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Four Phases of Emergency Management Lessons from Hurricane Katrina

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Phase 1 –Mitigation

Mitigation is the first phase of emergency management. Mitigation is an important tool since it applies the use of procedures prior to a disaster. By utilizing mitigation, communities should be able to reduce deaths and decrease the impact that natural disasters have on property and infrastructure (Haddow & Bullock, 2010).

During the mitigation phase of emergency management, susceptible areas are identified. This can be done a number of ways. For example, Shuttle Radar Topography Mission’s data can be useful to identify areas vulnerable to flooding (NASA, 2005). Once the hazardous areas have been identified, grants are available. This allows communities the opportunity to apply for federal endowments such as the Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) grant. Another grant that may be applied for is the Repetitive Flood Claims Program (RFC). Mitigation is a long term investment by the federal government so that risks can be prioritized, analyzed and corrected (FEMA-Mitigation, 2012).

Phase 2-Preparedness

The next step in emergency management is preparedness. The National Incident Management System, NIMS, describes preparedness as a cycle. This learning sequence includes, "a continuous cycle of planning, organizing, training, equipping, exercising, evaluating, and taking corrective action in an effort to ensure effective coordination during incident response" (FEMA-National Preparedness, 2012).

Phase 3- Response

The third phase of emergency management is response. Response is an action that occurs during the beginning of a particular hazard, continues during impact of the threat and is still employed during re-establishment of the affected area or areas.

Throughout the response phase, plans that have been executed during training in the preparedness stage become crucial elements to reserve life, safeguard property and protect the environment. These steps all help to ensure organization in “the social, economic, and political structure of the community” before, during and after a disaster. An example of actions that take place during the response stage is activating the emergency plan itself and activating the EOC, Emergency Operation Center (Comprehensive Emergency Management, 1993).

Phase 4- Recovery

The Recovery stage immediately begins after a disaster. This phase is an essential part of steadying the community affected. Throughout recovery the federal government often steps in and helps occupants “establish basic functionality” (Comprehensive Emergency Management, 1993). During recovery a number of different things happen. It is likely that the community is covered in debris therefore clean-up is necessary. Government grants are available on state, tribal, local, and individual levels. Moreover, care for individual support usually continues on a mass scale for those who have become displaced during the catastrophe. During this time, roads, bridges, dams and utilities among other things are fixed or rebuilt.

The Application of the Four Phases of Emergency Management & What You May Not Know About Key Players Years Before Hurricane Katrina Occurred


Before Katrina - FEMA Director James Witt

It is hard to believe that a catastrophe of such mass destruction would occur here in The United States of America, or is it? In the early 1990s FEMA Director James Witt identified New Orleans’ vulnerability during a Category 5 Hurricane. In fact, it was called one of the three possible worst scenarios that could occur within the United States.

During his service as the Director of FEMA he favored risk mitigation. Under Witt, “Project Impact: Building Disaster Resistant Communities” was realized (Haddow& Bullock, 2010). Project Impact requests that all stakeholders and businesses for the first time, identify risks, make a plan that reduced the risks identified and then form relationships within the community. James Witt encouraged open communication, technology, and resource delivery. Witt broke down barriers between federal, state, tribal, and local governments and their agencies.

Test Your Knowledge

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Hurricane season in the Atlantic starts June 1st and ends November 30th.
    • True
    • False
  2. Hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons are all similar. Due to geographical location they have different names.
    • True
    • False
  3. Cyclones occur in the Northwest Pacific?
    • True
    • False
  4. If this weather occurrence activates in the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific, what is it called?
    • A typhoon
    • A hurricane
    • A cyclone
  5. Typhoons occur in the Northwest Pacific?
    • True
    • False

Answer Key

  1. True
  2. True
  3. False
  4. A hurricane
  5. True

After James Witt- FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh Takes the Reigns on Feb 7, 2001

Unfortunately, Witt was replaced by Allbaugh as the FEMA director (Haddow& Bullock, 2010). One could argue that this was the first mistake because Allbaugh had no experience in emergency management. There was a large degree of mitigation missing in New Orleans, especially, given that the area had been identified as a disaster waiting to transpire.

HMDP should have been employed in New Orleans prior to Katrina and Congress should have had the oversight of the use of these funds once they were given to state, tribal and local government agencies. Moreover pre-disaster mitigation was not performed on a number of different identified risks within the community. According to the 109th Congress, “Implementation of lessons learned from Hurricane Pam (the mock hurricane scenario, which tax dollars paid for in 2004) were incomplete,” training exercises, maintenance and a cautioning system to warn of a breach failure should have been in place during Katrina, but were not (109th Congress 2nd Session, 2006).

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Take A Poll

It is obvious that these tasks should have been completed. Furthermore, there was a complete breakdown of communication on all levels of government. Training exercises within particular agencies such as the New Orleans’ Police Department, Fire Department, and EMS should have been taking place regularly, and with one another. Similarly, local first responders should have been interacting and training with the state, tribal and federal government agencies, more than annually, perhaps quarterly.

The equipment failed. Army Corps of Engineers’ pumping stations made to alleviate pressure from the levees by pumping excessive water into Lake Pontchartrain were poorly maintained or not working , but should have been addressed regularly in the form of Preventive Maintenance Checks and Services (PMCS). New Orleans is below sea level, a Category 5 Hurricane was identified as able to breach the levees and the pumps should have been a line of defense, but they were not. Perhaps, applying for grants, utilizing the best available technology and regular maintenance would have helped here.

Under FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh (Phase 2 Preparedness) Missing

Additionally, preparedness was missing during Katrina. Part of preparedness is training, identifying weaknesses, implementing corrective action, resource identification and cycle like routine of planning and training. Katrina showed the world that even the richest country was no match for the wrath of Mother Nature when organization is missing. And, it was missing. Remember, Congressional findings uncovered that the, “Implementation of lessons learned from Hurricane Pam were incomplete (109th Congress 2nd Session, 2006).


What Should Have Happened - Training

This area is prone to hurricanes and flooding. Bi-monthly training should have been happening here and needs to happen here regularly. Perhaps local level departments could divide forces up and get people on teams based on individual strengths. For example, rotate a few police, a few fire fighters and a few EMS and get them on teams together. Begin training exercises. These teams could rotate, learn to interact and perform training exercises while not leaving their own departments shorthanded and still getting everyone trained. Perhaps, these could be mandatory rotations for each individual belonging to any local first responders unit. Every person is an asset if they are trained.

Reaching out to the community NGOs and business leaders is indispensable when training because then everyone learns their role and knows what is expected of them during a disaster. Importantly, this serves as a communications check, too. Communication and public safety go hand and hand. During a disaster, without communication organization does not take place. That is a waste of resources and supplies that a disaster area cannot afford.


Hurricane Katrina- Shockingly Uncoordinated

Local, state and federal responses to Hurricane Katrina were shockingly uncoordinated and way under par. Emergency management is, “a discipline that deals with risk and risk avoidance” (Haddow& Bullock, 2010). The emergency was present; however, the management was not. The Principal Federal Official, Michael Brown, like Allbaugh was not trained in emergency management. This lack of proper training seems like a reoccurring problem on all levels of government when examining the facts of Katrina.

What seemed obvious, was later confirmed when individuals’ credentials for emergency management were examined, for what seemed like the first time. Maybe, people with the proper level of emergency management experience and education should hold these positions.As soon as the Mayor was notified that Katrina was going to hit New Orleans a mandatory evacuation should have been ordered, organized and enforced.

On the other hand and politically pondering, one may even argue that the negligence began with Governor Kathleen Blanco because President G.W. Bush urged Blanco to declare a state of emergency, which she did not. It was the President who declared the state of Louisiana a state of emergency. And, to be fair to Governor Blanco, President Bush could have chosen a FEMA Director who actually was practiced in what the acronym FEMA means. Additionally, New Orleans is, or was at the time, the Mayor’s city. Training for evacuation would have helped here. He should know who lives in his city. A quick check of the census bureau would have informed him that he was dealing with many citizens who cannot afford to evacuate due to economic hardship.


The Buses

Charters of buses should have been under contract and rolling in while public announcements (television, radio and internet) regarding evacuation schedules and destination were being communicated to the public. This did not happen.

Correspondingly, first responders should have been out in force knocking on doors getting these people either out or getting them ready to get out. Mayor Nagin should have been in touch with all available resources due to his contact with the governor and the governor’s relationship with the federal government. The shelters should have already been set up. Witt said this could happen. Considering the lack of training and the knowledge of what was about to occur, the National Guard should have been requested immediately.



Recovery has been slow for New Orleans. One of the reasons for this slow recovery is because of the lack of organization and the inabilities to actually follow the money. A loose budget is not a sign of organization. Throwing money at a problem as a solution instead practicing oversight is non-desirable at any stage but especially in a time of recovery. In 2010, 120,000 FEMA trailers were to be sold for “pennies on the dollar” (Hsu, 2010).

Can anyone imagine how many hours of emergency management training this money would have purchased? What if this money had been spent on training prior to Hurricane Katrina?

Mother Nature is unpredictable and dangerous, but it could be argued that training would have softened her blow to mankind. It is clear that local, state, tribal, and federal governmental agencies lacked in training. This lead to a failure in communication. Pre-Disaster Mitigation seemed to be missing and seems to be what was needed. When training does not take place corrective actions cannot take place.


109th Congress 2nd Session. (2006). A FAILURE OF INITIATIVE. Final Report of the Select Bipartisan Committee to investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina.

Comprehensive Emergency Management. (1993).

FEMA. (2012). National Preparedness.

FEMA. (2012). What is Mitigation?

Haddow, G. D. & Bullock, J. A. (2010). Introduction to emergency management (4th ed.). Burlington, MA: Elsevier Inc.

Hsu, Spencer. (2010). The Washington Post. FEMA's sale of Katrina trailers sparks criticism.

Locke, William. (2005). Montana State University. Teaching with Hurricane Katrina: the physiography, climate, storm and impact.

NASA. (2005). New Orleans Topography.

© 2014 Suzanl

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