Emergency and Disaster Management: Hurricanes Katrina and Ike
In the recent decades, the United States of America has increasingly experienced various disasters not only from natural sources but also from industry and technology. The country has even faced deliberate disasters from terrorist sources. Unfortunately, there is no attenuation or lessening that is in sight at the moment. The predictions regarding the weather disturbances are increasing. There has been a continuation in the low-level industrial accidents with an intensification threat. The threat of cyber attacks on the country’s significant infrastructure has turned out to be even more convincing. Last but not the least, no relaxation has been noticed as far as the foreign terrorists are concerned. Thus, the country and its citizens wait for another attack in an anxious manner (Perrow, 2007).
In this research, however, the main concern is to discuss the two hurricanes i.e. Hurricane Ike and Hurricane Katrina (natural source of disaster) that had a tremendous affect on the country as these catastrophic events that caused widespread damage and loss of American life. According to the Natural Hazard Statistics of 2009, the average yearly death toll in America from hurricanes was 117 during the 10-year period from 1999 till 2008. Hurricane Katrina exemplifies the factual fatal potential of these storms as it ended the life of more than 1800 people. Moreover, the hurricanes also stagger the economy of a country. The United States endured a loss of $165.4 billion in damage due to the 8 of the 10 costliest hurricanes that struck the country from 2005 through 2009 (Harbert, 2010).
The last decade crystal-clearly demonstrates the severe life and economic impact from hurricanes. It also gives rise to the issue that how sufficient substantive action to mitigate losses from future hurricanes could be taken. Although the frequency or severity of hurricanes cannot be predicted by human, it is possible to do such things from both an individual and public policy standpoint for reducing the degree of damage. These actions are comprised of “making choices about where people should live, adopting stronger building codes, enforcing building codes, and removing regulations and subsidies that keep coastal property and flood insurance rates artificially low compared to the degree of risk” (Harbert, 2010).
Regrettably, the public has given not much attention to or discussed any of the mentioned basic strategies that could help in the lessening of future death and damage from hurricanes. In the meantime, the population along the American Gulf Coast is increasing in a steady way and at the same time has caused a number of experts to question the lasting sustainability of such coastal communities (Harbert, 2010).
Natural disasters touch the unconquerable strength, courage and spirit of every individual. In addition to this, the failure and destruction that these unruly and wild events cause also expose humans’ deepest fears. However, it simultaneously brings out the best in people when they reach out to help others recreate their lives. Hurricane Ike is considered as one of the American nation’s most noteworthy natural disasters. This gigantic and monstrous Category 2 storm crashed into the coastline of Texas on Saturday, September 13, 2008, at around 2:10 A.M. CDT, with winds about 110 mph. Nonetheless, Ike was not a normal Category 2 hurricane. The storm advanced itself to a Category 4 hurricane as it hit the highest point of its power (“Hurricane Ike Residential,” 2008).
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the American gulf coast and caused lasting and far-reaching effects. It caused massive flooding in the city of New Orleans. The devastation did not end there and Katrina did cataclysmic and tragic damage along the gulf coasts of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. As a consequence, Katrina caused one of the biggest and most unexpected replacements of people in the history of United States. The dilemma and troubles of evacuees was a central topic in the national news reporting of the storm (Groen & Polivka, 2008).
Emergency Funds: Use during Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Ike
When United States got overwhelmed by the Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Ike, the federal government came forward to assist on the request of the concerned authorities and governors. Federal assistance is conditional when the President issues an emergency or major disaster declaration. When the President issues the declaration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides disaster relief to the affected areas through the use of the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF). DRF is the resource of providing financial support for the Robert T. Stafford Emergency Relief and Disaster Assistance Act response and recovery programs. Moreover, Congress also appropriates money to the Disaster Relief Fund to make certain that funding for disaster relief is accessible to lend a hand to the victimized individuals and communities that were stricken by the storms (Lindsay & Murray, 2011).
The DRF is usually funded at an intensity that is adequate for what are known as “ordinary” disasters. However, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Ike were such incidents for which DRF expenditures were less than $500 million. Therefore, funding for the DRF was augmented through the emergency supplemental appropriations after the storms struck the country. DHS (Department of Homeland Security) was the primary recipient of emergency supplemental appropriations when Katrina destroyed the infrastructure. It received 57% of the total emergency supplemental funding for disaster assistance. HUD (Housing and Urban Development) received 16%. 13% was granted to the Department of Defense Army Corps of Engineers (another 7% was given to DOD for miscellaneous activities). Last but not the least, the Department of Transportation received 3% (Lindsay & Murray, 2011).
The Congress passed supplemental appropriations bills in 2005 without any delay after Hurricane Katrina caused widespread damage and loss of life on the Gulf coast. This devastating hurricane made landfall at the end of August and within 2 weeks, two supplemental appropriations bills were passed by the Congress that provided a total of sixty two billion dollars in funding (“Growing Misuse of,” 2010).
However, as the consequences of Hurricane Katrina appear, a big question that still lingers in the minds of the people is that what happened to all the money. Billions of dollars were contributed by music entertainers, celebrities, leaders, elite organizations and nations from all over the world in Katrina aid to federal agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Nevertheless, many victims are “facing constant deadlines, struggling to find jobs, filing complex paperwork and slowly returning to their storm-torn cities” (Muhammad, 2007) have still not received their promised share for rebuilding their homes and reorganizing their lives.
FEMA has turned out to be just a 4-letter word that is now often used by the survivors when they utter their frustrations. The Louisiana state officials have taken on the weight of the heightened pressure by city populace, city and township leaders who have protested against the crawling pace of the hurricane revival. Much of this intensified tension between state and local officials in Louisiana has stemmed from postponement in federal programs that were ascertained to compensate local officials for several infrastructure project as well as road repairs, public building construction and wreckage removal (Muhammad, 2007).
The state of Louisiana was paid about $5.1 billion by the Federal Emergency Management Agency so that local officials could be reimbursed for infrastructure projects following Katrina. However, only about $2 billion of the amount reached communities almost eighteen months after Katrina had eighty percent of the city of New Orleans under water. Till then, other towns had been completely vanished from the map (Muhammad, 2007). The question is simple: where has the rest of the money gone? How were the emergency funds released after Hurricanes Katrina and Ike used?
Firstly, the state held up the payments that FEMA approved for rebuilding public assistance projects. Secondly, the Road Home Program initiated by Governor Kathleen Blanco became the target of continuous condemnation since its commencement. Various politicians, community leaders, somnolent residents and homeowners criticized it openly. Their complains revolved around the fact that the Road Home Program was presented as a solution to the residential problem. However, instead of solving it, the program proved to be another headache for the people. The Road Home Program was planned for helping the residents of Louisiana who were affected by Hurricane Katrina. It aimed to get those people back into their homes as rapidly and fairly as possible. However, the citizens did not become impressed by this largest single housing recovery program in the history of United States. What they wanted was a picking up of the pace of all the activity so that they can quickly get a place where they could start their lives again. In order to get their demands heard, the citizens also staged more than a few marches and rallies on the steps of the State Capital. It is quite astonishing that almost 96,000 Louisiana residents applied for the Road Home federal grants of up to $150,000; only about hundred applicants got the money. In November 2006, Louisiana families were mailed 10,000 Road Home award letters informing them of the total amount and type of financial support for which they were qualified (Muhammad, 2007). According to the director of the Disaster Recovery Unit in the Office of Community Development, Michael Taylor, “There are still thousands of homeowners who have applied to the program and are awaiting their awards” (as qtd. In Muhammad, 2007).
FEMA also undertook considerable efforts to provide housing to the individuals and households that had been displaced by the hurricane. Among other efforts, the Federal Emergency Management Agency also provided accommodations to individuals in the hotels as they were at displaced from corner to corner in the country. However, it was found out that even though FEMA was responsible for paying hotel costs, it did not call the hotels for the collection of registration information regarding the individuals to whom the hotel accommodations were provided. The unavailability of this information meant that it was not possible for FEMA to identify individuals who were housed in hotels. Thus, “FEMA was unable to determine whether rental assistance should be provided to individuals to whom the federal government was providing free lodging” (Kutz & Ryan, 2006). Millions of dollars were paid by FEMA in expedited and housing assistance to registrations that included the names and SSN of individuals imprisoned in federal and state prisons during the storms. Moreover, FEMA is also to be blamed for improperly paying the individuals twice for their accommodation i.e. It not only paid their hotels but also paid for their rental assistance at the same time (Kutz & Ryan, 2006).
Road Home program grants are not under the administration of Federal Emergency Management Agency. However, both programs have been acknowledged as unreliable and were criticized for their “slow funding, long bureaucratic processes, lack of communication, and empathy towards the urgent needs of the people” (Muhammad, 2007). Local leaders were made to work out and organize large amounts of paperwork before FEMA conformity to compensate. Moreover, the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness carried out a concluding autonomous assessment of every project’s projected costs before the release of the money. When Col. Jeff Smith, head of the Gov.’s Homeland Security Office was questioned regarding this procedure, he stated that his office was looking at ways for the reimbursement process to pick pace. However, at the same time, he also stressed that it was important for his office to perform checks on the projects before releasing any money (Muhammad, 2007).
Though the audits of the state could not uncover any fraud, they did identify a number of cases where the charging of the prices was not supported by market value. The federal, state and local officials continued to finger point each other for the delays. New Orleans officials also documented their complaints about Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (Muhammad, 2007).
Other nations from abroad also showed their concern to the distressed Americans by providing hundreds of millions of donations in order to support and help out the U.S. federal government get survivors back on their feet. $5 million were given by China. Brunei and Bangladesh gave $1 million. Rwanda poured in $100,000. Even Afghanistan donated $99,800. The biggest donor was the United Arab Emirates who contributed more than $99 million. Thus, thirty six countries and international organizations donated $126 million to the U.S. State Department by the end of 2005. Some countries including Canada, Kuwait, India, Turkey sent their donations to the American Red Cross or the Bush-Clinton Hurricane Katrina Fund directly. In the similar fashion, instead of trusting the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), musicians and artists including Jay-Z, Kanye West and Ludacris gave their donations “directly to organizations who they felt were truly servicing the displaced and heartbroken people” (Muhammad, 2007).
Thus, it was crystal clear that FEMA had not been successful in gaining the trust of the people due to the mismanagement and failed administration. Instead of helping out the devastated people, it seems that FEMA was incapable of solving their problems. In simple words, it couldn’t manage such a big catastrophe like Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Ike.
The Use of Debit Cards
The Government Purchase Card Program was intended towards saving the Government money so that expensive paperwork could be avoided and the method of making purchases could be expedited. According to the data of the United States Bank, the cardholders of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) used these purchase cards “to make 851,511 purchases, totaling approximately $458 million in calendar year (CY) 2005” (Levinson, 2007).
As a reaction to Hurricane Katrina, Congress approved agencies to make certain purchasing requirements more efficient for procurement of provisions or services to hold up rescue and relief operations. Therefore, the Office of Management and Budget and Health and Human Services (HHS) issued rules and regulations concerning management controls for the implementation of impermanent changes to regular purchasing requirements. It was later identified by the HHS officials that of the total purchases in 2005, 1,139 purchases that totaled $2,109,173 were associated to Hurricane Katrina for the period of 28th August, 2005 through 14th December, 2005 (Levinson, 2007).
Moreover, the prepaid/debit cards also helped in the disaster relief. As already mentioned Hurricane Ike devastated Galveston, Texas, in 2008 as a Category 2 hurricane with persistent winds of 110 miles per hour. The American Red Cross coordinated with various other disaster relief organizations so that food and shelter could be provided to hundreds of thousands of dislocated Gulf Coast sufferers. A fraction of the efforts put by Red Cross also involved the distribution of prepaid cards to the victims. This prepaid card distribution was initiated to allow the efficient distribution of monetary support to the victims of disaster. Michael Brackney, Director of Service Delivery Development at the Red Cross, considered the card distribution as an integral part of the individual support part of the relief operation. Along with The Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also involved itself in the mass care phase of the operation so that the basic needs of the people could be met (“Prepaid Cards Help,” 2008).
The federal government also issued more than ten thousand debit cards through FEMA to help out the refugees who had taken shelter in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. Every card had a monetary value of two thousand dollars. These cards could not be used for buying alcohol, tobacco or weapons. The recipients were asked to agree on the terms that they would use these debit cards only for making purchases to recover from disaster and would spend it for the sake of rebuilding their lives. However, just after 3 days of the commencement of this program, it was discontinued as a result of the expression of frustration by refugees due to the whole process. Therefore, FEMA adopted the method of direct cash deposit into the accounts of the assisted.
It was also found out that not everyone followed the purpose of the program and many of the victims who received these debit cards did not use them in recovering from the disaster. Instead, they used those cards purchasing luxury or entertainment items. The debit cards were also used for buying expensive branded clothes, plasma television sets, diamond earrings, at strip clubs and for breast implants (Mikkelson, 2005). In addition, debit cards were also used for paying for a Caribbean vacation, buying of professional football tickets, and spending on adult entertainment (Kutz & Ryan, 2006). As a consequence, the Houston Police Department had to form a task force so that the abuse of the debit cards issued by FEMA could be investigated. It is still unknown however, that how many debit cards were misused. Nevertheless, a majority of people used these cards fairly (Mikkelson, 2005).
Thus, the objective behind this novel program of assisting the homeless Katrina and Ike victims went unsuccessful and quite amazingly no one took the responsibility of the failure of the program. It has become a big issue because seeing this all, the Americans are reluctant in opening their wallets to any disaster relief organization like the American Red Cross etc. Also, the American citizens are not as supportive of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as they were in the past. The reason is simple. Their suspicions have heightened that the money they are going to donate would not be used wisely and properly. This is quite obvious because they drain money from their households (in the form of taxes or direct donations) to assist the victims of disaster. However, a majority of Americans have now stopped doing so because of the reporting about the false use of the debit cards (Mikkelson, 2005). The responsibility of this issue lies on the shoulders of FEMA that was unable to establish that seven hundred and fifty debit cards worth $1.5 million went to hurricane Katrina victims (Kutz & Ryan, 2006).
It was also found out that FEMA did not institute sufficient organizing tools to make accountability over the debit cards certain. This lack of controls over debit cards was principally worrying because the debit cards are, in actual fact, cash used for purchasing goods and services (Kutz & Ryan, 2006).
Following the incidents after Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, the Federal Emergency Management Agency almost lost its credibility and trustworthiness. This is highly needed that FEMA must construct the American taxpayers’ assurance and self-reliance that federal disaster assistance, aid and donations only goes to the devastated and distressed to ensure the success of the program. It must also make sure in the future that adequate safeguards are available to thwart support and aid from going to the individuals or groups who submit inappropriate and deceitful registrations. It is exceedingly important for FEMA to develop and make the controls stronger to authenticate the information available at the registration stage. Upfront controls are significantly important because after the mentioned storms, an estimated $1 billion dollars had been wasted by giving it to unacceptable and false registrations (Kutz & Ryan, 2006).
It is crucially necessary that FEMA concentrates on the weak points in its registration process in order to considerably diminish the hazard for sham and inappropriate payments before the arrival of the next hurricane season. Not only this, FEMA must make sure that those who commit fraud must face the consequences (Kutz & Ryan, 2006).
Groen, J.A., & Polivka, A.E. (2008). Hurricane Katrina Evacuees: Who They Are, Where They Are, and How They Are Faring. Monthly Labor Review, 131(3), 32+. Retrieved July 10, 2012, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5028218733
Growing Misuse of “Emergency” Designation Weakens Budget Discipline and Increases Deficit Spending. (2010, May 10). Retrieved July 10, 2012 from http://www.concordcoalition.org/issue-briefs/2010/0510/growing-misuse-emergency-designation-weakens-budget-discipline-and-increases-
Harbert, S. (2010, April). Agenda Setting and Framing in Hurricane Ike News. Retrieved July 10, 2012 from http://web02.gonzaga.edu/comlstudentresources/Disaster.Reporting.Content.Analysis.pdf
Hurricane Ike Residential Damage Assessment. (2008, December). Retrieved July 10, 2012 from http://www.hchatexas.org/documents/disasterrelief/Harris-County-Damage-Assessment-Report.pdf
Kutz, G.D., & Ryan, J.J. (2006, June 14). Hurricanes Katrina and Rita Disaster Relief. Retrieved July 12, 2012 from http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d06844t.pdf
Levinson, D.R. (2007, May). Emergency Response to Hurricane Katrina: Use of the Government Purchase Card. Retrieved July 12, 2012 from http://oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-07-06-00150.pdf
Lindsay, B.R., & Murray, J. (2011, April 12). Disaster Relief Funding and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations. Retrieved July 10, 2012 from http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R40708.pdf
Mikkelson B. (2005). Debit Card Abuse. Retrieved July 12, 2012 from http://www.snopes.com/katrina/charity/debitcard.asp.
Muhammad, J. (2007, January 25). Katrina Relief Funds: What Happened to the Money?. Retrieved July 10, 2012 from http://www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/article_3214.shtml
Perrow, C. (2007). The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Retrieved July 10, 2012, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=117654983
Prepaid Cards Help in Disaster Relief. (2008). Retrieved July 12, 2012 from http://www.merchantsupplydepot.com/mar-10/prepaid-cards-help-in-disaster-relief/
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