I attended the morning session about lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina. This had less to do with the storm itself and more to do with planning and processes for recovery. With New Orleans still recovering five years later, there were many recommendations about how to do it better.
First, the best way is to mitigate beforehand. Communities that are prepared will suffer less and recover faster. The “social cost” is rarely accounted for – breakup of neighborhoods, losing family and friends, losing cultural identity, etc. And what are roles of NGOs such as the Red Cross? They are rarely included in government disaster plans, yet they play a significant role.
It was surprising to hear that New Orleans has not reached even the halfway point in its recovery. In part, this is because the city was not adequately prepared. The residents were accustomed to being displaced for 3-4 days, but not for weeks, months or years. FEMA disbursements have been slow, or they are given with restrictions that make little sense because government processes are too broad to fit specific situations. More flexibility would help significantly. Contractors also should be pre-screened for post-disaster work so decisions are not made at the last minute. Performance standards should promote accuracy; many contractor estimates were far below the actual cost. Disaster aid must be given rapidly and it should be outcome-based.
These recommendations, and many others, were given by those who had lived through Katrina or who had worked with the processes. This allowed the session to offer detailed and specific recommendations for improved recovery plans.