Many of the problems exposed by the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, from breakdowns in disaster planning to a mismanaged recovery, have yet to be addressed by the federal government, a new report from the Institute for Southern Studies finds.
Funded by the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health, the report, Learning From Katrina: Lessons From Five Years of Recovery and Renewal in the Gulf Coast (47 pages, PDF), found that flaws in federal policy could put lives at risk and hamper rebuilding efforts in the wake of future Gulf Coast disasters unless the president and Congress take action to address them. For example, while inadequate disaster planning and response put thousands of Gulf Coast residents in harm's way before, during, and after Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has only now released a new disaster response framework — and even that ignores internationally recognized standards for protecting storm victims.
According to the ISS report, federal officials have yet to beef up investigations into waste, fraud, and abuse by contractors despite widespread calls for private contractor reform. And the availability of affordable housing, decent schools, and healthcare continue to be significant challenges. Indeed, if the Gulf Coast is to fully recover, the report argues, lawmakers must acknowledge the unique level of hardship and devastation that four hurricanes (Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike) and the BP oil spill have visited on the region and create a framework for a coordinated response that addresses the need for economic growth, environmental sustainability, and community building.
"These disasters brought communities together like never before, and it was a tremendous opportunity to challenge the long-term problems in the region," said Gulf Coast Fund executive director LaTosha Brown. "The grassroots infrastructure is in place, and what we need now is greater investment in these community groups and leaders."