Earthea Nance, assistant professor of environmental planning and hazard mitigation at the University of New Orleans, has experienced three different perspectives on recovery in recent years. After Katrina, she founded a nonprofit environmental organization in the community looking at environmental issues. She then worked for 3 years as the director of disaster mitigation for the city of New Orleans. Most recently, she has been doing collaborative research at the University of New Orleans.

Many individuals, community organizations, businesses, and other groups have had to put their lives back together after Katrina, after other hurricanes with lesser effects, and after the Gulf oil spill. “It’s heart wrenching to watch their efforts be blocked by what we call red tape,” said Nance. People decide to move back into an area that may be affected by another storm. They sign up for programs that are available to them. But they are then stalled for years.

“How do we address this? Who is accountable for this?” asked Nance. “This is a question that has got to have some attention, because it’s not enough to blame whoever the politician is at that moment when some of these issues continue no matter who is in charge.”

A second problem with governance is what Nance called bureaucratic risk. This is when people at other levels of government or outside government decide that a particular government agency is so ineffective that they refuse to give money to it. In that case, other organizations can be created to avoid investing in the high-risk organization. “That’s a problem. I don’t know that anybody talks about it because it’s kind of embarrassing, but it’s a reality,” Nance said. Building governance capacity is essential to avoid such outcomes.

Nance described one possible approach to these problems, which is a program funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to educate every elected official in Louisiana about hazard mitigation and risk management. “The idea would be to have elected officials sit in a room and listen to other elected officials who have successfully led their communities toward higher levels of resilience.”

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