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On Tuesday, August 23, 2005, meteorologists in the US National Weather Service spotted a tropical depression in the southeastern Bahamas. As it strengthened into a tropical storm, weather officials gave it a name, Katrina, and closely tracked it as it turned into a hurricane, crossing south Florida and then moving into the Gulf of Mexico. There, fed by the gulf's warm waters, Katrina turned into a monster: a "Category five" hurricane, with winds gusting past 170 miles per hour and an unusually wide span of over 100 miles. Katrina initially appeared to be heading next for the Florida Panhandle, but on Friday it made a dramatic shift; it turned westward and appeared to take dead aim at one of the most storied and fragile cities in the US: New Orleans. With landfall expected on Monday morning, state, local, and federal emergency response officials sprang into action, following the roadmaps laid out in their emergency plans. This case tells the story of the lead-up to the storm, detailing the plans that officials would draw on to prepare for the hurricane's onslaught, the steps that were taken to evacuate and shelter hundreds of thousands of residents in metropolitan New Orleans, and the communications among different agencies and levels of government as the storm drew near; it shows officials concerned about the effects of the hurricane, but confident that their preparations were commensurate with the challenges that Katrina would pose.

Learning Objective:
The case asks readers to consider why local, state, and federal governments all proved unready to respond effectively to a catastrophic event which had been long predicted. Part A can be taught alone or in tandem with Part B of the case, which describes the post-landfall response to the devastating impact of the hurricane; it would be useful in classes on emergency or strategic management as well as on intergovernmental relations.

Other Details

Case Author:
Arnold Howitt
Pages (incl. exhibits):
United States
Funding Source:
National Preparedness Leadership Initiative