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Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security Paperback – May 29, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The fatal inundation of New Orleans was no natural disaster, argues this hard-hitting investigative report. Wall Street Journal reporters Cooper and Block finger two very man-made causes of the tragedy. The first was the decades-long failure of local officials and the Army Corps of Engineers to fix New Orleans' poorly designed and constructed levees and floodwalls, which collapsed under moderate hurricane conditions. The second and more spectacular was the breakdown of the Federal Emergency Management Agency after its incorporation into the Department of Homeland Security, which cut FEMA's funding and authority and reoriented it toward the national obsession with terrorism. The result, when the flood came, was a bumbling federal response hobbled by complacent planning, miscommunication, red tape (even recovery of the dead was delayed by paperwork) and an inability to deliver promised supplies and transportation. The authors' exhaustively researched account slogs through the intricacies of this bureaucratic nightmare and goes beyond the usual pillorying of FEMA head Michael Brown to criticize higher officials in the White House and, especially, DHS. Cooper and Block manage to thread a readable, coherent story through the morass of detail and acronyms, with disquieting implications about the government's ability to cope with catastrophe. Photos. (Aug. 8)Note: Publication of Hamid Karzai's Letter from Kabul (Reviews, July 10) has been postponed.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Tightly crafted, very readable . . . the best in-depth contemporary analysis we are going to get . . . Given that future catastrophes are inevitable, this book is a call to arms to demand a far more competent federal emergency response than Washington has been willing to provide."
--Stephen Flynn, The Washington Post
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; 1st edition (May 29, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805086501
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805086508
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #409,755 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By etmla on September 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
If you're not angry when you finish reading "Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security," then you didn't read it carefully enough. Written by two Wall Street Journal reporters -- Christopher Cooper and Robert Block -- this book offers context for the federal government's failed response to Hurricane Katrina last year.

Anyone who's ever worked for the federal government won't be surprised to learn that operational results are often less than the sum of their bureaucratic and even well-meaning parts.

But finger-pointers take note: Highlighting the federal government's miserable performance is not tantamount to forgiving an ineffective state and local response. Identifying federal failures merely confirms that, in the end, there's more than enough blame to go around.

"Disaster" is about much more than the anguished wait of those at the Superdome or the Convention Center for days after last August's storm. It's about the bureaucratic bungling that eventually led to FEMA being utterly unprepared to handle the crisis it faced last summer.

"Disaster" is more than a history of failure of the levees and floodgates around New Orleans. It's a detailed recounting of how different arms of the federal government failed to protect an urban population for which it had primary responsibility and how, once disaster struck, that same federal government demonstrated itself to be equally incapable of offering aid.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Mark LaFlaur on September 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
"Disaster" is a superb, authoritative work that readers of any (or no) political persuasion can appreciate. It focuses on the federal response to the disaster--a catastrophe within a catastrophe--but also gives an excellent background on the history of FEMA and of the levee system around New Orleans. I am from New Orleans. I have read many books on Hurricane Katrina and about the levees, the river, and Louisiana's environmental and ecological predicament. Cooper and Block know New Orleans (Cooper lived there 10+ years as a Times-Picayune reporter) and they know FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security. This is a book of reportage: the authors manage very well to keep opinions out and let the facts speak for themselves. They show that the 80% evacuation of metro New Orleans was a resounding, unprecedented success; that the Bush administration severely and repeatedly cut federal funding for ongoing reinforcements of the city's flood protection system; and that the U.S. government through the Army Corps of Engineers failed to protect the city, whose citizens never imagined the canals' floodwalls would ever collapse. Cooper and Block also show that placing FEMA within the counterterrorist Department of Homeland Security reduces its effectiveness as a disaster response agency. Michael "Brownie" Brown had his flaws, but he at least recognized that FEMA needed better funding and more flexibility as a disaster response agency. Now FEMA is ignored down in DHS's basement while DHS secretary Chertoff, along with the administration he serves, concentrates on counterterrorism--an important job but less frequently needed than response to natural disasters.Read more ›
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By oyster on September 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
As a New Orleanian who lost "everything" to the faulty levees, I have followed this story closely for a year, and have read as much as possible about the episode. Even so, I highlighted practically every page of this book. It did an excellent job of busting myths and providing context, in a surprisingly absorbing but factual narrative.

Here's as plain as I can put it: Cooper and Block have written the finest "top-down" book on Katrina to date, and I don't expect it to be surpassed anytime soon.

The research is impeccable, and I would love for the D.C.-area (1-time reviewers) who pan this book to give examples of the "fictions" about which they complain. Not only is "Disaster" must-reading for anyone who cares about the Katrina story but, also, for anyone who is interested in the priorities and effectiveness of the Dept. Homeland Security.

I give this work my highest recommendation.
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Format: Hardcover
Many books have been written and many more will be written about the causes, effects, and responses to Hurricane Katrina. I have even outlined one myself, though I doubt it will come to fruition. Among such a large company, Cooper and Block have done an outstanding job of cataloging and analyzing the failures of the Federal response. They sound clearly the warning bell that the Federal government is ill-prepared to support disaster operations, particularly in the less-prepared states.

They have put together a wonderful timeline of events before, during, and after Katrina. They noted such contextual factors as the local response to Hurricane Dennis, which has been overwhelmingly ignored by the national media. As an early Katrina evacuee, I found it very interesting how much debate was going on in Washington, even as my family was on the evacuation trail.

No book could comprehensively cover a disaster the scale of Katrina. The authors made only passing attempts to chronicle the activities of local and state officials, and those only when the activities impacted the Federal decisions or efforts. They also kept the focus largely on New Orleans, while noting the similarities to the response in other areas. Their narrowness of focus is both a strength and a weakness. The book did not address the fundamental philosophical issues of the role of government in storm response.

The authors have done a wonderful job of providing insight into the personalities and organizations that shaped the national response effort. The chapter on people who worked around the system was an extremely good read as evidence that good people can make a difference when they do the right thing. Overall, the book is worth the read just for the insight into the Katrina timeline from a Federal perspective.
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