Directory  |  Contact Us  |  Intranet  |  Harvard University

Search this site

1844.0 Hurricane Katrina (B): Responding to an "Ultra-Catastrophe" in New Orleans

When Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast on Monday morning, August 29, it cut a wide swath of destruction in the area; but despite inflicting enormous damage, it initially appeared that the storm had spared low-lying New Orleans the worst of its wrath. But as Katrina moved on, it soon became clear to those who had not evacuated the city that something was going very wrong: almost every part of New Orleans began to flood, and by the next day roughly 80 percent of it would be under water. The rapidly rising floodwaters, the result of three major breaches in the levees protecting the city, created a massive humanitarian crisis. Tens of thousands of residents escaped to rooftops or attics, where they waited anxiously for rescue, or waded in waist-deep water to find shelter; many went to the Superdome, which was already packed with people who had waited out the storm there, or to other improvised shelters in the city. As the days dragged on, it would become increasingly apparent that almost every aspect of the response from state, local, and federal government was falling far short of what was needed: evacuees languished in squalid shelters or on highway overpasses waiting for buses that did not come; looting and more serious crimes were reported to be rampant; food, water, and medical care were in short supply. As public outrage grew, fed by TV footage of distraught storm victims, emergency response officials and political leaders, all the way up to President George W. Bush, found themselves scrambling to cope with the "ultra-catastrophe" that Katrina had visited on New Orleans.

This case tells the story of the first week of the post-landfall response to Katrina, describing both the devastation left by the storm and the largely ineffective efforts of officials to respond to the overwhelming need it created. It provides an opportunity to consider the operational issues of emergency response, particularly the problems of interagency, interjurisdictional, and intergovernmental coordination in an enviroment where infrastructure and communications systems had been almost entirely destroyed. Used in tandem with Part A, the case provides a before-and-after look at the response to Katrina, but it can also be taught as a freestanding case.

Date Published: 6/19/2006
Format: PAPER
(incl. exhibits)
Authors: Esther Scott
Sponsors: Arnold Howitt
Funding Source:National Preparedness Leadership Initiative

Please email comments and suggestions regarding this web site to Case Administration.

Copyright © 2014 President and Fellows of Harvard College