Given the devastating outcomes that may accompany calamities associated with storms, it is dangerous to downplay the importance of monitoring, evaluation, and quality control which are very critical to ensuring the success of any rescue efforts. Many times, however, organizations tend to forget the aspect of quality management in the planning and sadly, this leads to unpreparedness when the disasters strike (Leitmann, 2007).
A regular update of the disaster preparedness and emergency management will ensure that response teams are able to deliver as expected when the time comes. According to Haddow, Bullock and Coppola (2008), the natural disasters always prompt stakeholders to recreate their response plan and devise new ways of responding to disasters.
The challenges faced during Hurricane Katrina clearly pointed out that better response mechanisms must be developed and followed fully (Brooks & Darling, 1993). Apparently, the need for disaster preparedness has continued to grow as the organizations realize that being caught unaware is quite devastating (Tierney, Lindell & Perry, 2001).
This paper looks at how a lack of quality management interfered with the response mission during Hurricane Katrina. A number of issues that led to poor response have been examined and recommendations have been made for better and organized response in the future.
The questions to be answered by this research include:
How prepared was the response team before the storm happened?
What support mechanisms were put in place to help the response team to achieve its objectives?
How effective were partnership created during the response?
Description of Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina is one of the strongest storms to ever be experienced in the history of the United States. Among the cities affected, there are New Orleans, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi (FOIA, 2006). According to Goldman and Coussens (2007), almost 90,000 square miles suffered from the effects of Hurricane Katrina.
In Louisiana State, for example, nearly 1.7 million people suffered the devastating effects of the storm and required to be evacuated. The rescue task was a daunting one and had to involve people being moved from the affected and heavily populated regions to safe locations both within the affected state as well as to other states around the country.
Even though efforts were made and about 1.5 million people were evacuated from Louisiana before Hurricane Katrina happened, close to 200,000 individuals who remained behind were severely affected by the storm. Some of these people failed to evacuate because of lack of resources while others simply made a choice to stay behind rather than move to safe places.
Before and after the storm, shelters and emergency rooms were prepared to cater for special needs of those affected. Although the state managed to evacuate almost 12,000 caregivers and their patients, the process was generally slow as the strategies employed were not very effective (Goldman & Coussens, 2007).
In certain cases patients had to be evacuated at most two at a time, using a boat. Shah (2005) describes Hurricane Katrina as the most expensive tragedy that has ever been experienced by the global insurance industry (Shah, 2005). The disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina is a very clear indicator of how important it is to make sure that proper recovery mechanisms are put in place.
Failures in the Emergency Response
Despite numerous evacuation pleas, more than 100,000 people were stranded in flooded regions of the city, and as pointed out earlier, some people were unable to leave while some chose not to evacuate. Some evacuation plans used by the responders, such as providing buses, totally failed.
The failure experienced caught officials and the emergency response team completely off guard and this was further worsened by the fact that the police, medical, and other means of assistance were inadequate to cope with the scale of the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina. Although the rescue efforts went on for over several days, those left in New Orleans suffered increasing deprivation and lack of facilities.
Rescue efforts were later reinforced by issuing a compulsory evacuation order that involved an airlift and major logistical resources. The rescue troops went house to house so as to guarantee a complete evacuation. Much of the media attention was focused towards the lengthy time taken for emergency response and this ultimately led to the resignation of the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
While a number of factors were highlighted as being strengths, there were several issues that worked against the ability to provide an orchestrated and efficient response to the disaster.
Evidence showed that mission objectives were not established in response to Hurricane Katrina and some organizations lacked an incident action plan leading to confusion about the mission objectives among responders originating from different organizations.
It is assumed that an emphasis on pre deployment planning in various areas, including the deployment of personnel and coordination with external agencies would have proven quite beneficial during the rescue mission (Goldman & Coussens, 2007).
Apparently, there were also changes that happened in the organizational structure after the response started and these complicated the response operation even further. It impacted lines of authority, reporting, communicating channels, information exchange, and adherence to standard operating procedures.
Depending on the area of focus, standard operating procedures did not exist, were in draft form, or were in a conflict with other organization’s standard operating procedures. Another major challenge was the ability to staff and deploy teams effectively as well resource tracking. As a part of the preparation process, a clear definition of the roles assigned to all staff is a critical requirement and must be done fully (Goldman & Coussens, 2007).
A lack of a clear communication protocol also made it difficult for stakeholders to get in touch with the rescue team. Some people felt that better results could be realized by taking an inclusive approach that brings together all the key people who are seen to play a very critical role in the rescue mission. There is also a need for greater awareness of the basic knowledge regarding emergency response operations among staff.
Key Findings and Recommendations
The following sub sections show the issues pointed out and recommendations on how to effectively address them. The tables contain the factors that led to poor results and later corrective actions are listed.
Issue 1: Mission Objectives and Deployment Assignments
Poor definition and communication of mission objectivesClear objectives were not established for effectively responding to Hurricane Katrina. This led to confusion among the responders. Responders simply defaulted to what was seen as the best course of action and no formal action plan was followed.
The lack of a clear and publicized action plan greatly affects management’s ability to lead in the most efficient and effective way. Mission clarity can be ensured by having in place an incident action plan.
Staff deployment assignment were made without following the established Action Request Form (ARF) and Mission Assignment (MA) processDeployment of personnel before the Action Request Form was completed also led to problems. Other personnel were also not deployed according to a specific Mission Assignment. In severe cases, some deployed staff had to be sent home simply because they were not responding effectively to the needs of the states where they had been deployed.
The use of the ARF or MA should be made mandatory for all rescue operations if better results are to be realized.
The need to clearly define the role of the Emergency Management Assistant Compact (EMAC)The use of the Emergency Management Assistant Compact is very instrumental in changing the types of requests for help that the rescue team receives from the states as well as how states interact to provide mutual aid. States using EMAC can request and receive direct assistance from the states without having to contact the rescue team. During the rescue mission, EMAC representatives claimed that they were not made aware of the resources and services provided by the rescue team. It is important to ensure that EMAC representatives are well aware of the resources and services provided by the rescue team.
Better coordination between the rescue team and the Public Health Service Office of Force Readiness and Deployment (OFRD) was required.Both the rescue team and the Public Health Service Office of Force Readiness and Deployment were selecting staff for deployment from the same pool of Public Health Service Officers. It was reported that in some cases, medical officers deployed through OFRD were filling non-clinical roles while they could have been deployed by the rescue team to provide public health support.