Monday, September 12, 2011

Katrina versus Irene--Did FEMA Learn?

Over the last few weeks, leaders from across the nation have faced many crisis situations including historic wildfires, hurricanes and flooding. As Hurricane Irene set her sights on the East Coast, I reflected upon the government's response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Would Hurricane Irene release her wrath upon a still recovering New York City, most specifically Manhattan? Had the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) learned from the disaster experienced with Hurricane Katrina?

I recalled an earlier blog post showcasing an Washington Post's On Leadership interview with Craig Fugate, FEMA Director, regarding lessons learned from the Hurricane Katrina response. View for yourself whether Fugate responded to Hurricane Irene as he said he would after Hurricane Katrina.

I was intrigued by some of the recent public responses to Hurricane Irene. After the Hurricane Katrina disaster, I was amazed to hear the assertions that the government's response to Hurricane Irene was excessive, namely those inconvenience by evacuations in the New York City area. Just as with Hurricane Katrina, the full extent of the disaster was felt long after the hurricane passed. Historic flooding has been a life-changing event for many. Would those inconvenienced had the same response if New York City had taken a direct hit? Did what became a practice drill prepare those residents for a future event or will complacency reign?

As fire leaders, we must look at every incident as an unsual event and plan accordingly. There is no place for complacency in our decision making.

Additional reading:
FEMA Ready to Lead Through the Storm?, Jena McGregor, On Leadership, August 26, 2011.

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