Report of ABA Task Force On Hurricane Katrina Finds Lack of Communication, Coordination at Source of Disaster Response Problems
WASHINGTON, D.C., Feb. 9, 2006 – The devastation resulting from Hurricane Katrina did not occur because laws were inadequate, found a report released today by the American Bar Association. Rather, the responsibility lies with the failure of various entities to ensure communication and coordination, delay from inaction, and a lack of training and readiness.
The report was issued by the ABA Standing Committee on Law and National Security in its role as part of a working group of the ABA’s Task Force on Hurricane Katrina. The views expressed in the report have not been approved by the ABA House of Delegates or Board of Governors and do not represent policy of the association unless expressly noted.
The report addresses such questions as “What is the appropriate role of the military in the event of a disaster?,” “Do existing constitutional provisions and federal laws provide sufficient response authority in these circumstances?,” and “How does the private sector contribute during such times?” The study also asked whether current statutes and regulations need to be re-examined and proposed areas for further study on response and recovery planning for a catastrophic event on U.S. soil.
The report is the result of a post-Katrina study that brought together experts from the government, business, legal, law enforcement, emergency response, public health, public works and non-profit sectors to examine issues such as a national response plan, interdependency of these entities, private sector roles and responsibilities, and the development of a continuity of operations strategy.
The report focuses on four primary issues:
- “Federalism and Constitutional Challenges” – Under what circumstances, if any, should the federal government have the authority to “federalize” the response to a catastrophic incident without the consent of the state? What is the threshold of severity concerning a catastrophic event? If the federal government is given new authority, what should the extent of that power be?
- “State, Local and First Responder Issues” – Four questions should guide an examination of the adequacy and use of state and local government authority, according to the report. How did the state express or clarify its authority through statues or executive orders? How was the authority implemented? In what manner did the state execute that authority? How did the state delegate its authority to local units of government?
- “Posse Comitatus and Military Involvement” – Decision makers within federal, state and local governments and the military must understand exactly what is allowed and what is not allowed under various conditions. Steps should be taken to ensure that rules for using the military are clearly understood by all levels of leadership.
- “Private Sector Integration” – Private sector resources saved lives and protected property in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. However, the legal authorities that support a national response plan do not permit or effectively encourage private sector involvement prior to, during or after a storm. The legal framework governing disaster assistance does not sufficiently account for private sector contributions.
In considering these issues, the report assesses existing federal, state and local laws and regulations to determine how various governmental units can coordinate and cooperate during all stages of an emergency. The report also takes into account human factors such as leadership, coordination, and cooperation among the levels of government and the private sector.
The report and its findings are the basis for the program “The Perfect Storm: Katrina as a Prologue to Pandemic,” sponsored by the ABA Standing Committee on Law and National Security, that takes place during the ABA Midyear Meeting in Chicago on Friday, Feb. 10, at 3:30 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom A, East Tower, Gold Level of the Hyatt Regency Chicago. To view the report in its entirety visit http://www.abanet.org/natsecurity/.
The ABA is also sponsoring a related presentation at its Midyear Meeting when the House of Delegates hears a special report on how the legal system has fared in the aftermath of Katrina. Presidents of the state bar associations of Louisiana, Texas and Florida, along with representatives of the profession from Mississippi and Alabama, will join a panel discussion on Monday, Feb. 13, at 11:00 a.m. to inform the House of the extent of the damage to courts and law practices and to update it on the recovery effort.
With more than 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law in a democratic society.