Remaining Hurricane Katrina events, exhibits

31 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

What Hurricane Katrina Can Teach Us About Leadership.

When Hurricane Katrina tore into the Gulf Coast states ten years ago, leadership was in as short supply as tarpaulins. But in Mississippi, former Governor Haley Barbour, author of America’s Great Storm: Leading Through Hurricane Katrina received plaudits from all sides for his decisive, non-partisan leadership and political clout, which secured $24 billion in disaster relief from Congress. (Related: Protecting a New Generation of Poisoned Kids After Katrina.) Talking from his home in Mississippi, he describes what Katrina taught him about leadership; explains how a new word, “slabbed,” was coined; and why he still stands by President Bush.

Max Mayfield, called to say, “This is going to be a Camille-like storm.” Hurricane Camille hit Mississippi in 1969: one of only three storms ever to come ashore as a Category 5 hurricane. But after the news media started referring to this as a storm like Camille we had a hugely improved evacuation. (Related: Beyond Katrina: 7 Portraits of Grit and Determination) We thought Camille was the gold standard: 200 mph winds, with about 200 tornadoes.

We had tens of thousands of houses where that was all that was left. (Related: New Orleans Door to Door) President Bush flew to Mobile, Alabama to meet with you and other governors. When we were walking out to get on a helicopter that would take President Bush and I to Mississippi, the President made that remark— “Good job, Brownie!” — to Michael Brown, the head of FEMA, which would be interpreted by people as showing he was out of touch with what was happening. As we went along, President Bush leaned as far forward as federal law would permit to give us the maximum support after Congress passed special emergency disaster legislation in December. In a news conference on the Tuesday after the storm, a reporter said that in New Orleans the government was confiscating people’s private weapons and would we confiscate people’s guns in Mississippi?

Compare the looting in Mississippi to other places; it was a very small fraction. (Related: 10 Years After Katrina, Some Are ‘Homeless in Their Own Homes’) You were widely praised for your lobbying efforts in Washington after Katrina. I’ll never forget one day in November, I walked into the Capitol, and a voice said, “Haley?” I looked over and it was Congressman Barney Frank from Massachusetts: liberal, Northeastern Democrat. You send it to me and I will send it to every Democratic member of the House and ask every one of them to vote for it.” Seventy five percent of the housing damage from Katrina was in Louisiana, but Mississippi received seventy percent of FEMA’s housing funds.

Many people have actually criticized me for not getting more money [Laughs] But I think the idea of pork barrel flies in the face of the sentiment of the American people. Second thing: Be open and inform the public through the press what the reality is, what you’re trying to do about it, how you’re trying to do it, and tell the truth.

There’s nothing more damaging to the ability to lead than if people think you’re not telling the truth, or if they learn you’re not telling the truth.

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