Five years after one of the biggest civil engineering failures in American history, this volume in Greenhven’s Press At Issue: Disasters series examines the legacy of Hurricane Katrina. That 2005 storm forever altered the demography, social and cultural institutions, and disaster preparedness of the southern Gulf region. Unlike many of the books published in the interim, this volume does not contain first-person narratives of survivors or chronologies of events surrounding the storm, which left eighty percent of the city of New Orleans under water. Instead, this book chooses to examine the policy issues predating and evolving from the disaster.
Some of the seventeen articles are written by local and national reporters, and other chapters are derived from official documents generated by government agencies and policy advisors, including the Office of the White House Press Secretary’s defense of the Bush administration amid criticisms that the federal response as too slow in the early, critical days. A report by the Army Corps of Engineers asserts that the city can be made safe and habitable, reassuring given the $126 billion in federal aid dedicated to rebuilding and recovery.
Other articles address the transformation of health services and public education in New Orleans in the wake of the storm, including the challenges faced by the state-run recovery School District (RSD). Some articles call for better public disaster-preparedness efforts, such as ensuring vulnerable populations have a supply of prescription medications and that all residents know how to turn off their own water and utility services. Three essays discuss the mental health resources available to those in New Orleans in the wake of the storm, offering contradictory assessments of the level of care available for Katrina victims. Another pair of articles discusses whether Mississippi coastal rebuilding efforts remain minimal compared to those in Louisiana.
The book closes with an environmental emphasis, focusing on the long-term safety of an area below sea level in an era of rising oceans. A pair of articles argues whether computer modeling shows the gulf coast as continually vulnerable. One model asserts that storms are beginning earlier and later in the season, while another climate scientist predicts there will be fewer storms of this magnitude and those storms are likely to take different paths.
This book provides an interesting perspective on the ripple effect in policy and planning triggered by a great natural disaster and a number of ways to conceptualize the role of government and social services in rebuilding. Despite the aid, the population of New Orleans is still a fraction of what it was prior to Katrina. Though "the spot where the storm water surge broke through the Industrial Canal is one of the strongest, highest walls in the system now," as one essay asserts, "there is barely anyone left there to protect" (p.37). Appendices include a directory of organizational contacts and an excellent bibliography of books and periodicals. Recommended for school and public libraries.