Doctoral thesis on Hurricane Katrina and a neo-institutional lens on preparedness successfully defended

15 December 2015

Christer Brown's thesis is entitled "The 2005 Hurricane Katrina response failure: Seeing preparedness for foreseeable complex problems through a neo-institutional lens" and examines the Federal Emergency Management Agency's, FEMA's, capacity to manage the foreseeable hurricane threat using an institutional perspective on preparedness.

Christer Brown, a former analyst and training director at CRISMART, successfully defended his doctoral thesis at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands on 2 December 2015.

The study shows that complex systems of government create deep interdependencies that pose major challenges to multi-level interagency coordination in dealing with problems, even those that are foreseeable.

When viewed through a neo-institutional lens, the case reveals the role that norms, rules, routines, values, and individual interests played in determining how FEMA responded to major change in the institutional environment and what implications this had for the agency's preparedness for hurricanes.

We also see that the apparent deterioration of FEMA's preparedness ahead of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was as much a result of elite over-attentiveness to terrorism as it was FEMA's own resistance to change. This served to weaken the agency's ability to garner political support and its readiness to partner with other stakeholders.

More generally, this study provides insights concerning how and for what organizations prepare, but also how we might go about more accurately gauging organizational preparedness in future.

Image caption: Members of the FEMA Urban Search and Rescue task forces continue search operations into areas impacted by Hurricane Katrina, August 31th 2005.