as a Natech Disaster
The findings summarized below come from a survey of relevant
research on different types of disasters and their consequences.
This survey was conducted as part of an effort to determine whether the
effects of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast region were more
indicative of a "natural" or a "technological" crisis event. The
resulting conclusion was that the effects of Hurricane Katrina were and
are consistent with both natural and man-made disaster typologies and
that, therefore, Katrina combined the worst of both types of event and
should be considered a "natural and technological" or "natech"
Key Research Findings:
- Natech disasters are system-wide impacts that
and contaminate both the ecological and social environments. "
- Natech disasters occur frequently. From
1990 to 2003 the annual number of such disasters in the U.S. ranged
from 530 to 820.
- Natech disasters often lead to direct, indirect
despoiling of living environments through the contamination of air,
water and soil.
- Natech disasters are particularly deadly for
four reasons: 1) they are widespread,
2) they often result in infrastructural destruction that impedes
response efforts, 3) they frequently lead to widespread environmental
contamination, and 4) they are exceedingly expensive to clean-up.
- Air pollution
- Dangerous levels of mold spores, endotoxins, dust, smoke and other
pollutants were found in New Orleans' air after Katrina. This was
the result of large-scale debris removal, open-pit burning of waste,
the aerolization of mold spores through floodwater pumping, etc.
- Katrina floodwaters became contaminated through contact with sewers,
fuel and chemical stores, industry, etc. When these floodwaters
were later intentionally pumped into Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Borgne
and the Gulf of Mexico to reduce flood levels, those bodies were also
Receding floodwaters revealed that land in and around New Orleans was
contaminated with large amounts of diesel fuel, arsenic,
benzo(a)pyrene, etc. This soil contamination posed serious
long-term health risks for residents and workers in affected
- Policy-makers and risk assessors must recognize
the true hybrid
nature of disasters like Hurricane Katrina, and see them as both
"natural" and "man-made."
- Natural and technological hazards have been
traditionally viewed as
separate risk domains. However, for natech disasters a dynamic
system of risk assessment is needed, one that incorporates "information
on interactive chains of causality."
- Natech disasters inflict long-term damage on
environment. Because of this, response efforts must address the
long-term and chronic health effects of environmental pollution.
Steven Picou, Professor, Department of Sociology, University
of South Alabama, (251)-460-7118, firstname.lastname@example.org.
1) J. Steven Picou, “Katrina as a Natech Disaster: Toxic Contamination
and Long-Term Risks for Residents of New Orleans.” Journal of Applied Social Science, Fall 2009, no. 4, pp. 39-55.
The SSRC Katrina Task Force oversees a range of research projects
on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and acts as a clearinghouse for
information emerging from those projects. For additional literature on
Hurricane Katrina see our Research
Bibliography. For more information about the SSRC Katrina Task
Force see the Katrina
Hub or contact Siovahn Walker at email@example.com.
For other Research Bulletins see our Archive.