Lessons on Crisis Recovery from Hurricane Katrina

To prevent permanent government encroachment on private civil society, community and business leaders must assert themselves.

After Hurricane Katrina, IHS President Dr. Emily Chamlee-Wright studied New Orleans’ recovery. Now, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Dr. Chamlee-Wright explains how lessons from Katrina should be applied to the COVID-19 crisis.

“A global pandemic is a different kind of catastrophe,” ” Dr. Chamlee-Wright writes.

This time, officials had more time to prepare, and people are stuck in their homes, not displaced from them. COVID-19 will leave buildings—though perhaps not businesses—intact.

– Dr. Emily Chamlee-Wright
Dr. Emily Chamlee-Wright
Dr. Emily Chamlee-Wright

But, she explains, “in both cases, government solutions are encroaching on private civil society with potentially devastating consequences.”

Dr. Chamlee-Wright is the author of The Cultural and Political Economy of Recovery and the co-author of How We Came Back: Voices from Post-Katrina New Orleans. She has also authored and co-authored several articles about her study of New Orleans’ recovery.

In the Wall Street Journal, she explains how several New Orleans community leaders—including St. Bernard Parish superintendent Doris Voitier, Father Vien Nguyen, and Broadmoor Improvement Association president Latoya Cantrell—asserted themselves when government actions or inaction during recovery threatened their neighborhoods’ survival.

This Katrina lesson is relevant today: Once government occupies civil society with top-down control, it tends to over-police and stay too long. Few officials want to risk lifting the lockdown orders, lest they face public scrutiny if something goes wrong. The result is systematic overcaution, which expands government control.

– Dr. Emily Chamlee-Wright

To prevent permanent government encroachment on private civil society, community and business leaders must asset themselves, Dr. Chamlee-Wright argues.

Read Dr. Emily Chamlee-Wright’e op-ed in The Wall Street Journal here. For additional pieces by Dr. Chamlee-Wright, visit the Institute for Humane Studies at TheIHS.org.

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