Response (02) 8-1 discussion: federalism and natural-disaster


Rebecca Paramore posted Jul 27, 2022 1:21 PM

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Read the articles “Is Federalism the Reason for Policy Failure in Hurricane Katrina?” and “Ten Years After Katrina” from the module resources.

In “Is Federalism the Reason for Policy Failure in Hurricane Katrina?,” the authors conclude the following:

If the federal government continues to dominate, state and local capacity could very well be eroded, as it was in Katrina, where capacity to plan for and respond to a Katrina-sized storm was not built in large part because of the federal government’s reassignment of resources from natural disaster preparedness to homeland security ”needs.” In the end, we cannot have much faith that another catastrophic disaster like Hurricane Katrina will greatly influence federal tendencies to centralize the direction of emergency management policy in Washington.

Do you agree with this assertion? Why or why not? Do you agree with the authors’ assessment of the reasons for the perceived failures in Hurricane Katrina? Do you agree with their observation that people tend to blame the federal government more than state and local governments for the apparent failures in Hurricane Katrina (or other crises)?

Federal emergency response policies (for the majority) have only been set after there has been a catastrophic event, not before. The Congressional Act of 1803, the first legislative act of federal disaster relief in U.S. history, was implemented after a devastating fire in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. September 11, 2001, drove major statute and policy changes to reorganize the federal government, which happened in 2002 after the devastation of terrorist attacks. The Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 was implemented after the historic Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Mississippi. “Congress passed the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006, which established FEMA as a distinct agency within DHS, defined FEMA’s primary mission, and designated the FEMA Administrator as the principal advisor to the President, the Homeland Security Council, and the Secretary of Homeland Security for all matters relating to emergency management in the United States” (History of FEMA, para.6). 

The “attempts” made by the federal government to centralize emergency response management were a clear fault, which caused immense confusion and a lack of direction to state and local officials during Katrina. The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1988 gave broad guidelines that directed local and state governments to determine how to respond to emergencies like natural disasters. “Amendments to the Stafford Act in 1993 and 2000 were intended to improve its performance and to stress mitigation, but these amendments did not alter the understanding that the state and local governments were ‘‘first responders’’ in nearly all disasters” (Birkland & Waterman, 2008 pg. 696). On the other hand, Congress’s intent in the Stafford Act is quite clear in 42 USC 5121(b), which notes that Congress aims ‘‘to provide an orderly and continuing means of assistance by the federal government to state and local governments.’ This passage underscores the prominent role of state and local governments. The four types of assistance include ‘‘encourage[ing] the development of … plans by the States and local governments,’ ‘‘coordination,’ ‘‘encouraging individuals, States, and local governments to protect themselves…,’’ and encouraging mitigation efforts. These are all matters of assistance, not a federal prescription” (Birkland & Waterman, 2008 pg. 696-697). 

I completely agree with the authors’ conclusions that the federal government’s reassignment of resources from natural disaster preparedness to homeland security needs” did not implement effective or clear state and local government guidance. In the eyes of the public and citizens of that area, the blame was 100% on the federal government. Local and state organizations, which included first responders, volunteer organizations, and national guardsmen, were the first line of offense in aiding the citizens of New Orleans. I saw first-hand the families’ desperation and the devastating aftermath during that time. 


Birkland T. and Waterman S. (2008) Is Federalism the Reason for Policy Failure in Hurricane Katrina? The Journal of Federalism volume 38 number 4, pp. 692-714 History of FEMA,1%2C%201979%2C%20establishing%20FEMA.


In your responses to your classmates, provide feedback on their assessments. Are there additional factors that could be considered?

For your response posts, do the following:

Write a post of 1 to 2 paragraphs.

Consider content from other parts of the course where appropriate. Use proper citation methods for your discipline when referencing scholarly or popular sources.