Volume 21 Issue 1, 2006

American exceptionalism or universal lesson? The implications of Hurricane Katrina for Australia

John Handmer

Peer-reviewed Article

Archived Article


Few events have been as well planned for as Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Yet the emergency management system appears to have failed in most respects. Media reports on many aspects of the crisis challenge existing orthodoxy in research and practice. A few months after Katrina, interest has waned and press and agency apologies for exaggerating aspects of the extent of the crisis are emerging, although some evidence suggests that aspects were even worse then reported. There is also a developing lower profile crisis as local economies shrink, threatening to halt recovery. This paper examines some important questions concerning the extent to which the problems of New Orleans could occur elsewhere. To the extent that New Orleans is a special case, the implications should be limited. But where similar circumstances exist now or in the future, could we expect to find similar problems? The paper also discusses some general issues to do with the processes of emergency management. Handmer states that although aspects of the New Orleans situation may be found in disasters everywhere, a similar situation seems unlikely to occur in Australia. This statement is qualified however, by questioning what exactly took place, uncertainty about Australian emergency management capacity for a huge event, and trends in Australia that may make us more vulnerable in future