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10 years later, what have we learned from Hurricane Katrina?

USC experts look back at the disaster, and find we still have a long way to go

Hurricane Katrina satellite image
Hurricane Katrina is seen over New Orleans in August 2005. (Photo/NOAA)

It’s been 10 years since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the surrounding region. USC experts discuss the lessons and continued impact of the storm.


‘Poor African-Americans suffered much more than whites’

Charles Kaplan

Charles Kaplan (USC Photo)

“There are significant differences in outcomes and characteristics for those who could evacuate and those who could not. Poor African-Americans suffered much more than whites from the disaster. Displacement after exposure to the disaster had more effect on health and social well-being than the trauma of actual exposure. Paradoxically, the severity of exposure can well increase the likelihood of positive changes in behavior and psychological growth.

“The physical destruction of homes and neighborhoods, and the loss of social resources like networks from the protracted process of displacement, resettlement and return, seems to have had the most adverse consequences on mental health and substance abuse patterns. For example, loss of mental health and substance abuse treatment services were found to be very difficult to replace during and after the displacement process with health decreases as the result.”

CHARLES KAPLAN
Research professor and associate dean of research at the USC Hamovitch Center for Science in the Human Services and the USC School of Social Work


Despite what we’ve learned, vulnerabilities are unaddressed

Andrew Lakoff

Andrew Lakoff (USC Photo)

“Preparedness for disaster response is a Band-Aid. We’ve gotten better at acute response, but not at addressing the vulnerabilities that magnify their impact. It’s harder to galvanize people to deal with aging infrastructure and impoverished communities than it is to respond to an earthquake or hurricane.”

After Katrina, “trying to learn from its mistakes, the federal government spent considerable time preparing for a pandemic — which led to the robust response to the H1N1 (swine flu) epidemic years later. What it didn’t appear to learn was how to deal with the large-scale vulnerabilities that magnify the disasters’ impact — in the case of Hurricane Katrina, having a large community with few resources living in an area at such high risk for flooding.”

ANDREW LAKOFF
Associate professor with joint appointments in the departments of anthropology, sociology and communication in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the USC Annenberg School of Communication


Prepare for the unthinkable; it seems to happen more anyway

Najmedin Meshkati

Najmedin Meshkati (USC photo)

“Hurricane Katrina is just one of a string of catastrophes over the past decade that resulted from extreme events coupled with systemic failures –including the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the Fukushima Daiichi radiation release.

“After visiting Fukushima, Daiichi and Daini stricken nuclear power plants in November 2012, I am convinced that ‘unthinkable’ disasters happen regularly. We need to be chronically uneasy, be constantly thinking about the unthinkable and plan for them.”

NAJMEDIN MESHKATI
Professor of civil and environmental engineering and industrial and systems engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering

10 years later, what have we learned from Hurricane Katrina?

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