On any given evening, new reports warn Americans and the World of a spectrum of potential natural and man-made disasters which, if realized, could result in widespread devastation. These threats include a bioterrorist attack, an outbreak of an avian flu pandemic, or an onset of intense and more frequent tropical storms resulting from global warming. In 2003, President Bush moved twenty-two agencies into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) which was previously an independent agency whose director held a cabinet-level post. DHS was designed to serve as a new central location for the federal government’s crisis-incident response systems. Critics argue, however, that DHS is too focused on counter-terrorism and that disaster management is losing out.
August 29, 2005 began the first significant test of DHS’s emergency response. Hurricane Katrina, one of the most destructive hurricanes in U.S. history, struck the Gulf Coast region. Katrina was also the most costly natural disaster in U.S. history, causing injury and damage to a region the size of Great Britain. Damage from the storm surpassed the devastation of both Hurricane Camille in 1969 and Hurricane Andrew, which struck Florida in 1992. While there were isolated acts of sheer heroism and courageous rescue, by nearly all accounts, the government’s response mechanisms for evacuation, shelter, provision of basic necessities, and maintenance of civil order failed miserably in the first week after the storm’s landfall. . . .