The waves of change in emergency management have been numerous since Sept. 11, 2001. As direct result from these events, Louisiana’s state and local governments were asked to assess and make changes to their emergency preparedness efforts. This study will examine how the current governor is prepared to deal with potential disasters, what has been done in the areas of threat and risk assessment, the implementation and understanding of the Incident Command System (ICS), knowledge of the National Response Framework (NRF), and how Louisiana has dealt with the problem of communications.
The establishment of a NRF and ICS was being mandated to be understood and used at all levels to better prepare for the possibility of disaster. Other lessons learned from that devastating disaster were to serve as a template of what needs to be achieved at the state and local level. Fast forward to Hurricane Katrina and it was easy to see that these changes had not been fully understood or utilized in proper fashion. The breakdowns and problems witnessed during and after Hurricane Katrina would serve as a much needed “wake-up” call for Louisiana.
There have been numerous articles and papers written about what went wrong. There has been little effort to showcase what Louisiana has done since that time to correct these issues. This will be done through interviews with the state director, analysis of articles, and analysis of state documents that allow us to see what the state has planned and what it has done already in each of these areas. By the conclusion, the reader will be left with a better understanding of Louisiana’s new grasp of emergency preparedness and the significant effort into making this positive change. It is also hoped that the solutions provided might give guidance to others.
Introduction: Let Us Start From the Beginning
To discuss where Louisiana’s emergency preparedness program is now we have to look at what led to the massive overhaul of change within the state of Louisiana. If someone were to mention Louisiana and emergency preparedness in the same sentence it would not be hard to understand if images of Katrina fill one’s mind. Reader’s thoughts could range in opinion to a wide spectrum of ideas and thoughts. Readers and citizens alike could and do think that the state was simply not prepared to deal with an event the size of Hurricane Katrina. Some would remember the media’s version of a complete breakdown of the system. The thoughts or images given have been countless. There are multiple versions of the events and what went wrong. The purpose of this paper is not to place blame, but to understand the underlying causes of what prompted the complete change in Louisiana’s emergency preparedness system. A point to consider that is not well remembered is that the process of change within Louisiana’s state of emergency preparedness does not begin with the devastation of Katrina. The process actually starts a couple of years before Katrina. As was mentioned before, to understand where the program is now we have to start at the true beginning that started the process of change.
Using the same concept as mentioned above if this author was to mention Sept. 11, one’s mind would undoubtedly remember the travesty of what happened on that day. Descriptions do not need to be given. The scenes of that day will live with everyone for eternity. This is our starting point for this discussion. The events of Sept. 11 brought immediate and sweeping changes in regards to emergency management within the federal, state, local and various other organizations. Only a few times in history have we seen such a sweeping change. It would be the lessons learned from Sept.11 that all states would be asked to change their priorities and the way they conduct their emergency preparedness duties. It is here where the problems begin and the change starts taking place.
Soon after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the federal government put into place programs that had been in development for some time. The programs were the National Response Plan and the National Incident Management System (NIMS) which contained ICS. The intent of these programs was to provide a template for organizing and responding to disasters. The intention was to provide the federal government with a framework to respond to disasters. The states, local governments, and non-government organizations would in turn try to match or align their policies, procedures and plans to integrate with federal policies, procedures and plans. The task was not simple and it was not going to be easy. However, the tasks had been assigned. Louisiana, along with other states, was going to have to change its plans, policies and procedures in emergency management. What was not known was would the system work? What Louisiana did not know then was that it would test the systems in place for everyone and the outcome would set the stage for the change we see today.
Cracks In the Foundation
The National Response Plan was introduced one year prior to Katrina. When one figures the extent of implementing such a system, it could be argued that the time would not be sufficient. Prior to the storm making landfall the warning signs were apparent to Louisiana that this storm could be the one that they feared. Several months before Louisiana, along with federal assistance, developed and conducted an exercise to evaluate the preparedness of Louisiana for a major hurricane. The exercise was referred to as Hurricane Pam. The Hurricane Pam exercise eerily gave a preview of what Hurricane Katrina would bring with her. The lessons learned from Hurricane Pam were substantial, but incomplete. Due to lack of funding and time the exercise would not fully prepare the state to make needed changes within their system. The intention and goal of Hurricane Pam is best summarized by Madhu Beriwal the president and CEO of IEM. IEM was the private organization that helped to develop the Hurricane Pam exercise for the State of Louisiana.
“Hurricane Pam was designed to bring planners and decision-makers together from all levels so they could begin to grapple collectively with response issues for a catastrophic event and start the process of reviewing and reconciling their existing emergency plans,” said Beriwal. “The intent of Hurricane Pam was to produce the preliminary ‘bridging document’ addressing catastrophic hurricane response between state and local plans and the National Response Plan.”
When we look at the objectives it is possible to think that such an exercise should have and could have found problem areas. As mentioned above, the exercise was never fully completed. Therefore, the lessons learned would be incomplete. Understanding the timeline helps us better understand the problems that were seen during the Hurricane Pam exercise and Hurricane Katrina disaster. The intentions were there, but the time frame would not allow the convergence of these concepts from the federal government to be executed and fully understood by the state and local governments. Another Hurricane Pam exercise that followed the 8-day exercise had just been completed only a week when Hurricane Katrina ravaged the state. Consider the timeline and we see how the significance of time could affect the planning and response for the State of Louisiana:
March 2004 – National Incident Management System is released by the United States Department of Homeland Security
September 2004 - Secretary Ridge gives an outline of NIMS compliance
December 2004 – The National Response Plan is released by the United States Department of Homeland Security
July 2004 – Louisiana works with Federal and private officials to conduct an exercise called Hurricane Pam. The intention is to match or reconcile their emergency plans to work within the scope of the upcoming National Response Plan and National Incident Management System.
August 2005 – One week before Hurricane Katrina hits Hurricane Pam is still underway. It would never be fully completed.
August 2005 – Hurricane Katrina hits
In all there is less than a year and a half from the time that the National Incident Management System is introduced and only 8 months from the time that the National Response Plan is released to the events of Hurricane Katrina.
Dr. Donald Kettl, of the University of Pennsylvania, said, “But when faced with Katrina, government, at all levels, failed. In fact, the bungled response ranks as perhaps the biggest administrative failure in American history. Sept. 11 thus was a major lost opportunity. Government could have—and should have—learned from that awful day about how to make homeland security work. When put to the test, it failed. The reason? We failed to learn.”
Is this truly the reason why America witnessed the failures seen during Hurricane Katrina? Yes and no could be argued. Yes, indeed there was lack of awareness and preparation of threats such as Hurricane Katrina. No, that the time given to implement the programs was insufficient to adequately change a system to the level needed. Regardless of the time the state of readiness for Louisiana and the system in place was about to be tested. Hurricane Katrina was barreling down the Gulf of Mexico like a runaway freight train of disaster.
Ready or Not … Problems Identified
Devastation of this magnitude had not been seen for many years. The complete destruction of communities and infrastructure was unexpected in Louisiana. When the storm hits it becomes one of the worst disasters in the United States history. Louisiana is working off an emergency plan that cannot prepare them for what lies ahead. It would later be theorized by many that it would be difficult to plan for a storm the size and strength of Hurricane Katrina. The complexity of the storm could not be matched by the federal government, let alone the state. Now that we have laid the foundation for the reason why so many things went wrong we will highlight several areas that have been repeatedly pointed out as areas of concern.
One of the largest problems identified was a lack of awareness and understanding of the National Response Plan and the National Incident Management System. Scott Wells was acting as William Lokey’s (the Federal Coordinating Officer) Deputy. Wells testified to the lack of understanding of these principles to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate. Wells testified to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee in which he advised, “Two days after the storm hit [Louisiana emergency-management staff] had a consultant come in and show them ICS, explain ICS. In the middle of a catastrophic disaster. This is how ICS works. There was no unified command under the National Response Plan. They didn’t understand it. They had no idea.”
The lack of understanding these principles created a barrier to integrate with the federal response. This would create a chain reaction to wreak havoc on the response.
When we have a disaster of this size and of this magnitude it is almost a sure bet that the establishment of a unified command needs to be done as quickly as possible to be able to establish control in a timely manner. We have been taught that to create an effective response for a large scale disaster, there must be unified approach with all players working together. This allows the response to be coordinated, leadership to be present, and chain of command to be instituted. This process would help to eliminate duplication of efforts, wasted resources, improved coordination and less confusion. What happened unfortunately was that the need to establish a unified command quickly would not happen. In fact a unified command would not be established until weeks after Hurricane Katrina made landfall.
“The most important single thing that has to be done I believe as quickly as possible after a disaster has struck is to have a unified command so that the hundreds of decisions – and there are hundreds of them that have to be made quickly about personnel and equipment and rescuing people and alleviating suffering and all of the rest – can be made quickly,” said Congressman Lee Hamilton, who served as the 9/11 Commission co-chair.
To further exacerbate the problems, the limited understanding (if any at all) at the local level would not allow local responders to be effective. Local responders were simply not prepared and quickly overwhelmed. There was a lack of training and exercise of state and local responders which directly contributed to the lack of a hierarchy or chain of command. Very few responders understood who was in charge, what their primary duties were and more importantly when or if help would arrive.
Due to the lack of understanding of these principles we see multiple issues arise. We see “freelancing” of various responder groups. Although, there were some heroic efforts by responders these “self-dispatched” responders and the lack of coordination would only add to the chaos and create even more confusion among the various agencies. These types of actions would cause duplication of effort, waste of time and waste of resources which were in short demand already.
Lack of management and lack of leadership was evident. There was no clear identification of who was in charge of the incident. As a direct result we see that there were multiple groups that were organizing responses independently. This could have been avoided with the establishment of the unified command. Donald Moynihan an assistant professor of public affairs for the University of Wisconsin-Madison after studying and reviewing the testimonies to congress as well as other reports advises, “The response to Katrina featured neither an effective network nor an effective hierarchy. It lacked a clear command and positive working relationships among key actors.” These types of principles must be present to have an effective response.
Is There Anybody Out There … Can Anyone Hear Me
Another glaring problem identified was a lack of communications in key areas. It was identified that there was a lack of effort in regards to public awareness and public communication by the state. The state of Louisiana would be criticized for not using the Emergency Alert System before Hurricane Katrina to advise citizens of the potential threats and risks from Hurricane Katrina. There was a limited public campaign to advise citizens not only of the threats but how to be prepared in general before Hurricane Katrina. This limited interaction between the state and its citizens would prove to be another lost opportunity. One of the findings by The Federal Response To Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned highlighted these issues. Although this was partially due to the loss of communication infrastructure, before the storm alternate plans were not established to keep the public well informed. The lack of a clear and consistent communications to the media and public resulted in numerous conflicting stories by media sources. This directly led to numerous rumors that created wide spread panic among some communities and with evacuees. Anyone recall the alleged mass murders and rapes going on at the Superdome? Periodic updates are a must have in disaster situations.
9-1-1 and public safety organizations communications in most part where overwhelmed and eventually put out of service. 9-1-1 would be so severely crippled that most 9-1-1 centers would not even be able to re-route calls. Again, lack of resources to help establish emergency communications would add to the over bearing load already placed upon responders. Local responder agencies communications would be destroyed or extremely limited.
“Communication systems were destroyed, limiting the ability of responders to gain situational awareness or to communicate operational plans. Over three million telephone landlines were lost in the three affected states, including many 911 call centers,” said Moynihan. “Wireless phones were also affected, with approximately 2,000 cell sites out of service and few places to charge the phones because of widespread power loss.”
When we look at what has been taken away from Louisiana responders in the area of communication we can easily see how this greatly impacted the response and coordination efforts. No wireless, no land line phones, and in most areas no radio towers in which to bounce a frequency. With nowhere else to turn responders quickly went to satellite phones. After all, responders were told when all else fails the satellite phone would work. Responders found this to not be entirely true as satellite phones were used with very limited success. The cloudy skies posed problems for this applications and did very little to help the communication effort in those first crucial hours and days after Hurricane Katrina. Limited resources were used with various levels of success. A key principle in emergency management is communications. Without communications your response is going to suffer. We have learned as emergency managers that communication has to be given top priority in our planning and response. Our communication abilities have to be able to support our operations. If they do not, then the best response plan in the world will do little good if the incident commander cannot make known his/her objectives to operational personnel. Communications is an absolute necessity.
Lack of resources or personnel within the state emergency management system and the local responder’s organizations created yet another problem. The amount of space that the state Emergency Operation Center had was small and limited. It was quite apparent that in regards to emergency management; funding was limited. This lack of funding helps to add to the short falls of Louisiana’s emergency response. Moynihan identified this in his findings regarding Hurricane Katrina. Moynihan said, “Local parishes had short-changed emergency planning.”
Most parishes affected had a staff from one to three individuals. The limitations of funding created shortfalls in resources desperately needed by the local responders to function. The lack of resources, lack of staff and lack of training opportunities for the staff that they did have helped to add to the problems experienced when trying to coordinate with other agencies. The federal government cited a lack of space to operate and coordinate contributed to the problem. The Emergency Operations Center was small and cramped and could not afford the space needed to handle the multi-agency representatives that were in play. There was not an established Joint Field Office.
Meetings, we are told, were conducted in hallways. Adding to the problem is the lack of state personnel. Moynihan wrote, “The Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (LOHSEP) had a staff between 43 and 45 people, which an internal staff study found was only about 60 percent of the staffing capacity of peer organizations in other states.” Of the group that was on staff at the state, very few had emergency management experience.
Another area of concern was the lack of threat and risk assessment which correlated into lack of mitigation. It has been hotly debated as to what was and was not identified in previous threat and risk assessments. The focus of the discussion is that regardless of what might have been found, there was a significant amount of error in the planning process that was brought forth by the lack of threat and risk assessments at not only the state level but at the local level. Hazard mitigation planning was not new to the state before Katrina. It seems there was a lack of standard in which to conduct these assessments. This in turn resulted in plans that were not functional in some areas. The other issue that also stems from this is the lack of training and knowledge of the plans that resulted from these assessments. This area cannot be overstated. A plan that is not exercised is nothing more than words on a piece of paper. The lack of training and knowledge of the plans in place also contributed to the failures seen during Katrina.
These four areas would be the foundation in which change would need to be addressed to ensure such a colossal failure would not be seen in Louisiana again. Hurricane Katrina was the cold slap of reality the state needed to address these issues and more. The challenges were going to be great. The finger pointing had begun. Would change get lost in the turmoil of who to place the blame? Would Louisiana be set to make change that would impact not only the state but the country in which we live?
The Turn Around
The tables were set and the problems were numerous and overwhelming. Where does one begin after an event like Hurricane Katrina? The recovery process would be long and difficult which made change even more challenging. The step had to be made and lessons learned would provide for a renewed opportunity to re-build emergency management into an entirely different creature. Governor Blanco begins the effort to sort through the mess and Governor Jindal would take the baton to help to finish the transformation.
It was soon found out that the National Response Plan was not designed to address a disaster the size of Hurricane Katrina. It was also discovered that part of the problem in coordination was that the National Incident Management System and the National Response Plan conflicted in some areas. With that being said the State of Louisiana has ensured that both the National Response Plan and the National Incident Management System are well understood and used in the planning and training process from that point on.
The first area of concern was the threat and risk assessments and hazard mitigation of the state and parishes. Both areas of government had not utilized hazard mitigation principles to impact significant change within the emergency management response. One glaring problem that raised its head was the need to prepare for large scale disasters such as hurricanes. The identification of threats and risks from the local level up would help to mitigate future problems. The state made use of grant funding from the federal government to implement changes in the way the parishes and the state conducted their hazard mitigation planning. Emergency managers know the importance of this planning. Identifying threat and risks allow us to create a mitigation plan that will deal directly with these identified areas. The state used the funding and mandated that a third party help to oversee the process. The third party would ensure that the mitigation process would adhere to the format intended. The mitigation teams would be assembled from a variety of responders and citizens to bring relevant threats and identify risks within their area. In some parishes this process had not been done at all and in others it had not been updated for several years. When the mitigation plans are completed they would be sent in to the state for review and approval before being submitted to federal review. The format was laid out so that each parish worked in the same format. This consistency would help in the other areas of mitigation such as training and exercising of plans. The state had a 98 percent success rate of their plans being approved by federal panels. The wheels of change were in motion. This of course is only one step of the mitigation plan. Mitigation is brought to the citizens of Louisiana in several ways. One of the best is the public mitigation and awareness messages seen across the state on television, radio and on web addresses called RISE or Reinforce Insure Shutter and Elevate program. The RISE program is a mitigation plan that is accessible to the citizens of the state. It links in with other Louisiana public awareness programs to help prepare its citizens for a variety of hazards. The RISE program explains what mitigation means for them and for Louisiana.
The next step was the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness sending advisories to all parishes months after Hurricane Katrina, restating the “who” and “what” in regards to who had to have the training and to what level they needed to be trained in NIMS. The state issued a strong request for all parishes to comply in a timely manner. In 2005, the state had met its requirements for all state and local agencies to issue a resolution of National Incident Management System adoption.
Training in these areas was conducted during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina. It was well understood that this problem needed to be dealt with in a quick manner. Oversight would be conducted by the governor’s office and funding could be withheld if the parishes did not comply. As a direct result the local governments soon would address these needs and would meet the necessary requirements. Over the past two years there have been over a thousand classes taken by state and local government employees as well as by non-governmental organizations and private business citizens. During a recent conversation with Rachel Schlatre with the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security, this author asked the question, “How compliant is Louisiana with the National Incident Management System?”
Rachel advised that Louisiana has and will continue to be fully compliant in all areas of the National Incident Management System. The use of the NIMCAST system allows Louisiana to evaluate their level of compliance. However, to give a numerical number is problematic. Each year there are changes or new objectives that the states need to meet to retain its compliance.
As the author pressed a little further, the question was asked, “Would it be safe to say that Louisiana is as close to 100 percent compliant as can possibly be attained?” She said, “I believe that to be a fair and accurate statement.”
It is also important to note that being compliant with the National Incident Management System is a continuous effort. Not only do personnel need to understand the National Response Plan and how to respond using National Incident Management Concepts, it is a continuous education, training, exercising, evaluating, mitigating, and coordinating effort. The other areas provided below will give examples of how this is being achieved and how successful the process has been for the state. Director Mark Cooper who oversees the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness for Louisiana gives a great example of how the state is constantly evolving the principles of the National Incident Management System to the benefit of the state. His remarks also help to show the commitment the governor and the state congress has to maintaining the principles of the program itself. Director Cooper in an interview with Security Management advised that the state is constantly making headway and revisions.
“What we learned was how important it is that collaboration takes place before a disaster hits,” said Cooper to Joseph Straw with Security Management. “And one of the things that we did for Louisiana last year during the legislative session was establish and emergency management structure for the state based on the National Incident Management System, which previously didn’t exist. We had a unified command group where the governor serves as the unified commander and my position is the deputy unified commander. In the past, officials only met when there was an exercise or when there was a disaster. But we had legislation passed that mandates that group meet at least on a quarterly basis to be more of a strategic decision-making body, so that they can look at what the issues are and come up with solutions. In addition to that it’s established a subcommittee structure that brings in first responders who report up to the unified command group, as well as our parish directors as well as interoperability.”
Director Cooper makes a great point mentioning that through established relationships and familiarity with responders the principles behind the unified command will work in Louisiana’s favor.
No More Soup Cans and Strings
Bridging the communications gap has presented challenges of its own. The lack of public awareness and communication were still fresh in people’s minds. Louisiana went into overdrive to find a way to correct these issues. What Louisiana did first was to embrace a public campaign to make their citizens more aware of not only the threats that were possible, but how to prepare themselves in the future. The establishment of the Get a Game Plan was born. The Get a Game Plan program gives information to citizens how to prepare themselves for potential emergencies along with other critical information. The past two years this program has taken off with advertisements being aired across the state with “local” figures such as Governor Jindal, Coach Sean Payton from the New Orleans Saints, Reggie Bush also from the New Orleans Saints and even the band Better than Ezra. The Get a Game Plan web site has information of various sources that is available to the viewer from emergency contact information, pet preparedness, and even evacuation maps. The web site alone has produced over a million hits since its introduction.
Pre-Katrina there were limited number of public opportunities within the state. Now there are programs like the Citizens Corp that offers the Community Emergency Response Team Program, and the Medical Reserves to name a few. Since Katrina the rise of these programs and public involvement has increased by drastic numbers. Pre-Katrina the numbers of these types of active partnerships were less than 15. Today there are more than 100 active programs across the state.
Communications is a need that has to be established, and Louisiana has moved rapidly to solve issues of sustainable emergency interoperability communications. The state moved quickly to purchase portable communications towers that could be deployed at a moment’s notice. The communication towers have radio gateway devices along with several radio components that allow them to establish communications from 700/800 MHz P25 Trunked site, repeaters, satellite dish and communications, Internet and Voice Over Internet Protocol. The state also assembled Rapid Restoration of Communications trailers that can be deployed by helicopter to the most remote areas. This trailer will allow quick communication set up until other resources can arrive. This communication trailer has the same functions as the mobile towers and also allows the establishment of wireless network connections. The state then brought online 3 Mobile Communications Center Trailers that can function as alternate Emergency Operations Center each one is equipped with the amenities to include 70 laptops and 70-Voice Over Internet Protocol phones. 9-1-1 traffic can be re-routed and answered at these communication centers. Radio Caches have also been established not only at the state level but at the regional and local level as well. To round up the assets the Louisiana National Guard has the Interoperable Communications Extension System. This system is equipped with the satellite features and at least 100 cell phones to work off the tower and other commercial networks.
The jewel of Louisiana’s efforts has been the creation and establishment of the P25 700MHz system within the state. Over 38 million dollars was budgeted to this program in the 2008 budget alone. The results have been impressive. As of Jan. 2, 2010, the system offers statewide communications of 95 percent on a hand held unit anywhere in the state of Louisiana. This ability helps to address the multi-agency need of interoperability communications within the state. In a letter addressed to Governor Jindal from the Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee, Brent Mitchell states, “Louisiana has committed over $15.8 million dollars in funding from several state and federal sources, for the purchase of both portable or mobile radios and console dispatch equipment for local and state agency responders. The ratio of assignment of the equipment has been 85 percent local responders and 15 percent state agencies.” It goes onto to state the importance of helping to support the local level is a high priority. The state has tested the interoperable communications system twice in 2009 to establish if the volunteer fire fighter that is on the Arkansas/Louisiana line could communicate with the Joint Field Office in Baton Rouge. The tests have been very successful.
The state has established a Web Emergency Operations Center that can be accessed by all levels of government to help streamline response and recovery operations as well as provide resources to parishes across the state. Real time needs and updates are able to be viewed. The integration of the state secured Virtual Louisiana gives the operations a twist. Virtual Louisiana is a Geographical Information System purchased by the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness from Google. The system allows responders with no GIS experience to look at real terrain and mapping of the state with extreme ease. Virtual Louisiana is constantly being improved upon. Recently there have been additions of high resolution imagery and three-dimension views of buildings that include three-dimension views of the floor plans within the Urban Area Security Initiative areas of the state.
The state is also using the Louisiana Emergency Response Network (LERN). This system is a health and hospital based application that has patient tracking and resource availability functions. A dispatcher or responder can view available beds at hospitals in a real time format along with service availability such as surgeons, orthopedics and medication to name just a few. Although, not all of the hospitals in the state are using this system it is hoped to have full participation within the next three years. Currently more than 70 percent of the hospitals in the state are using this system. Louisiana has served as a model to other states in the area of emergency communications.
The Federal Communication Commission had completed a 5 state tour to assess the communication abilities within each state. There was little doubt that Louisiana had excelled again. The Federal Communication System recently sent a letter to the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. The letter was another marked achievement by the state to exceed expectations. Ben Bourgoyne wrote in his article on the FCC’s trip to Louisiana, “Your Web EOC capabilities are top-notch, an IP-based emergency information management application that allows for secure internet connections; real-time access to state and local weather trends; provides operational details from various governments and public safety groups; and local regional and national resource updates so that state and local officials can rapidly get resources to disaster-impacted areas. We would appreciate any additional information you may want to share on this front.”
It Starts At the Top
The governors of the state have been an active part of the process as well. Governor Blanco was viewed as an emergency management pariah in some circles. However, it was under her leadership that Louisiana achieved one of the first accreditations that showed Louisiana was on the right track to correcting issues and problems that were seen during Hurricane Katrina. In 2007, Louisiana was accredited by the Emergency Management Accreditation Program Commission. Louisiana was the fifteenth state to receive such an important credential. As of January 2, 2010, there are only 19 states in the country that hold this credential. As quoted from the US Federal News Service, “The EMAP process evaluates emergency management programs on compliance with requirements in 15 functional areas that include, but are not limited to, planning, resource management, training, exercise and evaluations and corrective actions; and communications and warnings.” One of the criteria for maintaining this credential is that these areas have to be kept within the credentialing standard. The process continues today and is constantly evolving.
Blanco also increases the resources to the state emergency operations center. Staff would be drastically increased from 43 to 163. Improvements would be started to expand the Emergency Operations Center capabilities and space. This would help to host the numerous agencies and resources in the event of another disaster.
The Baton Is Passed
Enter Governor Jindal and the emergency preparedness of the state took another large step. Governor Jindal was sure to not let past mistakes happen again. Before Jindal was governor he represented the state of Louisiana as a United States Congressman. One important note is that he also served on the Members of the Subcommittee on Emergency Communications, Preparedness and Response during the 110th Congress. During his term in Congress and in particular this committee Jindal was exposed to the needs and problems faced by states in regards to emergency management. He is well versed and takes notice of the failures from Hurricane Katrina. When he assumes office he is determined to change the structure that will enhance the emergency management of the state.
In an interview with Security Management, Director Cooper was asked what is different in regards to emergency management and the answer was and is revealing, “Well one of the major changes was the establishment of GOHSEP, handling responsibilities that used to be part of the Louisiana National Guard. And they made my post a cabinet-level position that reports directly to the governor, to give the governor’s office more of a direct link to what we’re doing, and to provide accountable, day-to-day leadership.”
Governor Jindal wants to be kept abreast of the state of preparedness. He makes key changes in the structure of the state’s emergency management make-up and pushes for change. One is the establishment of legislation that was referred to in the National Incident Management section above. Governor Jindal wants to assure that emergency preparedness is on the front of everyone’s mind.
“Well I think the positive thing from it, in being part of the Governor’s cabinet, is that most of his cabinet have a primary role during a disaster, and one of the things that he did early on is he instituted weekly cabinet meetings, some of which we talk specifically about emergency preparedness and response,” said Cooper. “So the reason that was good was there was keen understanding among members of his cabinet how important our function is, emergency management is, and those relationships were formed prior to Gustav and Ike hitting.”
This reply allows us to see how important the mission of emergency preparedness is to Governor Jindal. The creation of the cabinet position and inclusion into the weekly cabinet meeting is not simple flattery. A cabinet position marks a need to be filled and helps to give justification to a program that had struggled in the past gaining identity, authority and relevancy. This alignment will only help to strengthen the emergency management effort in Louisiana. Governor Jindal will not allow the state to repeat the damaging efforts of Hurricane Katrina. What was not known at the time, is Governor Jindal would soon be able to show case his and the state’s emergency management changes. The “system” would soon be back in the spotlight and Louisiana’s “system” was about to be tested from the governor down.
Hurricane Gustav was labeled by some to be the “Storm of the Century.” The tropical storm had rapidly developed into a Class 4 Hurricane in less than 24 hours. Its path was projected to hit Louisiana. Indeed it seemed that devastation could be inevitable for the southern state. The spotlight was again on Louisiana. The stage was set. The efforts by the state would either be a success or repeated failure. Everyone watched and waited to see what would happen this time. Who would take charge and provide the leadership needed for success?
Governor Jindal was front and center and projected a leadership quality needed in times of crisis. He, along with his comrades, quickly moved into action. Jerry Hart and Brian Sullivan from the Bloomberg Press noted, “State, local and federal officials are at least 72 hours ahead of where they were before Hurricane Katrina.”
Governor Jindal was leaving nothing to chance. Through his emergency management office he started the proceedings to gain federal aid a full six days before Hurricane Gustav was to make landfall. Governor Jindal took pre-emptive steps to maintain order and give the citizens of the state a sense of security. Governor Jindal orders in 1,500 National Guard troops into New Orleans. Jindal was not going to allow the lawlessness seen before to happen again. The governor wanted to ease fears of looting and theft to help people evacuate from their homes. The plan worked as intended. Over two million people were evacuated from the southern parts of Louisiana.
Mark Whittington with the Associated Content wrote, “Relief supplies and first responders search and rescue units were in place. Law Enforcement and the National Guard were ready to stamp out looting and other civil disturbance in the wake of Louisiana.”
Communication teams and responders were staged at various intervals with communications to the Joint Field Office. Responders knew what their assignments were and there was a clear chain of command. It was time to see if the training, exercising and planning would pay off. It was said in a quote, “It is very, very important that we play the way we practiced and trained over the last years and a half. There is a way that we operate. There’s a chain of command. There’s a way that we interact with each other.”
What would be seen and assessed would provide the state of Louisiana with a clear picture of where their emergency management position was now. Would it be the same as Katrina or significantly better?
And the Results Are
As noted, the differences were very apparent from the start. Governor Jindal takes the lead position and acts as a voice of caution and calmness something missing during Hurricane Katrina. He begins the efforts a full six days before Hurricane Gustav is to make landfall. Public Service Announcements blanket the television, radios and in some cases telephone notifications were issued. Joint efforts by the state, federal, local, non-governmental organizations and private industry helped to inform the citizens of the state of evacuation routes and other pertinent information. Uses of the Emergency Alert System were utilized along with the state application My State to keep citizens informed.
Responders and resources are staged in strategic areas to provide quick response. This move by the state would help to establish control quickly during the trying times ahead. The Unified Command was established well before Gustav lands and the coordination was significantly improved. The systems in place provided situational awareness that was lacking during Katrina. The increase of space and capabilities of the Emergency Operations Center helped to improve the flow of ideas and efforts. The increase of staff allowed personnel to work more efficiently and operate within the intended design of the National Incident Command System. Improved interoperable communication allowed information to be shared across the state. The Federal Emergency Management Agency that had been so critical of the lack of knowledge and coordination before during Hurricane Katrina was now singing a different tune.
“I have to tell you how proud I am of that state (Louisiana), how far they’ve come in just three short years,” said David Paulison of FEMA in a statement. “The organization is there. … I know I said this yesterday, but it bears repeating, the fact that the state did an outstanding job and is still doing an outstanding job. “
Yes, a far cry from what was offered a mere three years ago.
To help further the claim of better response the author points towards a recent research project from the University of Pittsburgh. From the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, comes to us an assessment of how effective and prepared Louisiana was during Gustav. The paper was written by three graduate students Louise Comfort, Namkyung Oh and Gunes Ertan. The trio originated a concept to assess the responses during efforts of Hurricane Katrina and Gustav. It was of their opinion that although Hurricane Gustav was much weaker and did not affect the same areas there was still enough data to show a very improved response. Comfort, Oh and Ertan advised, “The relatively high correlation between the network structures in the first few days of response to Hurricane Gustav suggest that the organizations involved in the system were much more prepared and acted according to plan.”
Their work continues to assess that change was significant and improved from the prior disaster. Indeed, Louisiana has succeeded at making positive change. Louisiana also had the ability to showcase the change for the whole world to see via national television. People agreed that things were very different in Louisiana. But the work continues. Louisiana has improved and will continue to improve through change, assessing, planning, exercising and training.
This discussion has brought us full circle in the process of change of Louisiana’s emergency management. History was provided to show what prompted the need for change. It was shown that the need was there prior to Hurricane Katrina. However, it was Hurricane Katrina that forced the movement of change. It was Hurricane Katrina that showed the state the areas of weakness. They say from every dark cloud there is a silver lining. This research provides us with proof that there was indeed a silver lining for Louisiana. It was an awful price to pay, but the lessons learned would serve to strengthen Louisiana’s emergency management. There should be little doubt that Louisiana is indeed an improved state. The efforts have not only been exercised they have stood the test of another disaster. The state is leading the way in emergency management in the United States. Louisiana stands with accolades of improvement for others to take notice and to help the citizens of their state feel safe. The change has taken place and will continue to take place. Louisiana is not going to rest on her laurels. No, the response seen from Hurricane Katrina will not happen again. What a difference a hurricane made.
About The Author
ScottGreeson has his BA with Honors in Emergency and Disaster Managementfrom the American Military University where he studied under Dr. TomPhelan. He worked as an assistant director with ClaiborneParish OHSEP in Louisiana for five years and is currently theplanning section chief with Dallas County Office of EmergencyManagement.