A Lesson in Federalism: A case of the response to Hurricane Katrina and COVID-19. - Essay Prowess

A Lesson in Federalism: A case of the response to Hurricane Katrina and COVID-19.


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A Lesson in Federalism: A case of the response to Hurricane Katrina and COVID-19.

Federalism refers to the devolvement of government into federal level that involves the whole country, and the state governments that deal with states. In this arrangement, state and local authorities are the first responders to crisis in their respective jurisdictions. However, the federal government plays a vital role in national priorities like natural disasters that may affect the country. The federal government also intervenes in the cases where state governments are overwhelmed by a natural calamity. The response given by the federal government in a natural disaster is generally determined by the leadership of both state and federal government, the communication of the parties involved and the leadership of both state and federal governments. The paper will look at the response given by different levels of government in order to understand federalism.

Hurricane Katrina

When hurricane Katrina hit the City of New Orleans on 23rd August 2005, the state of Louisiana was overwhelmed by the effects of the disaster and did not have basic needs for the citizens or enough rescue equipment. The Army and the National Guard were not present to aid the State government with evacuation and the state firefighters were overwhelmed by the rescue mission. In addition, the state was running out of food, water and shelter to sustain the rescued people (The Storm, 2005).

In such a situation it is the role of the State to call upon the Federal government, and in this case the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to rescue the state. However, the leadership of Louisiana State from the mayor tot eh governor did not promptly communicate to FEMA for help. This demonstrates the bureaucracy nature of federalism where there has to be an official request for action for the Federal government to be involved (The Storm, 2005). To make matters worse, the different leaders of the state gave contradictory information which may have reduced the severity of the disaster to federal government bodies therefore reducing the chances of the federal government’s reaction to the disaster.

Another problem facing federalism as witnessed during this disaster was the lack of proper communication channels from state level to federal level. The state leaders of Louisiana claimed it was not clear who was heading operations at FEMA and therefore making it difficult to have a point of reference to report the disaster or coordinate rescue missions with the federal assistance. FEMA, on the other hand claimed not to be aware of the disaster claiming that they had not been informed by the State and hence the late response to aid the city of New Orleans (The Storm, 2005).

The appointment of people without disaster management skills to bodies that deal with disaster management is a challenge to the success of handling disasters in any country. At the time of Hurricane Katrina, the head of the FEMA institution was not skilled in the area of disaster management and therefore did not have the skills to coordinate the diverse bodies involved in the rescue mission in the hurricane (The Storm, 2005).

After Hurricane Katrina, President Bush ordered the unification of all essential agencies for efficiency in responding to natural disasters. However, this directive was marred with huge disadvantages like increased budgetary allocations and some of the bigger agencies overshadowed the smaller ones like FEMA making it further inefficient in its mandate (The Storm, 2005).

Covid-19 Pandemic

The Covid-19 virus is a global pandemic that led to the loss of approximately 200,000 lives in the United States alone. The pandemic, 15 years after Hurricane Katrina still exposed some of the weaknesses of federalism in disaster management.

The first challenge was the lack of preparedness of institutions like the Centre of Disease Control and Prevention (CPC) and health institutions at the state levels. In the initial stages of the pandemic, the CDC did not have a proper test for the disease which further worsened the transmission rates of the virus. Hospital personnel had to make homemade masks before protective clothing could be supplied from federal reserves to the state institutions. Cities like Seattle in Washington State were among the first to ask for Federal provisions in hospitals to fight the disease. States are also not able to carry out mass testing which is required to fight the disease or produce any protective clothing for the health professionals.

The challenge of communication was once again evident in the management of Covid-19. President Donald Trump has been vocal in denying the existence of the disease and its severity. This in turn made some people skeptical of the measures put in by the Health workers and this increased the rate of transmissions of Covid-19 in the country. Federal institutions like the US Industry could not act without a directive from the President for production of safety gear which the President was reluctant to do.


A study of the two pandemics shows some of the disadvantages of federalism especially in disaster management and the complex relationship between state and federal governments. The bureaucratic nature of federalism and the centralized nature of command to action are some of the most evident challenges of federalism that has been attributed to the slow response disaster management protocols.


Frontline. (2005).The Storm [TV programme]. https://www.pbs.org/video/frontline-the-storm/

Frontline. (2020). Coronavirus Pandemic [TV programme]. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/coronavirus-pandemic/

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