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Retrospectives and Prospectives on Hurricane Katrina: Five Years and Counting


Louise K. Comfort is a professor of public and urban affairs and director of the Center for Disaster Management at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh. Her research is focused on decision making under conditions of uncertainty, organizational design and learning, and information technology and sociotechnical systems. She is a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration and has authored or coauthored fi ve books, including Designing Resilience: Preparedness for Extreme Events (2010).

Thomas A. Birkland is the William T. Kretzer Professor of Public Policy in the School of Public and International Affairs at North Carolina State University. He has been studying the politics of disaster policy for more than 20 years, and is the author of two Georgetown University Press books, After Disaster (1997) and Lessons of Disaster (2006). Previously, he was at Rockefeller College at the University at Albany, where he also directed the Center for Policy Research.

Beverly A. Cigler is a professor of public policy and administration at Penn State Harrisburg. She specializes in intergovernmental relations, fi scal policy, growth management, and emergency management. A fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration, she has published more than 160 articles and chapters and delivered nearly 200 speeches and testimonies to practitioner organizations.

Earthea Nance is an assistant professor of environmental planning and hazard mitigation at the University of New Orleans. She has 19 years of professional practice and research experience in environmental management in complex social and natural settings, including postdisaster areas, highhazard regions, and developing countries. She is the author of several journal articles and research reports, including the forthcoming book Narrating Development. Previously, she held positions at Virginia Tech, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and several engineering firms.


New Orleans’ recovery from the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 reflects a long, complex, contentious process that still is not complete. In this article, the authors explore the key factors that have supported and hindered recovery so far. Initial conditions within the city, the web of policy demands, as well as recent changes in law and procedures for the region are explored using a new model that may be applicable to other severe disasters. Any recovery, the authors conclude, must be anchored within a local context, but only with necessary administrative backing from the wider region and society. Recovery from disaster offers a rare opportunity to rebuild damaged communities into more resilient ones when energy and investment are immediately channeled into the stricken region and focused in a constructive redesign that acknowledges environmental risk. The recovery process then shifts to mitigation and reduction of risk. Hence, cities will be better prepared for the next extreme event, which will surely come.