Katrina Vulnerability Research

Back Corner Design Team

Jonny Latsko, Joey Muha, Miles Ollee, Kyle Parker, Jairran Brothers



The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 consisted of about 1,800 deaths. It was the most costly hurricane in U.S. dollars which was nearly 106 billion. New Orleans on the U.S. Gulf Coast was the most damaged as the flooding was widespread throughout the city during the landfall of the hurricane. It was a category 5 hurricane, the worst it could be. Katrina forced 1.2 million people to leave the city the day before the storm started.


At the beginning of Katrina, reporting was very material-oriented. They began publishing in August of 2005, when the disaster struck. For instance this headline from the start of the issue in the New York Times Entitled: HURRICANE KATRINA (August 20th, 2005) highlights that a lot of the information was based upon statistical summaries and logistics. It is not a humanitarian view but instead an economic forecast of the crisis. This perhaps downplayed the true disaster that was likely to come.

September 1st, however, much of this changed. For instance there was this article in the NYT as well, Entitled: Hurricane Katrina Where to Help (September 1st, 2005). This article highlights people’s desires to help and shows the humanitarian crisis that begins. While other articles at the time began to show Bush’s actions for housing this one does a good job of capturing a sense of hope and outsources the responsibility of helping to the community. This is on some hands positive, but also highlights that the system was not resilient as it requires outside lending hands from the American community in outer to solve the greater issue

What Made Katrina So Devastating

    The high level of destruction in New Orleans due to Hurricane Katrina was largely due to three main vulnerabilities. First, and perhaps the biggest reason, was the failure of the man-made levee system that was designed to prevent seawater and floodwaters from entering the city. There were more than 50 breaches to the levee system because the levees were inadequately reinforced and built on unstable land. This meant that the rising floodwaters flowed through the levees instead of over them, which was supposed to happen by the way that they were designed. The natural levees along the Mississippi River, however, were largely intact after the storm. Secondly, New Orleans’ topography contributed heavily to the extensive flooding of the city. On average, New Orleans sits six feet below sea level, which made it easy for water to rush into the city when the levees failed. In fact, much of the city lies below the surrounding bodies of water, essentially making New Orleans a “bowl” for floodwater. In addition to this, many of the city’s water pumps, which were designed to pump rainwater out of the city, were disabled by Katrina. Because of this and New Orleans’ low elevation, the floodwaters were unable to be drained. Lastly, poverty was a large contributing factor in the destruction Katrina caused. In 2005, 28% of New Orleans residents lived below the poverty line. Many of the poorest victims, especially Black New Orleanians, did not have access to a vehicle and were unable to escape. 59% of poor Black families did not own a car prior to Hurricane Katrina, according to an International Business Times report.


Three future improvements that could be made to disaster planning and safety response following in the wake of Hurricane Katrina are the construction of better levees, better communication involving “storm awareness” by government agencies, and faster emergency response teams. With the construction of better levees, it would be vital to incorporate city planners for the city of New Orleans/future coastal cities in order to mitigate the effects of the disaster with natural barriers and well-designed cities. In order to save lives and further mitigate damage, there would also need to be an improvement to the national emergency alert system. One of the big lessons from Katrina is that it is important to issue mandatory evacuations. Finally, the last improvement that could be made is to establish more national emergency response teams across the nation in order to speed up the vital responses that are required  during/after a disaster.


While these are all great strategies to help minimize potential threat from natural disasters, there still stand a few barriers that would/could make implementation difficult. The first and probably most obvious is money. Many cities/states often don’t have the funds to redesign//reinforce levees and other structures important for disaster mitigation. Thus this money would most frequently come from the federal government which could be even more a hassle. The best way around this though would be the the use of comprehensive data and statistics comparing cities with better funding and protection to cities without the funding/protection, specifically showing the cost of destruction from natural disasters both monetarily and personally for the people affected. Next, the primary problem with an emergency response team is their response timing. First responders’ most important job is to reach the affected area as soon as possible and to help save as many people as possible. This isn’t alway the case though. First responders often face difficulties in reaching people in danger, most likely because of a lack of manpower. If people were give more incentive to join first response teams, such as tax relief or even payment for their temporary service, this problem would be mostly if not entirely dissipated. Which means the response teams would be able to cover larger areas, thus making their work more efficient.


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