Residents of New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast have
been trying to adjust to their new normal in the five years since
Hurricane Katrina and the Great Flood in New Orleans, along with
subsequent Hurricanes Rita, Wilma, Ike, and Gustav. The new normal
changed abruptly when an industrial accident, the Deepwater Horizon
drilling rig explosion, occurred off the coast of Louisiana on
April 20, 2010. The burning rig took 11 lives and was followed by
the worst environmental disaster the United States has ever faced,
along with economic, social, and cultural impacts associated with
gushing oil just as another hurricane season approached.
Oil Spill Impacts on New Orleans
The months before the fifth anniversary of the Katrina disaster saw
the creation of yet another recovery plan: the Long-Term Gulf Coast
Restoration Support Plan. The impact of the oil spill on tourism,
fish stocks, trade, the oil and gas industry, and the environment
across the region are extensive and likely long-term, although
varying widely by state and community. The impact on New Orleans
itself is yet unknown.
The city is not as affected by a loss of tourism as are the white
sand beach communities of the other Gulf States, such as
Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. The arts, culture, food, music,
and festivals of New Orleans draw tourists year round from across
the United States and the world, making the tourism industry the
metropolitan areas largest economic driver. It is uncertain whether
closed beaches and cancelled hotels and vacations along the Gulf
Coast will be offset by purchases from those associated with
cleaning up the oil.
The well-being of New Orleans is tied to the Gulf waters and
coastal region, however. In addition to the number one economic
enginetourismthe oil and gas and port and transportation industries
are key economic drivers, giving economic value to the nation while
generating jobs and wealth in metropolitan New Orleans. Oil-related
impacts on the economy of Plaquemines Parish may negatively affect
the entire region, according to data provided by the Greater New
Orleans Community Data Center. The Gulf Coast region produces 30
percent of crude oil and 12 percent of natural gas for the United
States. A lengthy ban on offshore oil drilling would likely have a
major negative economic impact.
Louisianas marshes and wetlands are the breeding ground for
hundreds of aquatic species critical to the environmental and
economic value of the region and nation. The wetlands have been
eroding at an alarming rate for decades. Marshes have traditionally
been called swamps in Louisiana and are filled in to allow new
development, which is vulnerable to natural hazards. Oil exposure
to these delicate areas may have long-term negative effects on
fish; sea birds, such as pelicans and migratory birds; whales; and
Commercial and recreational fisheries depend on a healthy coastal
ecosystem, navigable waters, and wetlands and barrier islands to
protect them. Since Katrinas devastation, there has been renewed
interest and effort to restore the coastal wetlands in the
realization of their central importance to the recovery of the Gulf
Coast. The magnitude of the setback caused by the oil disaster is
not yet known, but the oil tragedy may lead to reenergized interest
in coastal restoration and increased funding.
At least 1,464 Louisianans diedby drowning, injury and trauma, and
heart conditionsin the Katrina disaster. The victims were not
disproportionately taken by race, but half were over the age of 74.
Those most vulnerable, physically and economically, were the least
able to evacuate and cope. The Greater New Orleans Community Data
Center (GNOCDC), in operation since 1997, provides data on the
Katrina losses in New Orleans and, generally, on the Gulf Coast,
which are used for the short summary here.
More than one million Gulf Coast residents were displaced from
their homes by the winds and water. Those with resources returned
home relatively quickly, but more than 600,000 households were
still displaced a month after the storm. Evacuee shelters housed as
many as 273,000 people at their peak and Federal Emergency
Management Agency (FEMA) trailers housed at least 114,000
One million housing units were damaged by Katrinas wind and water
in the coastal region and the subsequent flooding when the levees
failed in New Orleans. Half were located in Louisiana. Eighty
percent of New Orleans was flooded, leaving some areas under 10
feet of water, and others with less than one foot.
By July 2006, the city had lost more than half of its population.
Monetary damages from Hurricane Katrinaand Hurricane Rita that
followed three weeks latertotaled $150 billion or more than twice
the damage from Hurricane Andrew, 9/11, and the Northridge
Earthquake combined. The national spending was $125.5 billion but
$75 billion of that was for emergency relief, not rebuilding.
Philanthropic contributions were more than double for both the 2004
South Asian Tsunami and 9/11 in the United States but amounted to
just $6.5 billion. Private insurance claims covered less than $30
billion of the losses.
As the five-year anniversary of Katrina approached, major efforts
to reform the public school system, improve the delivery of
healthcare to the neediest, and reform a dysfunctional criminal
justice system were touted. The Saints 2010 Super Bowl victory had
captured the spirit of a city that was determined to be resilientto
bounce back better than it was five years before. Then, the region
was faced with another disaster, the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.
Katrina and Deepwater Horizon highlight the regions vulnerability
to natural and man-made hazards hurricanes or flawed structures
such as levees and oil rigsthat are ever threatening to the people
in the Gulf region and their more than $240 billion dollar economy.
Loss of trust in institutionsgovernment and privateresulted from
the two catastrophes because of the slow and confused responses,
real or perceived, to the events and the circumstances surrounding
their occurrence. A structurally unsound levee system surrounding
New Orleans was a result of cronyism and corruption. Cozy
public-private sector relationships in the Gulf states encouraged
lax regulations and regulatory enforcement, making it possible for
an oil company to tolerate questionable construction practices for
the oil rig that exploded. There is not a stress meter large enough
to measure the ruined lives and pain in the U.S. Gulf Coast region.
New Orleans Five Years Post-Katrina
Despite persistent predictions that New Orleans post-Katrina
population would plateau, the number of households in the city
continued to increase steadily in the citys fifth year of recovery,
although that rate of growth has begun to slow, according to a
study by the GNOCDC, released in July 2010. In the past year,
neighborhoods that have been slowest to recover from Katrina have
grown the fastest. The current population mix might not consist of
all the same people as in the past, but the growth is robust, even
five years post-disaster.
Among the citys 73 neighborhoods, 66 have recovered more than half
the number of households they had before the levees failed. In
general, as residents moved back into their rehabilitated homes or
into new or rehabbed apartment buildings in flooded parts of New
Orleans east bank over the past two years, the consolidation of the
citys population in areas that did not flood has started to reverse
itself. For example, 21 neighborhoods lost households from June
2008 to June 2010 and many of these are in parts of the city that
did not flood, such as the West Bank and the sliver by the river.
Some parts of the city dont show the ravages of the disaster, while
others look like it happened yesterday. Because neighborhood
recovery varies greatly in relation to resources and capacity for
organizing, the neighborhoods need help making participatory
land-use decisions. A recent GNOCDC study recommends that the New
Orleans Redevelopment Authority and the states Office of Community
Development avoid a one-size-fits-all approach to remaining blight.
The center warns that the ongoing oil disaster in the Gulf could
have a dampening impact on the New Orleans housing market and
suggests guarding against the potential for absentee owners to
acquire and sit on historic housing stock. The center also
recommends that Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) still
held by the state, as well as unspent federal dollars, be used to
reduce blight and expand public transportation options to connect
neighborhoods to work centers.
Five years post-Katrina, it is difficult to imagine that the
flooded neighborhoods of New Orleans would have recovered much at
all. Beyond the financial aid used for the recovery is a story of
resilienceof individual, family, and neighborhood residents; a
network of nonprofits; and thousands of volunteers who organized
and developed plan after plan to rebuild the city.
In its first ever Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR)
report to Congress on February 1, 2010, the U.S. Department of
Homeland Security (DHS) outlined its strategic framework to guide
its activities for the next four years. The section of the report
dealing with disasters and FEMA states the mission as ensuring
resilience to disasters. In July 2010, the QHSR presented its
Bottom-Up Review Report (BUR), a department-wide assessment of DHS
aimed at aligning programmatic activities and organizational
structure with the missions and goals identified in the QHSR.
This followed major changes in the emergency management system with
the passage of the Post-Katrina Emergency Reform Act of 2006, which
called for some 300 changes in federal emergency management. The
changes, some completed and many ongoing, span five major
management issues associated with mission and culture, leadership
and structure, capabilities, resources, and accountability.
New Emergency Management Continuum
The two most recent reports reconceive how to deal with disasters.
Traditionally, emergency management professionals and academics
refer to the stages of mitigation, preparedness, response, and
recovery. The QHSR and BUR, however, use resilience as the umbrella
term for depicting how to deal with disasters. Resilience applies
to both physical and social systems, and has several key
- Robustness refers to inherent strength or resistance to
withstand external demands.
- Redundancy allows for alternativesoptions and choicesduring
- Resourcefulness is the capacity to mobilize needed resources
and services before, during, and after an emergency.
- Rapidity refers to the speed with which disruption is overcome
and services restored.
The State of Louisiana has recently defined community resiliency as
the capability to anticipate and respond to natural or human-made
hazards in an effort to limit negative impacts on people and
property. Believing that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution
for promoting resiliency, Louisiana officials are working with
at-risk communities to develop appropriate solutions. The
competitive Comprehensive Resiliency Pilot Program is a $10 million
pool of federal CDBG money that will enable communities to be
proactive in addressing risk and tying those factors into
population growth, flood zones, and economic development.
Drawn from Louisianas $1 billion allocation of CDBG funds for
recovery from the 2008 hurricanes Gustav and Ike, in June 2010, the
state awarded nearly $9 million to 29 projects in communities
affected by those hurricanes so they could become more resilient in
the event of future disasters by incorporating mitigation and
sustainability strategies such as updated comprehensive plans,
zoning ordinances, and building code enforcement.
All of the eligible projects are focused on communities in the 53
parishes that were affected by Gustav and Ike. The program makes
Louisiana eligible to compete in a special $312 million Disaster
Recovery Enhancement Fund that was made available in 2009 by the
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Dissemination of Best Practices
Lessons learned from the planning processes in the Louisiana
communities will be compiled into a best practices resource
available to all. The 29 projects were selected from a field of 87
submissions for resiliency planning, with a second round of awards
for buildingcode enforcement following soon. One project is the
development of a comprehensive, integrated water management
strategy and plan for Orleans, Jefferson, and St. Bernard Parishes.
The plan builds upon an international partnership between the
region, the American Planning Association, and the Kingdom of the
Netherlands known as the Dutch Dialogues. The strategy will be one
of the first developed for a city located within in a subtropical
climate zone and can serve as a model for other regions at risk.
Another of the funded projects is the Southwest Louisiana Economic
Development Alliance, intended to develop a comprehensive regional
housing study and strategic plan for five parishes. The nonprofit
Global Green identified a project to develop an economic
development strategy in coastal parishes, that is based on wetland
protection and carbon sequestration. Preliminary wetlands data
suggest that coastal wetlands may absorb as much as six times more
carbon than forests, placing these wetlands at the forefront of
areas where emerging carbon investors might invest.
Other Changes Related to FEMA Post-Katrina
The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act
(the Stafford Act) authorizes the president to issue major disaster
or emergency declarations before or after catastrophes occur. The
Deepwater Horizon oil spill is currently being addressed by the Oil
Pollution Act of 1990, P.L. 101-380.
If the scope of the impact on the coastal states or the need for
supplemental federal funding or other factors change, FEMAs role
could expand, and the Stafford Act would offer several options to
programs to address the oil spill, although the U.S. government has
secured an agreement for the private oil company responsible for
the disaster to pay all costs.
Discussion of the Stafford Act reminds us that the difficult and
still unresolved issues related to Hurricane Katrinas landfall have
led to numerous congressional hearings and studies intended to
decide whether the Stafford Act needs major changes. It also
reminds us of the turmoil after Katrina in dealing with public
expectations for government performance and funding and the
mistrust that resulted.
FEMA published a draft National Disaster Recovery Framework early
in 2010 that attempts to reconcile many of the complex, confusing,
and overlapping authorities and funds currently available to
recover from a disaster. The plans may not be needed or implemented
for the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill if the responsible parties are
continually involved in the clean up and the involved coastal
communities are resilient.