“Bureaucracy, meet catastrophe”

Margaret B. Takeda (College of Business Administration, The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA)
Marilyn M. Helms (Business Administration Division, Dalton State College, Dalton, Georgia, USA)

International Journal of Public Sector Management

ISSN: 0951-3558

Publication date: 1 June 2006



An analysis of the way the bureaucratic management system responded to the Tsunami disaster of December 26, 2004 was repeated in handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the USA at the end of 2005. This research note aims to follow up on the original paper “Bureaucracy meet catastrophe: analysis of the Tsunami disaster relief efforts and their implications for global emergency governance”, to be published in early 2006. It again highlights the severe shortcomings of the bureaucratic model as a paradigm for responding to situations in which the magnitude of the system's task is overwhelmingly complex and the timing process is bounded by urgency.


Evidence of the findings for this research is driven by primary references, namely news reports and web site information provided in the aftermath of the fall 2005 hurricane.


Like in the Tsunami disaster, the reports from Hurricane Katrina highlight the key problems of bureaucratic management including slow decision making, inability to absorb and process outside information, and escalation of commitment to failed courses of action.

Research limitations/implications

Suggestions for future research are provided.

Practical implications

It is this very requirement (absorbing and processing outside information and escalation of commitment to failed initial courses of action) which may undermine all relief efforts when such a high magnitude event occurs.


The tragic irony of this analysis is that most emergency relief organizations of the proper size and complexity to effectively deal with “shocking” events must work within the bureaucratic systems created by large federal relief organizations (such as FEMA) as the “price” for staying in operation.



Takeda, M. and Helms, M. (2006), "“Bureaucracy, meet catastrophe”", International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 19 No. 4, pp. 397-411. https://doi.org/10.1108/09513550610669211

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