I would like to say that I will come up with something brilliant never before said about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. I wish that were true. There have been endless books investigating the Hurricane Katrina tragedy from multiple angles. David Brinkley’s book, the Great Deluge, maybe the most complete. New Orleans’s own daily newspaper, the Times Picayune, has done a magnificent job at relentlessly chasing down details. Finally, Spike Lee’s documentary, When the Levees Broke, personalizes some of the pain and suffering.
Before Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Georges hit the Gulf Coast in 1998 and narrowly missed New Orleans. This hurricane revealed several problems. City, state and federal officials met in 1999 in order to plan an adequate response. The state of Louisiana formally wrote FEMA and requested a planning exercise in August of 2000. It took four years before the exercise actually happened. In July 2004, Hurricane Pam began. There were over 300 participants in this five-day exercise. Hurricane Pam, by all accounts, was a realistic category three hurricane with sustained winds up to 120 mph. Using simulations from the National Weather Service and the US Army Corps of Engineers, the participants simulated over 20 inches of rain falling in parts of southern Louisiana. The storm surge topped the levees. The simulation assumed that over 300,000 people could not get out of the city in spite of mandatory evacuations. They also assumed that over half million buildings would’ve been destroyed. Over 100,000 people were injured and 60,000 killed. This was serious.
After the simulation, an after action report was filed. The most remarkable thing about this after action report is the number of areas where the letters TBA (to be announced) up here in the report. The report is incomplete. Large responsibilities have not been decided. In football, there is a saying, “You play like you practice.” In this case, the simulation showed huge gaps in our response. In reality, there is huge gaps in our response. In my opinion, any serious look at Katrina must start with a look at Hurricane Pam and the inter-agency problems that Pam revealed.