Emory Report
September 19, 2005
Volume 58, Number 4


Emory Report homepage  

September 26 , 2005
Panel evaluates ethics of U.S. response to Hurricane Katrina

BY katherine baust

Five panelists, brought together by the Center for Ethics for the first of a two-part series called “Falling Apart & Coming Together: Ethical Responses to Hurricane Katrina,” on Tuesday, Sept. 14 at 2 p.m. in Cox Ballroom, raised and evaluated fundamental ethical questions arising from the response to the Gulf Coast disaster.

Kathy Kinlaw, associate director of the Center for Ethics, introduced the panelists. “Is it too early to begin reflecting on and analyzing responses? Yes and no,” Kinlaw said. “Though we run the risk of missing important points, there is merit of having this discussion now while we are in the midst of it and when the details of what happened are still fresh.”

“In a disaster response, there are three stages: the emergency stage, the relief phase and the long-term recovery phase,” said panelist Susan Henry Crowe, dean of the chapel and religious life, who should know; prior to coming to Emory, Henry Crowe was an administrator for the South Carolina United Methodist Council on Ministries during the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo. “The emergency stage usually lasts about 10 days. We are still in this stage because of the unusual destructiveness of Hurricane Katrina. For every one day of emergency, you can usually count on needing one month of relief.”

“The hurricane has exposed ethical problems related to social justice and raised questions of how emergency services should be used,” said James Buehler, research professor of epidemiology in the Rollins School of Public Health. His background as a physician, combined with his work at the CDC on the role government should play in disease and public health, enabled him to provide a context for ethical questions about the use of emergency services as they relate to public health needs. “A good way to look at this is as a continuum, not as an either or situation. There is a need to both prepare for natural disasters and for terrorism.”

“To accept a job without competence is immoral,” said Edward Queen, director of the Ethics and Servant Leadership Program. A specialist in religion and culture, Queen talked about public ethics of leadership. “Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director Michael Brown could have fallen on his sword earlier. He was not prepared for the role, and now the world knows it.”

“Why did we see such a spectacular disaster in FEMA?” asked Tracy Yandle, assistant professor of environmental studies, who came to discuss environmental impact and public policy. “One of the answers I have heard is that it reflects the failure of the current leadership to take the role of government seriously. I don’t know if this is true, but when you look at the person who was in charge of FEMA, you can make an interesting argument.

“Another possibility,” Yandle said, “is the fact that FEMA was pushed into Homeland Security, resulting in a change from a cabinet to a sub-cabinet position. Or, we could look to engineering, the fact that this city was built in a very unstable environment.”

“Festering inequalities and destructive policies have affected and infected the areas effected by the hurricane,” said Alton Pollard, director of the Black Church Studies Program and associate professor of religion and culture in the Candler School of Theology. “The aftermath of Katrina is a great place to access race, ethnicity and social class in this country.”

Following the panelists’ comments, attendees posed questions about global warming, race, class and social inequality, the role of the media, and relief efforts. The second part of the series, held on Thursday, Sept. 14, consisted of roundtable discussions designed to take the themes raised during the first session and make action recommendations.

For any more information about this series or the Center for Ethics’ upcoming programs, visit www.emory.edu/ETHICS or call 404-727-4954.