagin declares a mandatory evacuation
for the city and orders police to forcibly
take residents away, if necessary.
7:00 P.M.: Chertoff designates the Katrina destruction
an “incident of national significance.”
Wednesday, August 31, 2005
10:00 A.M.: Blanco makes a joint announcement
with FEMA that plans have been laid to
evacuate residents remaining in New Orleans to
the Astrodome in Houston. Air Force One flies low
over the Gulf Coast so Bush can see the damage.
Lt. General Russell Honore is placed in charge of
Joint Task Force Katrina, the Pentagon’s command
center for disaster response.
12:15 P.M.: Bush political adviser Karl Rove
advises Blanco that Bush wants to federalize the
evacuation of New Orleans.
2:20 P.M.: Blanco telephones Bush, informing
him that federalization of evacuation and Louisiana
National Guard will not be necessary.
3:00 P.M.: Bush convenes a task force at the
White House for an hour to discuss ways to improve
the response.
4:11 P.M.: Bush addresses the nation in his first
speech devoted to Hurricane Katrina.
7:00 P.M.: Martial law is declared in New
Orleans. Nagin orders police to stop rescue efforts
and focus entirely on controlling the looting,
which has become rampant.
Thursday, September 1, 2005
7:00 A.M.: In a radio interview, Chertoff calls the
reports of thousands of people stranded in and
around the Convention Center in New Orleans
“rumors,” and states, “Actually, I have not heard
a report of thousands of people in the Convention
Center who don’t have food and water.”
Friday, September 2, 2005
6:20 A.M.: The head of emergency operations
for New Orleans expresses his frustration: “This is
a national disgrace. FEMA has been here three
days, yet there is no command and control. We
can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami victims,
but we can’t bail out the city of New Orleans.”
10:35 A.M.: At the start of a tour of the Gulf
Coast, Bush praises Brown: “Brownie, you’re
doing a heck of a job.”
4:00 P.M.: Bush meets with Blanco, Nagin, and
others aboard Air Force One. An agitated Nagin
demands that the president and the governor
work out a chain of command for the deployment
of military personnel. After that, the president
would privately raise a sensitive question with the
governor: Would she relinquish control of local
law enforcement and the 13,000 National
Guard troops from 29 states that fall under her

11:20 P.M.: Bush Chief of Staff Andrew Card
sends Blanco fax indicating that she need only
sign an attached letter requesting that the federal
the government assume control of the rescue and
recovery in Louisiana, including oversight of the
National Guard troops.
Saturday, September 3, 2005
7:56 A.M.: Blanco faxes a letter to Card refusing
the federal government’s attempt to assume
8:00 A.M.: Bush announces the deployment of
7000 active-duty troops that would arrive in the
Gulf Coast over the next three days.
9:30 A.M.: Brown announces that millions of
army rations and water bottles are now in the
disaster area.
12:00 NOON: Buses arrives at the Convention
Center to take people to safety and comfort elsewhere.
The events between August 27 and September
3 can be viewed productively from several
standpoints: disaster management (based on the
Katrina experience, how well would the United
States handle another major terrorist attack?), organization
theory (should FEMA have remained
an independent agency?), and leadership (what
would a Giuliani or an Eisenhower or a Johnson
have done?). But here we want to consider these
events in terms of intergovernmental relations. For
that limited purpose, the following issues seem
particularly relevant.
Did Nagin Have a Plan? Despite all appearances
to the contrary, the city of New Orleans
had a plan. In 2000, city officials and various
consultants prepared a 14-page booklet “City of
New Orleans Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan.” It offered a series of clear-cut
guidelines that seemed to be ignored by Nagin,
a former executive with Cox Communications
who was elected in 2002. After suggesting that
“evacuation zones” based on probable storm
flooding should be used as the basis of mass
evacuation, the plan advised that such zones “will
be developed pending further study.” They never
were. The city of New Orleans followed virtually
no aspect of its own plan in the disaster caused
by Hurricane Katrina and failed to implement most
federal guidelines. Douglas Brinkley writes:
Apparently unimpressed by the emergency
management plan, even though it was
posted on the City Hall Web site . . . Nagin
behaved in a hesitant, perplexing fashion.
The plan was the collective wisdom of an
entire generation of New Orleans political
thinking, going back as far as those
who had grappled with Hurricane Betsy
in 1965. The plan instructed that when
a serious hurricane approached, the city
should evacuate 72 hours prior to the
storm to give “approximately 100,000
citizens of New Orleans [who] do not
have the means of personal transportation”
enough time to leave. Mayor Nagin
also ignored FEMA guidelines, which
urged City Hall to “coordinate the use
of school buses and drivers to support
evacuation efforts.”
Before any disaster, the first responsibility of
local responders is to evacuate hospitals, nursing
homes, and special needs populations. Aside
from some informal plans to rely on churches and
neighborhoods to get people out, the city had
not developed any solution to that challenge in
time for Katrina.

The Katrina Breakdown Flood Risk and Levee Failure

Where Did the Federal Money Go? In 2003,
the federal government gave New Orleans a $7
million grant for a communications system that
would connect all the region’s first responders.
Soon after the hurricane struck, the radios used
by police, firefighters, and the mayor drained
their batteries. Then their satellite phones would
not recharge. And, of course, landline and cell
phones went out. For two days the mayor and
his emergency team were cut off from the outside
That did not need to happen. For example,
emergency officials across Florida are linked by
a system of satellite phones, and lines of authority
between local and state officials are sharp. And
in Texas, ham operators share a place at the table
in the emergency bunker in Austin along with the
high-tech communication experts.
The bigger question is, Why were federal
funds that might have been used to strengthen the
levees around New Orleans diverted to widening
ship channels? Brinkley writes:
Over the years, improvements were made
[in the 17th Street Canal], patches introduced
and the need for repairs noted and
sometimes neglected. Incredibly, no one
was in charge: no one was fully responsible
for overseeing just who was doing
what to the levees. Various entities had a
hand in the fortunes of the system—and
fortunes are all that the levee system meant
to a great many of the greedy scoundrels
involved over the years. . . . For example,
in the months just before Katrina,
while a $427,000 repair to a crucial
floodgate languished in inexcusable bureaucratic
delay, [the board of directors
of the Orleans Levee District] went ahead
with happier pursuits, building parks, overseeing
docks that it had constructed, and
investing in on-water gambling . . .
“We Need Everything You’ve Got” That is
what Blanco, who became governor in 2003,
told Bush the day the storm hit. The question of
whether she requested federal government assistance as effectively or as forcefully as the
catastrophe demanded still haunts her. And yet,
with the exception of Nagin, no one was in a
better position than her to know precisely what
was needed and how soon. Not until Thursday
did she come up with specifics: 40,000 troops
(a number she says she “pulled out of the air”);
urban search-and-rescue teams; buses; amphibious
personnel carriers; mobile morgues; trailers
of water, ice, and food; base camps; staging
areas; housing; and communication systems.
State officials concede, according to Time, that
Blanco had unrealistic expectations of precisely
what the federal government could do. “She
thought it would be more omniscient and more
omnipresent and more powerful than it turned
out to be.”

The Katrina Breakdown Flood Risk and Levee Failure

Getting Through to the President Wednesday
morning Blanco tried to telephone the president
to tell him that the expected federal resources still
had not arrived. In response to the call, the White
House did not make the president available. After
attending some official ceremonies, she returned
to her office and tried to reach the president
again. After a short delay, her call was transferred
to the White House Office of Intergovernmental
Affairs. During the course of the morning, Blanco
did receive calls from presidential surrogates, including
one from Chief of Staff Andrew Card,
who was on vacation in Maine. According to
Blanco, Card didn’t exactly promise help; rather,
he affirmed that he believed he could help her.
Brown’s Method of Operation Bush appointed
Brown head of FEMA in 2003. At the time, he
was staff attorney and second in command. He
had been brought into the agency by his longtime
friend Joseph Allbaugh, then agency head.
Before joining FEMA, Brown had been the head
of the International Arabian Horse Association.
Now, three years into the new job, his agency
was being inundated by requests from thousands
of organizations, jurisdictions, and individuals—
requests for medical equipment, chlorine bleach,
cleaning supplies, generators, body bags, inoculations,
tents, boats, and the like. During this period,
Brown’s focus was on the “recovery,” which was to
be executed as carefully and precisely as possible.
Otherwise, so he thought, FEMA risked lawsuits, distributional
problems, and sundry other worries. Time
reports that foreign nations, responding to urgent
calls from Washington readied rescue supplies,
then “were told to stand by for days until FEMA
could figure out what to do with them.” Florida
airboats complained that they had an armada
ready for rescue work but FEMA wouldn’t let them
into New Orleans. Brown defended his agency’s
measured steps saying aid “was to be coordinated
in such a way that it’s used most effectively.”
Brown’s Boss At 7:00 P.M. Monday, Brown received
an urgent telephone call from his FEMA
representative in New Orleans. The call had a
sobering effect on Brown; for the first time, he fully
understood the gravity of the situation. Convinced
that Blanco was “dysfunctional,” Brown called his
boss, Chertoff, pleading for help. It was the first time
Brown and Chertoff had spoken together that day.
Eight months earlier, Bush had appointed
U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Chertoff to head
the nation’s second-largest cabinet agency, the
sprawling Department of Homeland Security. As
the head of the criminal division in the Justice
Department in 2001, Chertoff had helped formulate
the government’s response to the 9/11

The Katrina Breakdown Flood Risk and Levee Failure

terror attacks. Now, as Homeland Secretary,
Chertoff was in charge of all major disasters—
whether from international terrorism, natural
causes, or infrastructure collapse. Until Chertoff
designated it “an incident of national significance”
and appointed someone (presumably
the FEMA director in the case of hurricanes) as
the “principal federal official,” relief would be
halting at best. Without that designation, Brown
could not legally take charge, giving orders to
local and state officials and overseeing deployment
of National Guard and other U.S. military
personnel. Unfortunately for the people in New
Orleans, Brown could not convince Chertoff that
things were going as badly as Brown (and the
media) were suggesting. Brown tried to maneuver
around Chertoff, to appeal directly to the
president, but it was hard to get through to the
White House.
A Government Accountability Office report
noted that the delay in Chertoff’s response was
critical: “The DHS secretary designated Hurricane
Katrina as an incident of national significance
on August 30—the day after a final landfall.
However, he did not designate the storm
as a catastrophic event, which would have
triggered additional provisions of the National
Response Plan (NRP) calling for a more proactive
response. . . . In the absence of a timely and
decisive action and clear leadership responsibility
and accountability, there were multiple chains
of command, a myriad of approaches and processes
for requesting and providing assistance,
and confusion.”

The Katrina Breakdown Flood Risk and Levee Failure

A DVD for GWB Early Friday morning, the president
boarded Air Force One for the flight to Mobile,
Alabama, as his first stop on his inspection of
the disaster area. Because of White House staffers
were uncertain that he actually understood what
was going on—had “situational awareness,” as
they say in the military—they had prepared a compilation
of news coverage recorded onto a DVD
for him to watch during the three-hour flight.
“I Don’t Know Whose Problem It Is” In a radio interview
the day before Bush’s flight to the disaster
area, Nagin had said, “I don’t know whose problem
it is. I don’t know whether it’s the governor’s
problem. I don’t know whether it’s the president’s
the problem, but somebody needs to get their ass on
a plane and sit down, the two of them, and figure
this out right now.”
Later the next day that’s pretty much what happened.
Bush met with Blanco and Nagin aboard
Air Force One on the tarmac of the New Orleans
Airport. Nagin said, “Mr. President, Madame
Governor, you do need to get together on the
same page, because of the lack of coordination,
people are dying in my city.”
Three Perspectives on Katrina and Federalism
Not surprisingly, the worst natural disaster in the U.S. history generated many scholarly articles. This
section briefly summarizes three recent ones that
offer different interpretations of what went wrong,
what went right, and what needs to be done.
Each provides a basis for class discussion.
(1) Stephen M. Griffin, professor of constitutional
law at Tulane, argues in “Stop Federalism
before It Kills Again” that the national government
might need to become more directive in numerous
areas. Although much attention has been focused
on the response and recovery that followed Katrina’s
landfall, Griffin explores the role of federalism
prior to Katrina. Why would the federal government
fund levee construction then turn different
parts of the project over to four different local
sponsors who worked at cross-purposes? Why
would it help fund the purchase of communication
technology and not require that states and local
governments develop interoperable communications?

The Katrina Breakdown Flood Risk and Levee Failure

The general answer is that, according to
Griffin, federalism is as much a commitment to
localism as it is to states’ rights. As Chertoff has
stated on several occasions, disasters are typically
to be managed at the “lowest possible, geographic,
organizational, and jurisdictional levels.”
To the contrary, Griffin thinks the failure to respond
to Katrina exposed one of the few real structural
weaknesses in the U.S. Constitution: a lack of a
mechanism to coordinate the work of local, state,
and national governments.
Interestingly, federal responses to natural
disasters—events nearly by definition beyond
the capacity of state and local governments—is
a relatively recent phenomenon. In fact, it took
many decades of repeated disasters such as the
vast flooding unleashed by the Mississippi River in
1927 to convince national officials that the federal
the government had a role to play in alleviating the effects of natural disasters. For much of U.S. history,
victims of natural disasters were on their own. “The
federal system as it exists today,” Griffin writes, “is
our system, not that of the founding generation.
We—generations still alive—created it and was
continue to change it. The best example during the
Bush administration was the No Child Left Behind
Act, legislation that involved an unprecedented
intrusion into a subject, education, that everyone
used to argue should be left to the states.”
(2) Martha Derthick, professor emeritus at the
The University of Virginia, argues that the “governmental response to Katrina was not the unalloyed the failure that is often portrayed. The response was a mixture of success and failure. Successes occurred when a foundation had been laid for intergovernmental cooperation, as with the largely successful pre-landfall evacuation of Greater New Orleans, the multistate mobilization of the National Guard, and the search and rescue operations of the U.S.

The Katrina Breakdown Flood Risk and Levee Failure

Coast Guard and the Louisiana Department of
Wildlife and Fisheries.” The failures include New
Orleans’ failure to limit its growth, its lack of flood
protection plans, and the influence of politics on
flood protection there.
Above all, Derthick argues, “do no harm to the
first responders. Dependency on them is inescapable.
Indeed, they could become the country’s only
functioning and legitimate governments in case of a
the successful terrorist attack on Washington, D.C. Continue to think of federalism in the traditional way, as a source of strength through cooperation.”
(3) Marc Landy at Boston College calls Katrina
a “mega-disaster” and argues that such
events put federalism to an especially difficult test
because they require speed, efficiency, decisiveness,
and effective coordination. Faced with such
events, the big advantage of federalism, he maintains, is its greater flexibility, responsiveness, and capacity to mobilize mutual aid. “It presumably
benefits from the unique virtues that each level of
government and that the citizen himself or herself
possess. These virtues compensate for its inherent
complexity and redundancy. The example of personal
responsibility and neighborly concern is a
superior substitute for government intervention.”
Clearly, Landy conceptualizes federalism as
being composed of four dimensions: three levels
of government and the civic realm. With regard
to the latter, it’s worth recalling that Alexis de Tocqueville recognized in the early nineteenth century that “government can’t match the energy and the resourcefulness of citizen cooperating informally or through voluntary associations.”
Landy finds the direst examples of civic failure
in the city of New Orleans, and an especially edifying
example of its success in Mississippi. Landy
does not sugarcoat the former:
The impression given by the media was that
those who did not get out of New Orleans
could not, either because they had no car or
were disabled.

The Katrina Breakdown Flood Risk and Levee Failure

This impression stuck even
though the visuals accompanying those
media reports showed streets crowded with
abandoned cars. A congressional report
confirmed that the pictures were more reliable
than the words. It stated that more than
250,000 cars remained in the city during
the storm and the cars were found parked
in the driveways of many of the dead. The
report chastised the governor of Louisiana,
and the mayor of New Orleans for being
slow to issue mandatory evacuation orders,
and those individuals “share the blame” for
incomplete evacuation. Resorting to the
verb “share” shows just how reluctant the
report writers were to concede that not all
bad things that happen are the fault of the
government. Those car owners who fail to
evacuate in the face of a mandatory evacuation
orders that, however tardy, still left
them plenty of time to leave, do not share
in the blame, they are to blame. If indeed
a major, or perhaps even the major, cause
of death from Katrina was a failure to obey
a mandatory evacuation order, this puts the
whole Katrina problem in a different light.
It shifts the blame from errors made by the
various levels of government to the actions
of the populace itself.
Case Questions1. Which of the three perspectives do you find most persuasive? Least persuasive? Support
your answer.
2. Much of the debate over the response to Hurricane
Katrina centers on the question of the
division of responsibility among different levels
of government—local, state, and federal. If the
federal government played a more aggressive
role—say, taking command of all response
efforts and placing them in the hands of the regular
army—would that violate tenets of federalism,
specific provisions of the Constitution, and
specific statutes (such as the Posse Comitatus
Act of 1878, which limits military participation
in law enforcement)? What other legal options
are there besides giving the federal government
a more powerful role?

The Katrina Breakdown Flood Risk and Levee Failure

3. Setting aside the philosophical and legal issues
this case raises, what are the management or
efficiency arguments for and against a more
centralized response to large national disasters
like Hurricane Katrina? Why would we not
want to have a federal fire department? If the
federal government tells the states and cities
they will receive no assistance in the event of

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