Katrina upheaval
May 24, 2009 6:48 AM   Subscribe

At a conference, I heard a knowledgeable person say that "Katrina forever changed the way that the Federal government and the states interact with each other". I had not heard such a thought before. What did he mean, and is it true?
posted by megatherium to Law & Government (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I had not heard such a thought before.

I hear such thoughts all the time, and they're usually BS. YMMV. The real changes in federalism, whether good or bad, happen gradually.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:53 AM on May 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Much of what Katrina such a complex problem to solve was that federal, state and local government entities had overlapping spheres of responsibility for different parts of the cleanup and resolution. The crisis found a massive number of people crossing jurisdictional lines in short order, giving rise to ensuing confusion as to which services would be provided to them by whom. Programs such as HUD's voucher program and FEMA's emergency housing program met obstacles when faced with a large population in crisis, moving across jurisdictional lines. Depending on whom you're talking to, you might hear the story framed in different ways - and there are certainly many who say the federal government's ability to move in was complicated and limited by notions of states' rights federalism, and that, in the future, the federal government should have free(er) rein and greater leeway for first response to regional and national emergencies. The merits of that argument have certainly been hashed out either way; but in any case, it may have been to that general thought that your speaker was referring.
posted by ninotchka at 7:10 AM on May 24, 2009

You could write or email the speaker, who is very likely to correspond with you. Might be interesting.
posted by theora55 at 8:19 AM on May 24, 2009

"Katrina forever changed the way that the Federal government and the states interact with each other"

A sympathetic reading of that suggests some truth: Katrina is the first example I can remember where the maximum efforts of the federal and state gov't seemed to be invested in blaming each other for everything that went wrong, and this finger-pointing continues today.

So it may have 'changed the way they interact' in that it made the relationship more openly adversarial than any time in our recent history.
posted by rokusan at 8:21 AM on May 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

Does anyone really see a big difference in the way disasters are handled today? I've been out of the States for a few years, so I'm not sure personally. We haven't had anything as catastrophic as Katrina, perhaps partially due to changes in evacuation techniques...

Much of Houston was evacuated for Hurricane Rita, and the evacuation caused more casualties than the storm. Galveston was evacuated for Ike, but I've heard of people who refused to evacuate because they were stuck on a highway for days during the Rita evacuation. Some Houston-based metafites might be able to better comment on this.

Most of the conventional wisdom about Katrina ignores the rescue efforts that occurred at all levels, including by local, state, and federal gov't. To lose a city with a half million people and suffer less than 1000 deaths is nothing to celebrate, but it could have been much, much worse.

Wikipedia has a fairly evenhanded look at the criticism leveled at various gov't entities.
posted by txvtchick at 10:07 AM on May 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Mod note: few comments removed - can we dial it back and try again? thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:40 AM on May 24, 2009

I lived in Galveston at the time of Rita and in south-suburban Houston at the time of Ike. From my civilan non-governmental POV, I don't think the statement quoted in the OP ("changed...?) has any relevance to what happened here.

Perhaps if we could have some more context? What was supposed to have changed? Or if that is unknown, what type of conference was it?
posted by Robert Angelo at 4:10 PM on May 24, 2009

Response by poster: The conference addressed tax issues. It came out of the blue, and did not have anything else to do with the topic at hand, which is why it surprised me.
posted by megatherium at 7:33 PM on May 24, 2009

Hmmm. That is odd and out of context.

If it helps any, I'd say that post-Katrina there was an expectation that the Federal government would provide massive aid for rebuilding, but local and state administrators would determine how it would be spent. There was also an increased sense of distrust of some Federal agencies (Army Corps of Engineers vis-a-vis levees, FEMA vis-a-vis post-storm aid and housing).

Here in Texas, I can't speak to the locally-specific issues that New Orleans has with the Army Corps. However, the post-storm frustration with FEMA's immediate aid and their intermediate-term housing assistance was just as bad as with Katrina. The difference was that it was not as visible to the country at large, partly due to the scope of the crisis but mainly due to the refocus last September on the economy and the recession.

For us, I think Ike was more similar to Charley in Florida, combined with a massive lengthy power outage. We didn't get the large and lasting "FEMAville" trailer installations, but that was due mainly to a lack of places to put trailers that weren't in a storm-surge zone. It's true, however, that local officials had a veto power over the locations for trailers. I'm not sure if that reflects a "changed relationship" or if it's just that the land was subject to local control anyhow.

The other ongoing issue -- still largely unaddressed by Federal, state, and local authorities -- is getting people who lived in rental housing back into homes in Galveston. There's also a sub-set who were not included on rental documents (i.e., your friend of relative who informally lived with you) or who lost their IDs during the storm, and many of these have fallen through the cracks.

Sorry I'm so long-winded. Galveston's still a special place for me, and I pay a lot of attention to what's happening there.
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:17 AM on May 25, 2009

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