On September 11, 2017, the New York
Times reported on the story of how the state and federal governments were
responding to Hurricane Harvey (Phillips, 2017). The theme of this story was to
compare and contrast the disaster management approaches during Hurricane Harvey
and those during the 2004 Hurricane Katrina (Phillips, 2017). Furthermore, the
story examined if the local, state and federal authorities had learned from the
Hurricane Katrina. In the New York Times article, the reporter indicated that
during Hurricane Katrina, residents of New Orleans were left stranded in the
floods for several days as the firefighters spent a lot of time completing the
paperwork. During Hurricane Harvey, the reporter noted that the paperwork had
been completed in time thus the response was relatively faster. Nevertheless,
there were still some challenges such as emergency calls being left unanswered,
miscommunication between different agencies and logistical delays (Phillips,
2017). This paper will attempt to examine how federalism is executed during
major national disasters like Hurricane Harvey. Moreover, the author assesses
the disaster management coordination and response (delegated authority
coordination) among all the levels of government in the United States.
Analysis and Discussion
in the United States can be defined as the established relationship between the
state governments and the federal government as defined under the constitution
of the United States (Smith, 2014). The constitution of the United States
clearly defines the roles of each level of governance and circumstances in
which federal and state governments are expected to perform similar roles.
Conventionally, disasters occur at the local level. In this regard, the
communication regarding the occurrence of the disaster follows a bottom-up
approach to the federal level. In this case, local communities, governments,
and voluntary agencies play the primary role in coping with the disaster
damages (Roberts, 2017). For instance, the local authority maintains control of
assets utilized in response and recovery initiatives regardless of the source
of these assets. The local government must invest in early planning and
preparation with the support of the state and federal governments to ensure greater
success of the disaster management programs, (EPA, 2006).
disasters, local authorities are expected to provide an initial emergency
response, create emergency operations center and plan and coordinate the
response of the public and private organizations. In addition, the local
authority must notify the state emergency management of the scope of the
situation, activate mutual aid and request for assistance from the state.
Subsequently, the state government reviews and assesses the extent of the local
situation, determine if the situation is beyond the state capability, declares
a state of emergency and request for federal assistance (Roberts, 2017). Upon
notification by the state authority, the federal government must conduct a
joint damage assessment with the state and local authorities then approves or
rejects the request for federal assistance. If the federal assistance request
is approved, the federal government initiates the Federal Response Plan (FRP),
creates the Emergency Support Team (EST) and determines the Emergency Support
Functions (ESFs) to respond (FEMA, 2017).
National disasters such as Atlantic
storms normally impact on more than one coastal state. Furthermore, the general
impact of the storms can be beyond the capacity of local or state disaster
management operatives. In this regard, the federal government through Federal
Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is expected to assist the affected states to
ensure positive outcomes from the responses (FEMA, 2017). FEMA is staffed with
emergency management experts whose responsibility is to ensure faster response
and that lives are saved. The delegated authority of the state and local
governments and overall responsibility and accountability of the federal
government can, therefore, be seen clearly on the way Hurricane Harvey was
managed (FEMA, 2017).
to recent estimates, Hurricane Harvey was found to be the costliest tropical
cyclone in the history of the United States with estimated damages worth $200
billion (Phillips, 2017). Hurricane Harvey was also the first major hurricane
to make landfall in the United States since 2005. During the four-day storm,
several areas received heavy rainfall as the storm meandered through eastern
Texas and nearby waters causing massive floods. The floods led to the
destruction of hundreds of thousands of homes displacing more than 30000 people
(Phillips, 2017). As result of the extent of this disaster, a
jointly-coordinated response team including local, state, federal and
non-governmental authorities was created. For instance, FEMA, Coast Guard, Customs
and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities
worked together during the preparation, response and disaster control stages.
In addition, FEMA directed disaster emergency response teams at emergency posts
in places such as Austin, Texas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Consequently, Texas
Governor Greg Abbott instructed the entire National Guard to participate in the
search, rescue, and recovery and clean up operations (Phillips, 2017). The
United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement also assigned their employees
from various parts of the country to assist disaster relief efforts.
Hurricane Harvey, FEMA staff was able to get military authorizations approved
before the disaster hit. In this case, disaster response troops were on standby
only needing a nod from the authorities to move into action (FEMA, 2017). In
addition, other agencies also had all the required agreements to facilitate
effective and efficient response. Unlike during Hurricane Katrina, rescuers
such as Marine Corps Reserve’s 4th Reconnaissance Battalion in San Antonio were
well prepared thus there were no delays in civilians’ rescue operations due to
the use of inflatable boats. On the other hand, the challenges and failures
noticed during Hurricane Katrina had prompted the Congress to initiate
legislations which will facilitate efficient disaster response. One of the main
disaster management reforms was the creation of a workable disaster plan and
ensures proper training of the state and federal officials when disaster
strikes. FEMA spent $2 billion in training and preparation of the local
authorities. Furthermore, FEMA acted as an oversight authority in community
disaster preparedness initiatives which enhanced confidence in their plans
Unlike Hurricane Katrina, there was
a better coordination between federal and local response teams. For instance,
both the local and federal teams had a similar and clear message to save lives
during Hurricane Harvey. Similar disaster training programmes were conducted to
ensure that local authorities and federal agencies have a similar playbook
where the participants were advised to work together for the common good of the
people. According to the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management in
Harris County, Texas, better coordination and shared vision ensured that blame
and miscommunication which marred response during Katrina were totally
eliminated (Naylor, 2017). During Katrina, the local and federal leaders became
frustrated. For instance, local authorities wanted immediate assistance from
soldiers, helicopters, food, and shelters. On the other hand, federal agencies
were spending much time in paperwork and discussions of the organization chart.
During Hurricane Harvey, President Trump signed the H.R. 601 on September 8
thus availing$15 billion in disaster relief in good time (Phillips, 2017).
case study examined the disaster preparedness and response initiatives during
Hurricane Harvey to establish the role of federalism and delegated authority in
the United States. Theoretically, the United States is divided into three
levels of governments, i.e., local, state and federal governments. During
disasters such as Hurricane Harvey, the demarcation of roles between the three levels
of government can be seen in reporting, response, and communication. Though the
local government plays the most important role in disaster management, the
state and federal government assistance vary depending on the size of the
disaster and the capacity of the local authority. In the case of major
disasters such as Hurricane Harvey, the local, state and federal governments
work together to ensure greater effectiveness of disaster response activities.
the government learn from earlier disasters such as Hurricane Katrina?
What were the roles of local and state
governments during Hurricane Harvey disaster response initiatives?
was the federal government involved in disaster preparedness and response
during Hurricane Harvey?
there clear demarcation of roles between the three levels of government during
major disasters such as Hurricane Harvey?
changes can be made to the existing disaster management framework to ensure
greater effectiveness during future disasters?