Response 8-1 discussion: federalism and natural-disaster preparedness

  Victoria Paquin posted Jul 28, 2022 2:59 PM

Read the articles “Is Federalism the Reason for Policy Failure in Hurricane Katrina?” and “Ten Years After Katrina” from the module resources.

In “Is Federalism the Reason for Policy Failure in Hurricane Katrina?,” the authors conclude the following:

If the federal government continues to dominate, state and local capacity could very well be eroded, as it was in Katrina, where capacity to plan for and respond to a Katrina-sized storm was not built in large part because of the federal government’s reassignment of resources from natural disaster preparedness to homeland security ”needs.” In the end, we cannot have much faith that another catastrophic disaster like Hurricane Katrina will greatly influence federal tendencies to centralize the direction of emergency management policy in Washington.

Do you agree with this assertion? Why or why not? Do you agree with the authors’ assessment of the reasons for the perceived failures in Hurricane Katrina? Do you agree with their observation that people tend to blame the federal government more than state and local governments for the apparent failures in Hurricane Katrina (or other crises)?

Hi Everyone,

In “Is Federalism the Reason for Policy Failure in Hurricane Katrina?” authors Birkland & Waterman surmise that the organization of the Federal Government’s agencies and how the agencies cooperate, or fail to cooperate, with local governments resulted in the mismanagement of the Hurricane Katrina disaster (2008). The article details changes that were made to Federal Emergency Management Agency after the terrorist attacks on September 11th caused the Federal Government to pursue adding this type of disaster response to FEMA’s initiatives. When FEMA officials balked at the idea, the federal government created the Department of Homeland Security. This agency shared similar initiatives to FEMA, and as federal funding was redirected, natural disaster response funding was reduced. 

Ultimately the failure of the federal agencies to work together to ensure that their needs were being met and that funding was properly allocated led to the inability of the agencies to effectively respond to the natural disaster. What compounded the issue was the lack of communication between the federal and the local agencies. As a local government, they should have been more attentive to the status of their community, understood the condition of the levees, and had adequate evacuation and emergency preparedness planning in place to protect their citizens. Although emergency preparedness can be expensive for local governments, it is not realistic for them to expect that the federal government will be able to respond in a timely manner having the local knowledge necessary to provide protections to citizens in advance of a natural disaster. 

I do agree somewhat with the authors point that the federal government is not easily changed and is not likely to always learn from their previous failures. Of course, FEMA and the DHS still exist today, and still have overlapping responsibilities, and in general, communication between federal agencies and local entities is poor and leads to inefficiencies and gaps in necessary services. I do think that since Katrina the federal government has begun prioritizing their mitigation and preparedness efforts. 

For example, I know in the Municipality that I work for in Vermont, we are required to adopt a hazard mitigation plan every five years and a local emergency management plan must be adopted annually. The hazard mitigation plan details what disasters might impact our town and what improvements can be made to infrastructure, communication, education and stockpiles can be made to mitigate the effects of such a disaster. The local emergency management plan is a step by step process that details what steps the town will take to overcome various disasters. We detail evacuation routes, known flooding areas, any residents that require advanced levels of care, and buildings that are relatively protected and can be utilized for emergency shelter. Each of these plans are required to be submitted to the State for evaluation and are then sent on to FEMA for final approval. I think that this process is a big step in the right direction in ensuring that citizens are better protected from the impacts of natural disasters. 



Birkland, T., & Waterman, S. (2008). Is federalism the reason for policy failure in Hurricane Katrina? Publius: The Journal of Federalism, 38(4), 692–714.


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