Leadership Failure: Hurricane Katrina

Leadership is essential in preparedness and response to disasters, as it determines the effectiveness of the approach. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina befell the Louisiana Mississippi border causing damage and deaths in what was perceived as the worst natural disaster in the United States history (Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina, 2006). The calamity submerged large areas thus destroying property and endangering lives, and there was the need for evacuation. The effects of the disaster were overwhelming, and even if it had been beyond human control, good leadership in the pre-disaster as well as the response phases would have minimized the damage hence lessening the severity of the catastrophe. However, since the leadership failed at the local state and the federal levels, non-governmental as well as private organizations left the people helpless in the wake of the disaster since the kind of assistance they got was not substantial and could never alleviate their suffering (Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina, 2006). Regarding the incident, the way the population, organizations, and institutions acted before and after the calamity manifests serious deficiencies in the leadership level of disaster preparedness and response therefore making Hurricane Katrina a lesson for the current as well as future leaders.

Leadership Failures in the Pre-disaster Period

Leadership failure is evident in the pre-disaster phase since the relevant people and institutions did not manage to do what was expected of them. Reports indicate that the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center issued a warning fifty-six hours before the onset of the calamity informing that it would strike and they even gave accurate predictions concerning the strength of the hurricane and the possible damage (Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina, 2006). The governments of Louisiana and Mississippi, as well as the Mayor of New Orleans, appear to have failed in their leadership duties since after receiving the information they did not plan how to evacuate people before the disaster. The leaders of the federal institutions namely the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Authority also were informed, and they did not manage to plan how to evacuate people despite having learned painful lessons from Hurricane Pam in 2004 (Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina, 2006). Regarding the provided information, the leadership of the state governments in Louisiana and Mississippi, New Orleans City, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management depicts poor planning skills since they were unable to evacuate the population even though they had more than two days to do that.

The entire House of Congress and its leadership also failed in the creation of effective disaster preparedness policies concerning disaster prevention, response, and funding. The Federal Emergency Management Authority Officials claim that their institution was poorly financed and staffed; thus, it never had the required power to respond to the disaster (Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina, 2006). It also appears that the Congress had folded the agency into the Department of Homeland Security but never made a clear statement regarding the roles and responsibilities hence creating confusion and conflict. Michael Brown, the Federal Emergency Management Authority director, alleged that he requested the Congress for funds to implement the lessons learned from the Hurricane Pam, but the funds were not availed to him (Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina, 2006). In this perspective, the members of the Congress, a the legislators as well as the leaders of people and the country did not succeed in planning on strengthening the emergency management body through proper funding and staffing hence rendering it ineffective in preparing for disasters.

Nagin, the Mayor of New Orleans, also failed in his leadership since he never imagined the uncertainties that could befall his city. New Orleans was used to flooding since there were periodic floods that had prompted the construction of levees to regulate floods, which frequented the city and the construction of these levees dates back to the early 19th century (Winkleman, 2016). Despite the stability concerns of the levees due to aging, Nagin did not think what could happen if a storm overpowered the walls. Reports also indicate that the war on Iraqi frustrated the renovation of the walls thus leaving them to deteriorate (Winkleman, 2016). However, due to the budget constraints, it is not fair to blame Nagin only but also the state and federal governments. Nevertheless, Nagin’s would be held accountable for whether he adequately advocated for the re-engineering of the walls. In regards to the case, it is evident that Nagin, the state, and federal leaders failed to imagine the uncertainty that would come due to the poor status of the levees that could have reduced the impacts of floods.

Leadership Failures in the Response Period

The response agencies also depicted poor leadership in responding to the disaster. There was a deficiency in leadership manifesting itself as poor coordination of plans between the local and the federal agencies. The United States military played a significant role in the evacuation, and their reaction was swift, massive and effective. However, the coordination between the military as well as the local agencies and governments was poor, and this subjected the military personnel to difficulties in operations thus disabling them from making greater achievements in their rescue operations (Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina, 2006). Firstly, the officers had to develop a plan in a crisis environment since they never received a briefing from the local agencies and the first responders. Secondly, there was no collaboration between the military and other institutions, and the former assumed nearly all roles in the mission. Thirdly, the local authority leaders failed to cooperate and liaise with the military therefore leaving everything for the latter (Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina, 2006). If the local authorities had effectively conducted the search and rescue, the cooperation between them and the military would have brought greater gains regarding the reduction of the death toll as well as shortening of the rescue operations.

The leaders from the local, state and federal government as well as federal agencies did not succeed in the management of information, in addition to coordination of relief and logistics. The Federal Emergency Management Agency leaders did not properly trace the supplies of water, ice, food, medicine and other vital things required by the beneficiaries (The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, 2006). Moreover, there was the lack of smooth flow of information concerning requests from the state government to the federal government, and this led to challenges in meeting the relief needs of the people. Relief supplies were delivered to the victims of the hurricane in Mississippi and Louisiana in ten days; therefore, the population endured terrible sufferings (The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, 2006). The authorities designated collection points for the relief materials but they never considered the problems, which people would have while accessing the points given that the roads were not functional. In consideration of the provided information, it is evident that leaders of the local, state and federal levels mishandled the management of logistics, and this contributed to the worsening of the trouble that the victims of the disaster had to bear while in the rescue centers and camping points.

The political leaders also failed in the response phase since they could not establish a good working relationship, but instead, they were disunited and on bad terms. After Hurricane Katrina struck, the New Orleans Mayor Nagin and the Louisiana State Governor Blanco faced condemnation of the Republican Party officials from the Washington as well as the White House (Winkleman, 2016). On the other hand, the Republicans and the Presidency hailed the Mississippi governor Barbour, their fellow Republican, despite the fact that the calamity had affected the two states in equal measures (Winkleman, 2016). There were also claims that Mississippi had received more attention from the federal government compared to Louisiana thanks to the political affiliation of the governor (Boin, Hart, McConnell, & Preston, 2010). At some point, there were also differences between Nagin and Blanco; therefore, Nagin appeared to have undermined Blanco’s leadership and claimed that the disaster response activities should have been left to the federal government (Winkleman, 2016). Regarding the information provided, all the political leaders mentioned demonstrated poor leadership by politicizing the catastrophe oblivious of the suffering that it had inflicted on the people, and this portrays their incompetence since they should have directed that strength towards addressing the needs of the victims.


Leadership determines the effectiveness of preparedness and response to disasters. Hurricane Katrina that struck Louisiana and Mississippi had adverse impacts on the society, and leadership played an important part. In the disaster, people, institutions as well as the local and federal government failed in leadership qualities thus amplifying the outcomes of the calamity. In the pre-disaster phase, poor leadership was evident. Firstly, Louisiana and Mississippi state governments, as well as the Mayor of New Orleans, disregarded the early warning. Secondly, the Congress did not manage to strengthen the Federal Emergency Management Agency to promote its performance. Thirdly, the New Orleans Mayor Nagin, the state, and federal governments failed to anticipate the consequences and repair the old levees that could not withstand floods. In the response phase, poor leadership was also apparent. Foremost, the states and local agencies did not coordinate the rescue operations; thus, the military acted alone. Additionally, the federal, state and local government could not properly coordinate and manage logistics hence inhibiting effective relief supply. Moreover, the Republicans including the Presidency were engaged in blame games with the Louisiana Governor instead of joining efforts to assist the victims. Regarding the provided information, it is obvious that there was the leadership failure at the various levels, and this worsened the fate of the affected people.


Boin A., Hart P., McConnell A., & Preston T. (2010). Leadership style, crisis response, and blame management: The case of Hurricane Katrina. Public Administration, 88, 706-723. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/227521360_Leadership_Style_Crisis_Response_and_Blame_Management_The_Case_of_Hurricane_Katrina

Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina. (2006). A failure of initiative: Final report of the Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina (Report 109-377). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Washington. Retrieved from https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CRPT-109hrpt377/pdf/CRPT-109hrpt377.pdf

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (2006). Hurricane Katrina: A nation still unprepared. Executive summary. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/national/ExecSum.pdf

Winkleman, N. (2016). The big uneasy: Leadership failures in New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina (Master’s thesis). The University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK. Retrieved from https://shareok.org/bitstream/handle/11244/44908/2016_Winkleman_Nathan_Thesis.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y