*****Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security. By Christopher Cooper and Robert Block; published by Henry Holt and Company, www.henryholt.com (Web); 352 pages; $16.
Before Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on New Orleans, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), had already cited a powerful hurricane hitting New Orleans as one of their worst-case scenarios, yet the agencies made little effort to prepare. Even a FEMA-funded exercise prior to Katrina, dubbed “Hurricane Pam,” did not spur development of a plan for a catastrophic hurricane.
What caused that lack of preparation? The authors of this work explore the unusual division of responsibilities for maintaining New Orleans’ levees, finding that the approach contributed to the lack of adequate levee protection for the city. The Army Corps of Engineers shares responsibility with the state-controlled Orleans Levee District, and the city Sewerage and Water Board, which is controlled by the mayor. The agencies had different goals and, at times, poor working relationships.
The authors also examine the DHS-administered National Response Plan. Local emergency managers complained repeatedly before the storm (and still do) that it focuses too heavily on terrorist attacks, while natural disasters are far more common.
Katrina provided two very important lessons for security professionals engaged in business continuity or crisis management planning. First, make sure your decision makers can receive information directly from the field with as little filtering as possible. Second, make sure you can trust your partners—public or private—to deliver what they have promised in a crisis. Private entities must maintain an ongoing, robust dialogue with government partners, especially at the local level, concerning emergency management capabilities.
Those lessons, and others, make this well-written book a valuable resource for security officials in all sectors. The authors clearly demonstrate why U.S. government planning and response to Katrina was a disaster in itself.
Reviewer: Lloyd F. Reese, CPP, CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional), has worked for the U.S. Government, a Fortune 50 Company, and a consulting business. He is a member of ASIS International.