Reimagining New Orleans Post-Katrina

August 26, 2015

A decade after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, the Georgetown Climate Center examines some of the lessons learned from state and local efforts to use disaster relief funding to rebuild New Orleans’ public schools and stormwater systems to be more resilient and sustainable.


Click here to download this case study.

Rather than simply rebuild New Orleans as it was, citizens and officials created action plans for profoundly changing the design and function of the city’s public schools and water systems to create a more resilient city.  The obstacles the city encountered in deploying federal dollars brings to light the challenges faced by all communities that seek to rebuild more resiliently in the aftermath of a disaster. 

This study details the major barriers that communities encountered when trying to use disaster relief funds for these goals.  It also explores federal, state, and local efforts to overcome these barriers—some successful, others not. The study also highlights 2013 amendments made to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act that were intended to eliminate some of the obstacles identified during the post-Katrina rebuilding process and examines policy changes that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has initiated to make some of the disaster relief programs it administers more flexible.

While some of these reforms may create an easier path to resilience for communities in the future, other statutory and bureaucratic issues remain.  Indeed, despite significant efforts in the years since Hurricane Sandy, East Coast communities are encountering many of the same obstacles that New Orleans faced as it sought to rebuild more resiliently, according to a recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.  Absent further reform, these obstacles will continue to bedevil efforts to rebuild communities more sustainably in the wake of future disasters.