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The “Big Questions” of Katrina and the 2005 Great Flood of New Orleans


Beverly A. Cigler is a professor of public policy and administration at Pennsylvania State University–Harrisburg. Her key professional interests are intergovernmental relations, issues of governance, public finance, growth management, and emergency management. She is a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration.


The “big questions” associated with Hurricane Katrina and the great flood of New Orleans lie at the intersection of the natural and human-shaped environments. The interactions dominating the intersection of the two environments are found in the social-political-economic system, culture and history, intergovernmental relations, and law. The big questions are not whether specific individuals were to blame for the destruction of lives and property, and they do not begin with the slow and inadequate intergovernmental response to the disaster. Instead, the big questions involve the roles of individuals, governments, and private markets in creating so-called natural disasters; whether government, through its lead role in the emergency management system, is incompetent, or whether capability and performance in protecting life and property have been eroded through a long-term “hollowing out” process; and whether Katrina’s lessons will be learned or merely noted.