Resilience in the Post-Katrina Era

August 20, 2019

After the massive category-5 Hurricane Katrina roared ashore in Louisiana and other Gulf states in August 2005, the destruction meant the city would have to rebuild much of its infrastructure and many businesses, homes, and institutions that make the “Big Easy” so unique. The storm also revealed that the federal government needed to change—traditional disaster response protocols and standards needed to be transformed to more easily prepare and recover from disaster.

In February 2006, “The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned” report outlined cracks in the national preparedness system, key lessons gleaned from the disaster, and recommendations for overhauling how the government readies for and responds to disasters.

The report’s findings also led to sweeping changes to organizations like Emergency Support Function #13, a Department of Justice-housed program aimed at improving state, local, and federal public safety, law enforcement, and security. With resources that range from crisis negotiators to tactical communications, ESF #13’s bottom-line goal is readiness.

“Our mission is response, to assist the national law enforcement response, to give those responding the ability to be resilient. We work with each state to develop a response plan to plan for, prepare for, and respond to disaster to enable national resilience,” said Phil Doucet, Aveshka Program Manager.

After federal law enforcement responders struggled to quickly execute logistics and sustain capacity as Hurricane Sandy battered the Northeast U.S. in 2012, Aveshka supported ESF #13, capitalizing on its own lessons learned. Within five years, Aveshka enabled ESF #13 capabilities to expand and effectively support the deployment of more than 1,700 federal law enforcement personnel responding to Hurricane Harvey in Houston in 2017.

In the Harvey response, Aveshka personnel helped stand up an ESF #13 National Coordination Center, serving as a key coordinator between field operations and headquarters elements. They brought critical resources downrange, prepared them to act as liaison for federal officers, and engineered resilience into the communities’ preparations for, and response to, the storm.

The scaled expansion is impressive, and the work is rarely simple. Disaster response efforts face many hurdles, including communications between different levels of government, available and undamaged infrastructure, and the integration of a broad range of stakeholders.

“Our focus is on planning and acting as a liaison, working with states on response plans based on that state’s capabilities. We’re working with states of improve resilience,” Doucet said. “Being resilient means being capable of sustained response, building up logistics capabilities, and ensuring staffing and infrastructure.”

In fact, having well-planned logistics in place ahead of any disaster is one of the most important elements of resilience and recovery. At Aveshka, that includes helping coordinate the deployment and support of on-the-ground personnel and responders. For example, one mobile deployment logistics package Aveshka designed for ESF #13 included housing, food, protective equipment and gear, and other down-range necessities in a large truck and trailer that, once deployed, can sustain 60 personnel for up to 10 days in austere environments.

Other forms of assistance include public safety measures, force protection and security for other federal ESFs such as Urban Search and Rescue teams, and support for state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement. These services include providing anything from guarding shelters and distribution centers to securing fuel transports, critical infrastructure, and evacuated areas.

All of this work relies on seamless coordination between organizations at all levels—and that coordination requires skilled liaising, planning, and cooperation.

“Resilience means being capable to respond and not being a burden, building up logistics capabilities, and consistently building that capability and flexibility to respond according to size and scope. It’s about readiness,” Doucet said.