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Reaching for the Philosopher’s Stone: Contingent Coordination and the Military’s Response to Hurricane Katrina


John C. Morris is an associate professor and PhD program director at Old Dominion University. His research interests include organization theory, public policy, and privatization. His previous work has appeared in journals such as Public Administration Review, Journal of Politics, Policy Studies Journal, and Politics and Policy.

Elizabeth D. Morris is a senior analyst with the U.S. Government Accountability Office, Defense Capabilities and Management Team. Her previous work has appeared in Policy Studies Journal and Public Works Management and Policy.

Dale M. Jones, retired commander in the U.S. Coast Guard, is a senior analyst with Systems Planning and Analysis in Washington, D.C. In addition, he is a doctoral candidate in public administration and urban policy at Old Dominion University. His research interests are organization theory and organizational psychology.


When Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in August 2005, it immediately overwhelmed the abilities of local and state emergency management officials to respond to the ensuing disaster. Although the U.S. Coast Guard and some military units were on scene shortly after the passage of the storm, there seemed to be interminable delays before the military forces began to arrive in numbers to both provide humanitarian relief and secure the affected areas. This article analyzes the response of the National Guard, active-duty military, and Coast Guard forces through the lens of coordination. We find evidence of the successful use of both traditional hierarchical and network-based coordination; we also find support for Donald Kettl’s idea of “contingent coordination.”