Obama Hurricane Sandy Response: How Obama Learned From Hurricane Katrina

As the nation enters the final week of the presidential campaign, millions of Americans are also facing the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which devastated several parts of the east coast. Obama has paid visits to damaged areas of New Jersey alongside Governor Chris Christie. While the president is using these public appearances to his advantage, he has also become the subject of criticism. Former Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael Brown said the Obama administration’s response to Hurricane Sandy was being too impulsive.

Obama gave a press conference from the White House briefing room early on Sunday morning. The president warned the areas of the nation that were in the projected path of Hurricane Sandy.

“When they tell you to evacuate, you need to evacuate. Do not delay. Don’t pause; don’t question the instructions that are being given, because this is a serious storm and it could potentially have fatal consequence if people haven’t acted quickly” Obama said.

Obama’s statements were poorly received by Brown, the former director of FEMA during Hurricane Katrina under President George W. Bush. In an interview with a local Denver newspaper on Monday, Brown expressed his sentiments on the press conference, saying, “It's premature [when] the brunt of the storm won't happen until later this afternoon.”

Brown’s concerns didn’t stop there.  He went as far as to make a comparison with Obama’s response to Hurricane Sandy to his behavior during the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya in September. On the day of the attack, Obama continued along the campaign trail in Las Vegas.

"One thing he's gonna be asked is, why did he jump on this so quickly and go back to D.C. so quickly when in Benghazi, he went to Las Vegas? Why was this so quick?...At some point, somebody's going to ask that question...This is like the inverse of Benghazi,” he said.

It is clear that Brown is implying that the president is investing more concern in issues occurring on the home front rather than overseas. However, Brown hardly has a good track record. Brown eventually resigned in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina after receiving a barrage of criticism.

Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina, and Obama’s to Sandy could not be more different. In 2005, when Katrina made landfall in the Gulf Coast, President Bush was on vacation. It wasn’t until several days after the devastation that Bush began to make visits to damaged areas of the gulf.

Despite the public outcry for FEMA’s alleged failures on Hurricane Katrina, Bush praised Brown’s performance. On September 2, 2005, Bush held a press conference in one of the several devastated sites affected by Katrina. When asked how he thought of FEMA’s performance, Bush infamously stated he thought Brown did a “hekuva job.”

Regardless of Brown’s criticisms, a significant lesson was to be learned from Bush’s administration, in that another Katrina situation should never occur again. With that said, it is apparent that president Obama took that into consideration when holding his press conference Sunday.

So how does Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath situate Obama in terms of Election Day? He is using his incumbency to his advantage. He is fulfilling his presidential obligations to address the nation in times of emergency. However, he is also killing two birds with one stone to show voters how he performs in crisis management. New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie has been an avid supporter of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. However, his recent collaboration with Obama in Sandy’s aftermath may help secure the president some added votes. Was Hurricane Sandy a blessing in disguise for Obama? That may be answered on November 6.

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Shawna Gillen

Shawna is currently studying Political Science and Psychology at Marist College. She has a passion for politics and is an aspiring lawyer. In her spare time she likes to play club women's rugby, and contributes as the Co-News Editor for Marist's student newspaper.

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