How FEMA Works

Governor Blanco speaks at a press brefing at the Office of Emergency Management about Hurricane Katrina, while then-FEMA Director Michael Brown looks on.

Photo courtesy Jocelyn Augustino / FEMA

Hurricane Katrina Response

The post-Katrina finger pointing makes it difficult to see who was really to blame for the slow and inadequate response to the Gulf Coast. Ray Nagin, mayor of New Orleans, and Kathleen Blanco, governor of Louisiana, blamed FEMA and the federal government. Michael Brown, head of FEMA at the time of the disaster, blamed "dysfunctional" Louisiana. Brown resigned not long afterwards. Later it was revealed that he planned to resign before Katrina hit, which Senator Susan M. Collins says "may explain in part his curious detachment during the Katrina catastrophe" [ref].

Ultimately, no agency is free from blame. Federal budget cuts left New Orleans vulnerable to a storm that everyone knew may hit someday. Local officials could have done more to help evacuate people who were unable to get out themselves, such as the elderly, the sick and the poor. FEMA could have been quicker to respond. Contacted by Governor Blanco the night the hurricane hit, President Bush did not respond with immediate aid. According to Newsweek, "there are a number of steps Bush could have taken, short of a full-scale federal takeover, like ordering the military to take over the pitiful and (by now) largely broken emergency communications system throughout the region. But the president, who was in San Diego preparing to give a speech the next day on the war in Iraq, went to bed" [ref].

FEMA could have allowed outside agencies to provide aid faster. There are numerous stories of city officials, police departments and volunteer groups who were ready and waiting to go to New Orleans to provide immediate aid, but were turned away by FEMA officials for bureaucratic reasons. There's really no one person to blame -- disaster relief efforts seem to have failed from top to bottom.

To learn more about FEMA and related topics, check out the links on the next page.