Seven Days In The Crescent City Katrina’s Handlers, Crisis Discourse, And Story Lines

dc.contributor.advisorGopin, Marc
dc.contributor.authorMazur, Cynthia S.
dc.creatorMazur, Cynthia S.
dc.description.abstractHurricane Katrina is one of the most important events of our lifetime. The issues raised by the response to Hurricane Katrina, stated one congressional committee, could not be more critical to America’s sense of itself in this moment in history. Some even assert that Hurricane Katina is a harbinger of America’s demise. In response to the statements above, this dissertation asserts that a Conflict Management Professional should be included with the top officials during the crisis phase of a disaster for better coordinated emergency management operations. This study explores and describes the critical seven days surrounding Hurricane Katrina's landfall on August 29, 2005, in New Orleans. Using discourse and narrative analyses, positioning theory, and grounded theory, the author examines the communications among Mayor Nagin, Governor Blanco, FEMA's Under Secretary Brown, the Department of Homeland Security’s Secretary Chertoff, and President G. W. Bush (“the Key Parties”). The research goals are to: 1) discover how the speech acts among Blanco, Nagin, and the federal government undercut the initial Hurricane Katrina response; 2) review the scholars who offer relevant conflict analysis and resolution formats; and 3) develop a conceptual model for intervention that uses discourse to shift social positioning systems and narratives to promote a more effective response to crisis. Conflict analysis and resolution are integral to successful emergency management. Data includes all relevant communications in writing or captured by electronic media (press conferences, radio, TV, interviews, etc.) by Nagin, Blanco, Brown, Chertoff, and Bush; congressional testimony; government reports; blogs; emails; personal notes of disaster officials; documentaries; books chronicling the events; newspaper, magazine, and journal articles; and other dissertations. This research sets forth the phenomenology of a disaster’s first days. After thorough review of the Key Parties’ speech acts, the author found 1) disruptions, and 2) dysfunctional communications. Disruptions, which are defined as sources of conflict, included backstories of: 1) control and politics, information gaps, and history and context; 2) the power words that were misunderstood or used to exaggerate or deny the events; 3) positioning the problem elsewhere so that it was blamed on the other, embedded in regrets and excuses, or externalized; 4) malignant positioning by Brown of Blanco and by Nagin of his state and federal counterparts; and 5) the inartful reflexive positioning of Bush and Brown. Secondly, the research determined that communication was ineffective because questions were not asked or genuinely answered. These findings revealed underlying assumptions, motivations, and powerful but conflicting narratives that drove decision-making and shaped disaster response activities and police and civilian behavior. An Ombuds is proposed as a conceptual model to assist the key officials on-site during the crisis phase of a disaster. Conflict management and emergency management theory are woven together to illustrate this concept. It is systematically explained how the Ombuds could be aware of and address the disruptions and the dysfunctional communications mentioned in the previous two paragraphs. Using discourse, narratives, and positioning theory, the Ombuds would promote professional interpersonal dynamics, collaboration, and high-quality decision-making. The Ombuds would be expected to facilitate successful communication and process, build a culture of respect, establish him/herself as neutral, and assiduously identify problems and resolutions. The author has suggested tools, outlined psychological tendencies and counter-measures, and crafted the acronym ALLURE which stands for: 1) ask and be curious, 2) listen for positions, 3) link the parties together, 4) unsettle assumptions, 5) reposition the parties, and 6) encourage new narratives. Through discourse the Ombuds can legitimize, augment, and leverage the narratives and reposition the parties. Finally, it is proposed that the Ombuds would have authority to end stalemates; deadlocks during Hurricane Katrina are used as examples. Potential contenders for the Ombuds’ role have been put forth, such as the White House chief of staff and the Principal Federal Official, as well as, experience and educational requirements. A standard operating procedure that requires inclusion of an Ombuds during the crisis phase of a disaster to work with the highest levels of government will improve emergency response activities. This research is significant for all future disaster victims, any disaster handler, and all Conflict Management Professionals.
dc.subjectConflict management
dc.subjectPositioning theory
dc.subjectEmergency management
dc.subjectNarrative analysis
dc.subjectHurricane Katrina
dc.titleSeven Days In The Crescent City Katrina’s Handlers, Crisis Discourse, And Story Lines
dc.typeDissertation Analysis and Resolution Mason University in Conflict Analysis and Resolution


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