Disasters are natural or man-made emergency
events, which have negative economic and social consequences for the affected
Disaster preparedness is defined as measures taken to prepare for and reduce the
effects of disasters in four phases. This is to predict and, where possible, prevent
disasters, mitigate their impact on vulnerable populations, respond to
effectively, and cope with consequences. This definition gives clear concise words to
infer what takes place during preparation stages. Reduce, predict, and prevent, are all
actionable things apart of the mitigation entity of disaster preparedness. This type of
preparedness dates back to the early 20th century. Before then, disasters
were addressed by providing compensation to those most affected. According to David
McEntire, ” Mitigation refers to several things, including risk reduction, loss
minimization, or the alleviation of potential negative impacts associated with
disasters (McEntire, 2015 p.4).
Therefore, hazard mitigation is any
action taken to reduce or eliminate long-term risk to people and property from
natural hazards. In
1944 The Flood Control Act was implemented giving the U.S. the ability to design
and construct dams in order to prevent river floods from occurring.

Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency
Assistance was signed into law November 23, 1988; it amended the Disaster
Relief Act of 1974. This act
constitutes the statutory authority for most federal disaster response
activities. In the
past 40 years the United States has worked diligently to incorporate disaster
preparedness into the workings of government. These efforts include corporations such as the
Emergency Broadcast System and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA),
an agency implemented due to the number of disasters taking place in the U.S. FEMA plays a critical
role in meeting the needs of affected populations by servicing small business
loans, personal property detainment, temporary housing, emergency food,
unemployment assistance, and home repair. These services are meant to transition a
disaster survivor back into a normal pace of living.

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            As time and society evolves, natural
disasters become more of a danger to the world. Hurricane Floyd, which destroyed an entire
community, highlights on how disaster preparedness is not yet where it needs to
be. September
16, 1999 Hurricane Floyd being a category two storm made landfall. In addition
to the storm surge from Hurricane Floyd, another storm came through and dropped
16 inches of rain. This chain of events placed the town of Princeville, NC
completely under water. More than 700 homes were destroyed, and 52 lives were
lost. In response, FEMA handed out $26 million to Princeville’s more than 2,000
residents and another $1.5
million to the town to rebuild after Floyd’s floodwaters recede (Bowens, 2011). This still was
insufficient and did not bring Princeville where it needed to be, nor keep
people in the community.

            In his article “Reclaiming Sacred
Ground,” Victor Blue recorded that before the 1999 flood that hit Princeville,
the community had been living and fighting through disaster after disaster. Major floods occurred
two years after the community’s founding and again in 1919, 1924, 1928, 1940
and 1958. Time
after time, residents evacuated, came back and rebuilt. But residents grew
fatigued of this periodic disruption of their lives without sustainable
solutions for mitigation and repair. In 1967, a 3-mile long levee was completed to
protect the city from being flooded by the Tar River. The community was back
on its feet and thriving.

         Moving forward to August of
2005, Hurricane Katrina Struck the gulf cost as a category 3 hurricane with
100-140 mile an hour winds. The storm did great damage. Similar to Princeville
N.C, the storm surge caused the levees to break, which made this event
catastrophic. When the levees broke it placed New Orleans under water resulting
in massive deaths, and destroyed properties. There were high amounts of
scrutiny placed on FEMA from the citizens of the United States. The victims of
the storm were outraged at how delayed the government on all three levels was
with providing relief. With these two events being a pivotal milestone for
emergency manage how did government change to provide more effective service
when dealing with disasters? This paper will discuss the issue with disaster
preparedness and hazard mitigation, compare and contrast the history and
present time as it relates to past and current events, and give policy implications.


Understanding the Princeville flood and
Hurricane Katrina can provide deep insight concerning issues surrounding
disaster preparedness, performance and effectiveness. As previously stated,
FEMA gave $26 million to the Princeville community and another $7 million in
the form of grants. All of the money was invested in one community. However,
today there is no evidence of what has come of it. Some may believe this is due
to the low economic and cultural value. The Housing and Urban Development
organization at this time was also facing turmoil that lead to victory in

In 1998, Congress approved housing reforms to
reduce segregation by race and income (Congress 2013). In studying the
evacuation decisions of African Americans during Katrina, Wilson et al (2010)
found racial barriers. These barriers included low socioeconomic status, having
little money, a perceived need to stay and protect valuables due to
neighborhood crime and violence, alleged racism in evacuation transportation,
and apathy towards low-income African Americans on the part of officials. Also
regarding Katrina, Wilson et al (2010) recorded that many residents of New
Orleans were confused about what to do because of inappropriate timing and
mandatory evacuation orders. There are other factors that affect issues
concerning disasters and evacuation methods including past experience, traffic,
immobility, lack of transportation, limited social capital and desire to
shelter in place.

After reviewing literature about both the
Princeville flood of 1999, and Hurricane Katrina it is clear that the main
issues with disaster preparedness include, but are not limited to, monetary
funds, low economic value in communities, government’s ineffectiveness in
warning procedures, mitigation requirements, and recovery protocol, all of
which will be looked at when going into the history of disaster preparedness.


The Federal Government has been involved in
disaster preparedness and hazard mitigation in the United States for over 200
years. Government involvement began December 26, 1802 when a fire burned down
Portsmouth, New Hampshire, destroying most of the large areas of this important
seaport. The fire was so devastating it threatened commerce throughout the
northeast section of the nation. Days later, Congress suspended bond payment
for several months and redirected those funds to disaster recovery, which in
turn created the first act of federal disaster relief in American history.

            In the past 40 years the Federal
Government has worked on creating and evolving the way the United States handles
disaster preparedness. In 1970, President Nixon implemented the Disaster
Assistance Act (DAA), which codified all disaster relief legislation to date,
and made hazard mitigation a federal priority. This act created a lifeline for
individuals to receive federal loans and tax assistance in order to hold
temporary housing and relocation for disaster survivors. As the storms evolved
so did the legislation toward disaster preparedness. In 1974 The Disaster
Relief Act (DRA) was put in place and amended the DAA to distinguish
emergencies from major disasters, establish a declaration process, and
emphasize long-term recovery. This act instilled economic recovery programs for
major disaster areas, initiated mitigation plans and projects, and provided
grants to states for the development of plans and prevention.

stated previously, The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency
Assistance Act of 1988 amended the DRA to encourage local and state governments
to develop extensive disaster preparedness plans, prepare for intergovernmental
coordination in the face of disaster, and provide federal assistance programs
due to a disaster. The United States saw some problems with giving federal
assistance without a mitigation plan, foreseeing an extensive amount of unnecessary
spending if local and state governments were not prepared for a possible
natural or manmade disaster. Thus, it created the Disaster Mitigation Act of
2000. This act repealed the mitigation planning provisions and required local
mitigation plans as a condition of increased federal funding. Hurricane Katrina
was one of emergency management’s greatest fails, as it was not prepared for
the massive hurricane that totaled New Orleans. After the federal emergency
management system failed, the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act
(PKEMRA) was created. This act requires Federal Emergency Management Agency
(FEMA) to develop improved disaster recovery planning guidance.

Additionally in the interest of disaster
preparedness and long-term recovery, FEMA developed the National Disaster
Recovery Framework (NDRF). NDRF was adopted in September 2011, for use by other
federal inter-agency partners to analyze and improve existing data, and
materials. This will enable better data-centric decisions and encourage the
target community to recover more effectively following disaster-related events.

The most recent change in emergency management
legislation was President Obama’s Presidential Policy Directive 8: National
Preparedness (PPD-8). This directive is intended to guide how different levels
of government and local citizens can work to prevent, protect against,
mitigate, respond, and recover from threats that pose the greatest risk,
natural or manmade, to the security of the nation. 

Having a basis of how emergency management has
evolved is a great tool in order to move forward in protecting and mitigating
the U.S from future disasters. There are still pros and cons that need to be
addressed when dealing with emergency management. Resiliency is a relatively new
concept in United States disaster preparedness practices. Acknowledging that
natural and manmade disasters will occur, increasing resiliency will give
society the ability to bounce back more effectively. Busch (2013) states that
this method represents an evolution in U.S. disaster preparedness as a whole.
He identifies with the fact that the government stresses disaster preparedness
(measures taken before a disaster), however, they do not fortify with the act
of resiliency. The government’s use of pre and post procedural checklist of
actions to be taken can be more effective if they not only enforce the
preparation efforts but also long-term recovery.

            Low-income communities are also
tremendously affected by disasters and the plans concerning evacuating them
from the destroyed areas. According to Hufstader (2013) Katrina brought issues
of race and class to the forefront. He describes the strategies for disaster
preparedness for African American and Latinos as vulnerable. He states that
Katrina demonstrated the absence of a functional link between low-income
communities and emergency management teams. The authority’s inability to
communicate effectively in these communities shows a marginalization in the
United States disaster preparedness model.

            Although there are some flaws in the
government’s ability to produce effective outcomes in emergency management, the
Department of Homeland Security has plans in place to assure some form of
improved disaster assistance. The Public Housing Disaster Preparedness Act of
2013 is a great example of this. This act requires the Secretary of Housing and
Urban Development to require each public housing agency that owns, operates, or
assists at least 500 dwelling units to develop a disaster response and relief

Federal Emergency Management Agency has four
phases put in place to help individuals and communities get through a natural
or manmade disaster. These for phases include mitigation, preparedness,
response, and recovery. Contrary to Hufstader (2013), FEMA has created a way
for all who are affected by a disaster to receive help. Emergency management
agencies no longer need approval from local or state government once a national
disaster has been declared in an area. This type of urgency was implemented
after Katrina (PKEMRA). Take the recent flooding in Louisiana for example:
walking through the four phases of emergency management, FEMA has completed
each phase with forcefulness.

The FEMA Incident Management Assistance Team
(IMAT) created the preparedness phase by working with local and state
government in Louisiana to create a plan to ensure safety of citizens. Once the
flooding occurred and receded back into the rivers, FEMA sent in their Disaster
Survivor Assistance (DSA) teams to respond by canvassing areas seeking those
affected by the disaster. Furthermore, setting up Disaster Recovery Centers in
low-income areas to help get survivors registered for assistance. The NDRF, as
previously discussed, is a framework to work on the long-term recovery as well
as mitigation. They provide the third and fourth phase of emergency management.
The NDRF comes in and works with local government and officials on how they can
work together to bring back their communities to pre-disaster standard. They
also find ways to use the damaged areas to rebuild and mitigate future
disasters in the same areas and homes.


            After reviewing the history, past and
current disasters, it is clear that there have been improvements in the scope
of disaster preparedness. Evaluating the current disasters that are taking
place in the United States, emergency management activity has been at an
all-time high. Taking a look at the most recent disaster in Louisiana which
flooded more than 5,000 homes, emergency officials have stepped in and provided
alternative housing for displaced survivors until water recedes. Currently
there are seven evacuation shelters throughout northern Louisiana.  In a little over one month, FEMA has
registered 36,572 residents over for assistance, and granted over $75 million
to survivors, $58 million for housing assistance and $15 million in other needs
assistance. Emergency response to the Princeville disaster lacked the ability
for private and public sector to work together with local and state government
officials. Currently, those partnerships have improved tremendously. The
Housing Urban Development organization now works with different government
agencies to ensure low-income areas receive fair housing opportunity after a

            During the time of
preparation, The National Weather Center was tracking Katrina very closely.
They provided accurate information to all three levels of government. They
issued an apocalyptic advisory providing information on what will happen upon
impact of Katrina. Officials knew that mass flooding was going to happen,
instant death to those exposed to the storm, properties were going to be
destroyed. But still, no extra measures were taken to combat these situations.
The government on all three levels was not prepared for the aftermath of
hurricane Katrina.


            The inner workings of disaster preparedness
will need to continue evolving as the United States faces more and more
disasters. After analyzing literature, it is very certain that emergency
management is making tremendous strides. Princeville, which was once a great
town, was not helped economically in order to bring the citizens back to
rebuild once more. This was in large part due to socioeconomic and racial
disparity. Congress approved legislation to relinquish race as a means of
segregation in communities in 1998; however, this reform had not yet truly been
enforced when the Princeville disaster occurred. Therefore, residents of
Princeville did not fully benefit from the reform and the residents were
prevented from full recovery. Now, there is a partnership between HUD and FEMA
to ensure low-income communities have equal opportunities regarding housing
after a disaster. This more adequately addresses issues of income disparity
when a disaster occurs.

New Orleans, although not helped effectively by
emergency management after Hurricane Katrina, is now back to some pre-disaster
standard of a functioning community. FEMA’s disaster plans for the future
include preventing loss of life and injuries and avoiding unnecessary expenses
prior to the time a disaster strikes through improved infrastructure and
mitigation. NDRF and its long-term recovery work is a significant stride in
achieving this goal. The past 40 years in disaster management have tested the
work of the government to ensure safety among citizens of the United States.
Although some methods have failed in the past, current disaster readiness and
the improvements in emergency management methods provide hope for future
disaster preparedness and mitigation efforts.


            The Federal Emergency Management Agency
policies include fostering a whole community approach to emergency management
nationally, building the nations capacity to stabilize and recover from events,
building unity of effort and common strategies, and enhancing FEMA’s ability to
learn and innovate. Looking on a community level, the Housing and Urban
Development organization is working with FEMA to design national disaster
resilience. The limitation with this policy is that there is not enough
foresight of natural disasters before they occur. If the goal is to reach all
communities then there should be informational programs in place to help in
this effort. I recommend that FEMA work with local and state governments across
the U.S. to provide statewide emergency management testing and drills. It would
be beneficial to create an innovative ways to work with all communities to
train, prepare, and assist in any type of disaster.

Public safety organizations have major influences
on disaster response, by providing first responders. Local and state safety officials
play a key role in many operations including search and rescue, evacuations,
door-to-door checks, and maintaining overall public safety within the
community. Responding to disasters is a shared responsibility. Those that are
part of these organizations are aware that emergency management planning is for
all hazards and that it takes effort to keep our community safe. Public safety
professionals will be impacted by this policy change through teaching,
training, and preparing citizens for future disasters. This may impact an
agency’s need of more officials, as this task may need its own separate
division. This could possibly create new jobs for civilian or sworn local and
state officer.


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