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Cultural Competency in Disaster Recovery: Lessons Learned from the Hurricane Katrina Experience for Better Serving Marginalized Communities

Seidenberg, J.

January 1, 2005

The awareness of federal, state and local governments of the potential for levees in New Orleans to fail and decimate poor neighborhoods of the city was widely reported following the hurricane Katrina disaster. Demographics in the areas likely to incur the most severe damage were known to be neighborhoods of predominately poor, black residents. In addition to understanding the likely geographical impact of the impending disaster, the federal government was aware of the extensive social science and legal challenges detailing the likelihood of minority citizens to experience the worst consequences and slowest recovery from natural disasters. Studies dating back to the 1950s and numerous reports of the Red Cross support this conclusion. FEMA itself was sued in federal court for its inadequate response to marginalized communities during hurricane Andrew in 1992. While the federal government may not be held legally responsible for its discretionary policies within the disaster relief context, the horror of hurricane Katrina surely calls for a long overdue re-thinking of the federal approach to assisting marginalized communities in disaster recovery. Social science, the practical problems raised within legal challenges, as well as successful strategies from other disasters and even within the Katrina tragedy offer numerous opportunities for such reform.


Seidenberg Cultural Competency in Disaster Recovery