Hurricane Katrina Truth #3– Stop Repeating the Problems

Katrina BraudBy Gerard Braud

On the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina devastating New Orleans, and coastal Louisiana and Mississippi, I’m reflecting on the old adage that says, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, yet expecting different results.”

New Orleans can easily flood from another hurricane. I wrote about that in yesterday’s blog. Experts admit that the new fortified levee system is not high enough to keep tidal surge from topping the levees.

There are three areas where I see the potential for the insanity of prior sins and mistakes to be repeated.

1) The first sin is allowing people in low lying areas, in coastal regions, and in flood planes anywhere in America, to build a house on a foundation that is not elevated above recognized flood levels. Whether in New Orleans or a flood river plane in North Dakota, houses in flood zones should be built on stilts higher than predicted flood waters. Some home owners in New Orleans have started doing this. This is how traditional homes here were constructed here. Some homeowners, strapped for cash, have not raised their homes. It is time for building codes in all coastal towns south of I-10 and I-12 along to change. Many homes in Katrina had no wind damage, but were a complete loss because storm surge overpowered levees, flooding everything. In a nation where all flood insurance comes from the government, as do most of the emergency recovery funds, mitigating flooding with more grants to raise existing houses is a far better financial bet than paying out claims after the fact. Establishing better building codes for new construction in flood zones saves money in the long run for everyone.

2) The second is human denial among citizens and elected officials. Citizens first — A hurricane may kill you. If it doesn’t kill you, it can leave you without creature comforts like food, water and electricity for days, weeks, or months. Failing to heed an evacuation order leads to expensive and complicated rescues. I’ve been a storm chaser and journalist in many natural disasters in which people tell me they don’t plan to evacuate because they’ve stayed for other storms and survived. What I’ve learned covering these storms is that no two are alike. No two hurricanes come from exactly the same direction. No two hurricanes have exactly the same wind speeds. In Hurricane Katrina, for example, while the devastation and flooding was astounding, if the eye of the hurricane had passed only five to ten miles further to the West, the urban flooding up to rooftops would have been doubled. It is costly to evacuate, but it is far more costly for communities when residents fail to heed evacuation orders.


As for human denial among elected officials, then Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans is the poster child of human denial. Even when the head of the National Hurricane Center called to tell Nagin that a disaster was eminent, the mayor still waited too long to order evacuations. Evacuations that should have been called 48 hours before the storm were delayed until it was too late to logistically move people. While officials in other communities successfully followed plans and called for timely evacuations, one weak link was pivotal in causing tens of thousands to be trapped by flood waters and leading to hundreds of deaths, mostly by drowning. Those trapped in the flood then led to a massive human rescue effort that costs untold millions of dollars, when it reality there was time and there were resources sufficient enough to most of those people out of harm’s way.


3) The third sin falls in the area of communications. While many communities have emergency and disaster plans in place, they often fail to take the next step of having a crisis communications plan that effectively communicates urgency, peril, and evacuation options to constituents. Pre-written communications documents and properly trained spokespeople are the combination needed to motivate people to leave the their communities until it is safe to return. The proliferation of social media has created new ways to reach people and new ways to gather information about the unfolding crisis, but it also has created more opportunities for rumors and misinformation to spread.

Disasters create living classrooms in which people can learn what was done wrong and what was done right. The goal is to learn so the wrongs are never repeated and so that the rights are done perfectly.

To learn more, read previous posts about Hurricane Katrina.

Hurricane Katrina Truth #1 – Silver Linings in Muddy Waters – Thank You

Hurricane Katrina Truth #2 – New Orleans Will Flood Again – Find Out Why & How to Stop It


Hurricane Katrina Truth #2 – New Orleans Will Flood Again – Find Out Why & How to Stop It

Click image to watch video

Click image to watch video

By Gerard Braud

As we remember Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago, there needs to be strong communication from experts about how natural defenses, such as coastal marshes, can avert a crisis, such as hurricane flooding. Coastal marshes have been disappearing at an alarming rate of 33 football fields a day for decades. How does this affect you? Read on…

Existing erosion is a story that needs to be told before too much attention is shifted to other environmental issues, which is the rise of sea level. The Weather Channel is showing a program focused on a Hurricane Katrina impact in 2065, based on projected sea level rise. President Obama is also expected to focus on how climate change will affect coastal regions when he visits New Orleans during this anniversary week.

But a greater, unaddressed concern for me is the fact that tidal surge in every hurricane can be reduced by healthy coastal wetlands today. However, the coastal wetlands near New Orleans have been eroding away since levees were first were built along the Mississippi River in the 1930s. Those disappearing wetlands take away nature’s natural line of defense, which is why they need to be restored.

In a 1995 documentary I wrote the words, “Every day Louisiana loses 33 football fields of land, an inch here and an inch there.”

The documentary was called Reversing the Tide, but little has happened in the 20 years since then, except a few pilot projects, more studies, and more talk. A master plan has been created, but too much time is passing without real action.

Hurricane-BarrierScientists say that roughly three miles of healthy, vegetated wetlands can reduce a storm surge by one foot. In some studies based on actual storms, a single mile of wetlands reduced storm surge by one foot. Ironically, one of the major studies on wetland benefits was done by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has been in charge of building major flood walls around New Orleans, without building major wetlands in front of those walls.

Just outside of those billion dollar concrete walls built since Hurricane Katrina is now water, that just a few decades ago was land. Based on interviews I’ve done with experts over the past 30 years, my belief is a sizeable chunk of money should have been used to rebuild coastal marshes and natural defenses, rather than only on modern engineering marvels that will be topped again by a hurricane’s storm surge.

As constructed now, these walls are the equivalent of placing them on a seashore against violent waves. But if sediment from the Mississippi River is pumped into the marshes to rebuild vegetated wetlands, sixty miles of wetlands, in theory, it would reduce a twenty foot tidal surge to only a few feet of sea level rise. This would put low water levels and waves lapping against these walls rather than the force of a major ocean at maximum fury. And as sea levels rise from climate change, the rebuilding of wetlands can be a sustainable effort.

I’ve spent untold hours in these coastal areas with fishermen, scientists, environmental activist, and engineers. Decades have passed with the various parties at odds. Environmentalists worry about pollutants in the sediments from the Mississippi River. Fishermen worry about losing money as their current fishing waters turns back into land, as it was 50 years ago. Scientists and engineers fight about the best way to tackle the task, often resulting in little or no action. Politicians, who should be funding the projects, are blind to the fact that money spent today in the right way, is a better bet than paying for the massive clean up and restoration of communities, as seen in Hurricane Katrina.

Here are the realities as I see them.

  1. Human engineering created the problem when citizens and politicians asked for levees to be built along the Mississippi River after the great flood of 1927. Marshes are naturally created over thousands of years as annual spring flooding deposits silt and nutrients into the wetlands. The wetlands provide natural storm protection and a healthy ecosystem for fish, birds and wildlife. These marshes are also a natural filtration system that removes pollutants from our earth. Restoring the marshes and reversing the tide must be a priority.
  1. In a modern economy, money mitigates opposition. Commercial fishing is a major part of the economy in this region. Fishermen today, catch fish in areas that consisted of land just a few years ago. This region is a delicate ecosystem with a precarious blend of fresh, salt, and brackish water. The balance has been upset for 50 years. Reversing the trend and the tide, by rebuilding land, will cause a temporary balance change. It can restore a traditional balance and create long-term benefit, but only after a short-term upset. To do this, fishermen will need the same type of financial support congress grants to a farmer who loses his or her crops because of a drought. Pay it, be done with it, and move on with fixing a problem.
  1. The Mississippi River is constantly being dredged to keep navigation channels open for shipping. For decades, the silt has been dumped in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I’ve watched test projects done in which the dredged sand is piped over the river levees and into the eroding wetland. This process can build hundreds of acres of land in just a few days. It is the fastest and lowest cost way to restore the land that has eroded away. The negative impacts on the environment, the fisheries, and the fishermen are far outweighed by the positive impact it will eventually have on the environment, the fisheries, the fishermen, and natural hurricane protection.

The greatest harm comes when humans get in nature’s way. The greatest benefit would be to give nature a helping hand to heal the wounds that we have helped create.



Hurricane Katrina Truth #1 – Silver Linings in Muddy Waters – Thank You


Click image to play video

By Gerard Braud

The Hurricane Katrina 10th Anniversary has to begin with the words thank you.

The silver lining in the muddy waters was the overwhelming outpouring of help from around the world. Untold volunteers left their lives behind to travel to our region to give their time and talents. Many others donated money to aid in the recovery.

The region is still recovering, but the kindness shared from around the world has made a huge difference.

Recovery involves a combination of rebuilding with brick and mortar, as well as rebuilding the heart, soul and spirit of the communities and the people who make up those communities.

It is always gratifying to be able to share a personal thank you when I’m invited to speak at conferences and conventions in the New Orleans area. Here are some observations and thoughts I recently shared during a keynote speech about the silver lining in the muddy waters.

The Hurricane Katrina Prediction – What We Knew 15 Years Before the Flooding

hurricane katrina promo

Click image to play video

As a former storm chaser and TV reporter, my belief is that proper communications from New Orleans officials, before Hurricane Katrina, would have greatly minimized the human crisis. As you will see in this video, the catastrophic flooding was predicted a full 15 years before Hurricane Katrina. Would this – could this — happen again? If you’d like to talk about what might happen in New Orleans or any other city in the future, please call me at 985-624-9976.

Misinformation Alert: Media Training & Crisis Communications Plans, NIMS, Emergency Communications & More from Gerard Braud

Big warning on the BraudCast today.
Big warning as we commemorate September 11th.
Big warning as we remember August 29th, the recent anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
Big warning as your kids go back to school.
Big warning for all executives.
Big warning for everyone in public relations.

Why all the warnings?

After September 11th and Hurricane Katrina the Federal government launched a massive emergency communications effort. However, these efforts have little, or anything, to do with PR people communicating with the media, employees and other key stakeholders.

The reason I issue the warning is that many schools, government agencies, hospitals and companies are not doing what they are supposed to be doing… and many executives, government leaders, hospital administrators and school leaders think they now have all the communications tools they need.

They are so wrong.

All of these emergency communications efforts deal with the radio systems that allow first responders to talk with one another during a crisis. RADIO SYSTEMS.

They have nothing to do with communicating the written and spoken word with your core audiences.

Many school systems and many law enforcement agencies around the country spent the summer rolling out what are known as NIMS Emergency Plans. In the program, government buildings and school buildings have all been given special numbers to identify them during an emergency.

One PR person recently told me her boss said he no longer needed Media Training because if there was a disaster, the FBI would be their spokesperson. Another executive stopped a PR department from working on their Crisis Communications Plan because they were part of the new Federal Emergency Communications System.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

It frightens me what executives know, what they think they know, what they don’t know, and what they don’t know they don’t know.

For clarification, yes, executives and administrators still need Media Training because in a crisis, they still need to talk to the media, employees and other key audiences. In schools, that means the training needs to include talking with students, parents, faculty and staff. In a hospital it means talking with patients and their families. In a company it means talking with customers as well as the media and employees.

If your event involves first responders, they DO NOT become your spokesperson. Their interest is different than your interest. If a Joint Information Command is set up for news conferences, your spokespeople talk about what you know, while the responders and law enforcement talk about what they know.

Additionally, every organization needs its own Crisis Communications Plan in addition to any NIMS plan, Incident Command plan or Emergency Operations Plan. Those plans ONLY coordinate responders arriving in a timely manner and talking to one another through secure radio systems. They DO NOT include instructions for your written and spoken communications to your audiences. They DO NOT include all of the dozens of pre-written news releases that your crisis communications plan should contain.

I’ve posted new resources in the definitions section of 2 websites, including: and

Please forward these to your leadership to educate them.
Please forward the link to the podcast to educate them.

As you can tell, I’m passionate about this and I’m concerned about the misinformation and misconceptions that is out there. Your own Media Training and your own Crisis Communications Plan can save lives through communications prior to a natural disaster, such as communicating evacuations for a hurricane… and during a crisis, such as a school shooting or workplace violence event. You would be using your written and spoken communications skills long before first responders even get involved, while responders are on the scene, and long after they have left the scene.

Here’s today’s call to action. Meet with your leaders and discuss this with them. If your leadership won’t listen to you, I’ll be happy to talk with and explain it. I’m also happy to speak to any association conventions where your leaders may be in the audience. As PR professionals we need to stick together on this and educate our leaders and executives. I’ve updated my website at with a new keynote called Leadership When “It” Hits the Fan, specifically designed to address some of these issues.

Let’s work on this together. After all, it is our job as strategic communications professionals.

Here is your link to listen to today’s BraudCast.

Here is your link to sign up for FREE.