Lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina could help the Federal Emergency Management Agency avoid some of the same mistakes in disaster relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey — but the widespread flooding in Texas could be a test for FEMA Director Brock Long’s push to ask states and localities to pay more for recovery than in the past, says a Virginia Tech expert who grew up on the Texas Gulf Coast and now specializes in how governments manage emergencies.
"FEMA has learned one of the major lessons of Katrina – that they need to preposition resources close to the site of the damage but far enough away so that the resources themselves aren’t in danger. Once the storm clears, they can begin to send trucks, tents, food, generators, and water to the affected areas,” says Patrick Roberts, an associate professor in Virginia Tech’s School of Public and International Affairs and the author of “Disasters and the American State: How Politicians, Bureaucrats, and the Public Prepare for the Unexpected.”
On recovery challenges: “Long term recovery will be a challenge if people from coastal cities such as Rockport have to relocate for long periods of time, or if Houston neighborhoods become uninhabitable. FEMA will have to work with HUD and other agencies to connect support for long term housing to economic development in the affected areas. Interagency cooperation will be key.”
On federal support: "The recovery period will be a test for FEMA Director Brock Long’s plan to ask states and localities to pay more for recovery than they did in the past. This has been one of his goals. He’s floated the idea of a disaster deductible, where states pay a certain amount of costs first, before federal funds kick in.”
On other challenges: "Houston has the nation’s largest concentration of refineries and petrochemical plants. Billions of gallons of oil and chemicals are at risk during a disaster. The industry has taken steps to protect oil and chemicals and to restore operations, but it will take weeks to assess the damage.”
Virginia Tech’s Patrick Roberts grew up along the Texas Gulf Coast. He remembers preparing for hurricanes by boarding up his house and standing in long lines for water and food, ready to be without power for days. He is based at Virginia Tech’s National Capital Region near Washington, D.C. His research traces the development of disaster and security organizations and their capacity, performance, and especially their degree of autonomy, or ability to develop and pursue a perspective independent of the will of elected politicians and interests. Full bio here.
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