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Hurricane Katrina Military Response Essay

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Document Type:Essay



The major problem that New Orleans faced in the wake of Hurricane Katrina was a lack of preparedness and leadership at both the local and the federal level. New Orleans’ Incident Command System (ICS) was not prepared for the type of flooding the city saw. Prior to the hurricane, the ICS had really only been trained in responding to fires. The ICS failed to know what steps to take to respond to the various needs of the people at the time (Samaan & Verneuil, 2009). The emergency operations center (EOC) was more of a liability than an asset as it had not been trained for such a disaster either. A National Response Plan had not been developed nor was there a National Incident Management System, which meant FEMA was not ready to act (Lewis, 2009; Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina, 2006). Thus, it was basically up to the military to provide assistance, and since the military—particularly the U.S. Coast Guard was animated by coherent and unified “spirit of mission,” it was able to rise to the challenge and provide relief, support and rescue operations that FEMA and the local agencies were unable to give. This paper will discuss the role of the military in the disaster response to Katrina.

Coast Guard

The U.S. Coast Guard played one of the most important roles. The Brookings Institution (2007) has stated that “the Coast Guard rescue teams had pulled roughly 33,000 stranded Katrina victims off rooftops and overpasses” and that Admiral Allen “was personally responsible for injecting some capacity for interoperability among the various civilian agencies at different levels—local, state and federal—integrating with that an effective military response” (p. 3). In other words, the military leadership of Allen is what was required to get the civilian agencies to begin working together and acting coherently. Allen had the training, vision, understanding and experience to pull rank and communicate an effective strategy to the various civilian agencies that had no background, no experience and no real idea of what to do or how to do it.

The Coast Guard brought stability and—most importantly—unified action to the front lines. The thousands rescued by the Coast Guard showed that…

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…relief—assistance and relief that was otherwise not being provided by the DOD or by FEMA.


What the response of the military shows is that communication is essentially, pre-planning is even better, and a spirit of mission is a must. The U.S. Coast Guard had the training, expertise, leadership, experience, vision and spirit of mission to leap into action and take leadership when it became apparent that few others were able to do so. As a result the Coast Guard rescued thousands upon thousands when the city began to flood. The DOD on the other hand found itself largely ineffective as it failed to communicate with FEMA, which in turn had failed to ready the city of New Orleans and its ICS for such a disaster. The civilian agencies were wanting in leadership and vision. The DOD was not communicating well. However, the National Guard, under Gen. Honore and Gen. Landreneau was able to develop a consistent and coherent strategy to help provide relief and support the Coast Guard in the effort to respond to the disaster that swept across New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane…

Sample Source(s) Used


The Brookings Institution. (2007). 9/11, Katrina and the future of interagency disaster response. Retrieved from

E-PARCC Collaborative Governance Initiative. (2008). Collaboration Amid Crisis: The Department of Defense During Hurricane Katrina Teaching Note. Retrieved from

Lewis, D. E. (2009). Revisiting the administrative presidency: Policy, patronage, and agency competence. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 39(1), 60-73.

Philipps, D. (2017). Seven hard lessons responders to Harvey learned from Katrina. Retrieved from

Samaan, J. L., & Verneuil, L. (2009). Civil–Military Relations in Hurricane Katrina: a case study on crisis management in natural disaster response. Humanitarian Assistance: Improving US-European Cooperation, Center for Transatlantic Relations/Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD/Global Public Policy Institute, Berlin, 413-432.

Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina. (2006). A failure of initiative. Retrieved from

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