spea magazine

Speaking Out: Learning from Katrina—What Our Experts Say

Post-Katrina Homeland Security

Charles R. Wise

Charles Wise The events of /11 revealed gaps in the capabilities of the U.S. to integrate the efforts of federal, state, and local agencies for homeland security. To address those gaps, many changes in law and organization were made, including the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the National Strategy for Homeland Security, and the National Response Plan.

The response at all levels of government to Katrina has revealed that the capability gaps still haven’t been closed and that a significant national debate needs to occur about what is needed to fully establish an effective framework to coordinate federal, state, and local efforts to respond to catastrophic events. It is important that post-Katrina inquiries and deliberations go beyond questions of individual culpability for mistakes, focusing instead on systemic issues and the policy questions that need to be resolved to achieve a fully functioning national intergovernmental response capability.

Among the questions that need to be addressed are:

  1. Does the federal government have the right organization in place? If proposals to remove FEMA from the Department of Homeland Security are accepted to address natural hazards such as hurricanes, how effective will future federal actions be in coordinating the response to the next terrorism event? What other organizational changes need to be made to insure coordination among multiple federal agencies such as the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, Health and Human Services, Transportation, Justice, etc.?
  2. Do the existing laws and procedures that govern coordination of the activities of state and local agencies with federal agencies need changing? Are the procedures that govern state and local requests for federal assistance effective? Under what circumstances should federal officials supplant or overrule state and local officials?
  3. What role should the assessment of risk play in the allocation of resources for disaster preparedness? Should states and cities that may have greater risks receive a greater share of federal resources or should the funds be spread more evenly among the states and localities?
  4. How much risk reduction is the public willing to pay for? Should the rebuilding of New Orleans and the other Gulf Coast communities be set to a standard of protecting them from a Category 3, 4, or 5 hurricane? The differences will be calculated in hundreds of billions of dollars. How much of the cost should be paid by federal, state, or local taxpayers?

Every state and community will now need to more systematically assess the risks of emergencies and analyze and debate the alternative levels of risk reduction and the costs associated with them. Congress, President Bush, and the public will need to debate the national objectives and the answers to the above questions.

Charles Wise is a professor at SPEA, IUB. His focus is on public organizations and management, public law, and democratization in comparative politics and administration. Within public organization, his research focuses on interorganizational relationships, and organization design. He also is the director of the Parliamentary Development Project for Ukraine. Professor Wise received his Ph.D. from Indiana University in 1972.