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  6. Morning Roundup - August 31st

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Morning Roundup - August 31st

There was quite a bit of coverage over the weekend and this morning about the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. A few highlights below:

From The Hill:

The Obama administration says it is prepared to handle a major natural disaster on par with Hurricane Katrina.

President Barack Obama's White House and agencies are winning high marks from both Democrats and Republicans for efforts at both rebuilding and preparing for other storms, four years after Katrina destroyed the Gulf Coast and damaged the Bush administration's legacy.

The Obama team went to work quickly after taking office, with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano issuing a department-wide directive -- including to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) -- on Jan. 27 to ensure integration between state and federal agencies in planning for disasters.

On Jan. 28, Napolitano ordered a department review of plans to address Katrina's "lingering impacts," according to a White House fact sheet. And then on Jan. 29, FEMA announced an approved $23 million in Hazard Mitigation Grant Programs "to cover the entire cost of elevating 48 residential properties in Orleans Parish to the Advisory Base Flood Elevation."

Obama focused his weekly radio address on his administration's efforts on both the rebuilding and the preparation fronts.

"From the streets of New Orleans to the Mississippi Coast, folks are beginning the next chapter in their American stories," Obama said. "And together, we can ensure that the legacy of a terrible storm is a country that is safer and more prepared for the challenges that may come."

From Security Management:

In the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) post-Hurricane Katrina years under the Bush administration, state officials cited renewed engagement by their agency partners who worked with them directly at the regional level.

States remained less impressed, however, with their DHS partners in the nation's capital, who they said still took a closed-door, dictatorial approach to issues like grant management, handing down strict guidelines from on high while ignoring or disregarding states' needs and wants.

That has begun to change under the Obama administration, according to a report by Deb Weinstein, a student at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, assigned to the Medill News Service bureau in Washington, DC.

From the New York Times:

Houses still sit empty, residents are still scattered and streets still echo with the sounds of hammers and power saws. But on the fourth anniversary of the hurricane that redefined its future, New Orleans is no longer talking about mere recovery.

Yes, people are returning: the number of households receiving mail is now more than three-fourths of the pre-Katrina figures, according to the latest estimates, up from fewer than half three years ago. Projects stalled by red tape and the bad credit market, like the Lafitte public housing complex, are finally getting back on track.

But reverting to the city that existed here before the flood is not the goal. For a city that justly if sometimes self-consciously relishes its own nostalgia, there was much about pre-Katrina New Orleans, from the unstable floodwalls to the stagnant economy, that was best left behind. Employment had not grown for the six years before the storm. The population had been shrinking since the 1960s. In 2005, there were only two

Fortune 500 companies with headquarters here - now there is only one, Entergy, a power company.

So instead of returning to a decaying economic structure, New Orleans is talking about revitalization, a buzzword behind the new energy in the city, carried by an intensity and idealism that would have bordered on indecent in the old, charmingly carefree New Orleans.

From the Christian Science Monitor:

For the survivors, hurricane Katrina lives in memories, photographs, and the empty spaces left by lost friends and objects.

Its immediate toll was tragedy. The storm that crashed into New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast four years ago wreaked a shocking $80 billion in damage and resulted in 1,836 confirmed fatalities. But since then, its overall legacy has broadened and, one hopes, has not been all bad.

Count these among the lessons it taught and the changes it spawned:

.Volunteers matter a lot in a time of crisis.
.FEMA's mission has shifted from a top-down to a bottom-up approach.
.New appreciation has emerged of the need to retain and restore wetlands to help absorb storm surges.
.Storm-tracking capabilities have advanced in ways that improve public safety.
.Hurricanes have moved to the center of the climate-change debate.

"Katrina has become a symbolic event," says Russell Dynes, founding director of the University of Delaware's Disaster Recovery Center, in Newark.

The limits of centralized response

The storm four years ago ripped apart the fabric of New Orleans, but it also left a deep impression on emergency response workers nationwide. It showed, for one thing, how volunteer efforts - churches, college students - played a much more important role than expected and how the centralized response, led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), alienated many of the same people it was intended to help.

After Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) overhauled its National Disaster Plan, incorporating a more bottom-up approach and going back to its roots as a civil, not military, response unit. FEMA's current director, Craig Fugate, is intent on setting policy to reflect his belief that citizens are less victims than crucial first responders.

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Last Updated: 09/20/2018
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