On the morning of Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Southeast Louisiana, causing catastrophic destruction along the Gulf Coast. In the first two weeks after Katrina struck, more than 70,000 federal employees from across the country were deployed to the region to assist in relief and recovery efforts. The Coast Guard alone deployed more than 5,600 active duty personnel, civilian employees, reservists, and volunteers and rescued more than 33,500 people from rooftops and flooded homes.
Yet the government’s overall response was deemed a disaster, due to ineffective leadership from officials under the George W. Bush administration. “Planning for big incidents like this is not something you can do at the last minute,” said Leo Bosner, who at the time represented FEMA headquarters employees as president of AFGE Local 4060, during an interview with AFGE’s Inside Government radio program in 2010. “None of the top people at FEMA or Homeland Security were really trained or ready for their jobs – hadn’t done the planning – so yeah, things fell apart.”
Ten years later, observers say the Obama administration has learned the lessons from Katrina. As Hurricane Sandy bore down on the Atlantic coast in October 2012, FEMA quickly mobilized and had nearly 2,000 people on the ground ready to assist in disaster recovery efforts by the time the superstorm made landfall in New Jersey on Oct. 29.
“The lessons learned from Katrina have strengthened the response to and recovery from each storm that has followed,” Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.