Katrina Exposed Key Failures in Disaster Response, Report Says

According to a new report by the non-profit Institute for Southern Studies, many of the problems exposed in the federal response to Katrina ─ from breakdowns in disaster planning to a misguided and mismanaged recovery ─ have yet to be addressed in Washington.

The report, "Learning from Katrina: Lessons from Five Years of Recovery and Renewal in the Gulf Coast," maintains that key flaws in federal policy will stall Gulf Coast rebuilding and put lives at risk in future disasters unless the President and Congress take action.

Critical issues addressed include poor disaster planning and response put thousands of Gulf residents in harm's way before, during and after Katrina. But after months of delays, FEMA is just now releasing its new disaster framework and it still omits internationally recognized standards for protecting storm victims, the report says. Waste, fraud and abuse by private contractors hurt Katrina relief and recovery efforts and cost taxpayers billions of dollars. Despite widespread calls for contracting reform, federal officials have yet to beef up contractor investigations and oversight that can prevent future scandals. While most Gulf communities have turned the corner, the recovery remains fragile and uneven, according to the report. Problems with affordable housing, schools and health care access are still big obstacles, and have been exacerbated by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike and the BP oil disaster.

The report states that if the Gulf Coast is to fully recover, the U.S. government must acknowledge the unique level of hardship and devastation faced in the region and create a framework for a coordinated response addressing the need for economic growth, environmental sustainability and making communities whole in the face of recent disasters.

"Now, more than ever, it's critical for our nation to remember and honor its commitment to the people and future of the Gulf Coast," says Chris Kromm, report co-author and director, Institute for Southern Studies.

"Learning from Katrina" also documents the decisive role community leaders and advocates played in response to the disasters, galvanizing local residents, heightening the accountability and responsiveness of elected officials, and mobilizing national support for Gulf Coast renewal.

"These disasters brought communities together like never before, and it was a tremendous opportunity to challenge the long-term problems in the region. The grassroots infrastructure is in place, and what we need now is greater investment in these community groups and leaders," stated LaTosha Brown, executive director of the Gulf Coast Fund, a community-led philanthropy that helped fund the report.

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