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Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, how FEMA changed

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FEMA teams respond
During the first few days of Katrina, FEMA teams could do little more than report the the destruction they saw. Photo Courtesy FEMA

Hurricane Katrina was one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the United States, causing widespread devastation and affecting an estimated 90,000 square miles along the central Gulf Coast states. The federal government was widely criticized for its lack of preparation in the relief effort of the disaster that saw over 1,800 deaths and crippled New Orleans. Former Federal Emergency Management Agency head Michael Brown and his agency received much of the blame.

FEMA is tasked with responding to disasters of all kinds, and helping the country recover.  During Katrina, the number of evacuees needing assistance overwhelmed FEMA personnel. Poor communication and transportation difficulties due to flooding also contributed to the agency’s slow response.

An improved agency

Ten years into the recovery, FEMA has provided $6.7 billion to more than one million individuals and households, and more than $131 billion to the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida for public works projects in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to assist with recovery efforts.

Since 2005, FEMA has turned to Congress to provide additional tools to become an effective government agency where survivors are put first.

The Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 gave FEMA clear guidance on its mission and priorities, and provided the legal authority needed to better partner with state, local, tribal and territorial governments during disasters.

This Act also required FEMA to develop a National Disaster Recovery Framework to guide recovery efforts after major disasters and emergencies and called for the creation of the Surge Capacity Force that draws upon federal employees who volunteer to respond when a major disaster strikes.

Other improvements made by the agency include:

  • Establishing rapid response teams:  Rapid response teams are able to deploy within two hours and arrive at an incident within 12 hours.
  • Improving search and rescue capability:  Since 2005, FEMA has better integrated search and rescue assets from across diverse federal agencies such as the U.S. Coast Guard and the Department of the Interior.
  • Establishing regional emergency communications coordination working groups:  These groups serve as the primary focal points for communications coordination among various government emergency responders.
  • Enhancing partnerships with the private sector: As part of this effort, FEMA established the National Business Emergency Operations Center that serves as a clearinghouse for two-way information sharing between public and private sector stakeholders in mitigating disasters.
  • Supporting emergency management that is inclusive of individuals with disabilities . The agency established the Office of Disability Integration and Coordination to provide guidance for a wide range of emergency management activities, including providing equal access to emergency programs and services to meet the access and functional needs of the whole community.

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