Vulnerable populations: A cross-case synthesis of correctional facility disaster response during Hurricanes Katrina and Maria


  • Carl Dement, BA (Hons), MA
  • Tony McAleavy, BA (Hons), MSc, PhD



prison emergencies, disaster planning, vulnerable populations, hurricane Katrina, hurricane Maria


Objective: This study aims to critically evaluate the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP), New Orleans, Louisiana response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC), Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, response to Hurricane Maria in 2017 to determine key areas for policy development.

Design: This study uses an interpretivist paradigm to conduct an inductive, cross-case synthesis and content analysis.

Setting: The OPP in Katrina and the MDC in Maria; case-studies determined by similar exposure to hurricanes in the Caribbean and inmate population.

Subjects: Inmates as an intrinsically vulnerable population.

Interventions: Cross-case synthesis of the two selected case-studies comparing response to separate hurricanes.

Main outcome measure(s): The ProQuest, Wiley, Scopus, Science Direct, and Google Scholar databases were used to establish a corpus of qualitative data focused on the evacuation and humane treatment of inmates. Inductive content analysis resulted in three themes which informed seven policy recommendations for enhanced correctional facility preparedness for natural and human-induced hazards.

Results: The preparedness of correctional facilities remains inadequate despite significant experience during Katrina, Maria, and other disasters demonstrating a failure in isomorphic learning.

Conclusions: The theoretical contributions of this study are encapsulated in seven recommendations. Three are recommended accountability and support measures for the BOP and state institutions by involving the FEMA and the GAO. The other four are recommended improvements in EM planning for counties and municipalities.


Author Biographies

Carl Dement, BA (Hons), MA

School of Criminal Justice, University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond, Oklahoma

Tony McAleavy, BA (Hons), MSc, PhD

Fire & Emergency Management Program, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma


Lindell MK, Prater CS: A hurricane evacuation management decision support system (EMDSS). Nat Hazards. 2006; 40(3): 627-634. DOI: 10.1007/s11069-006-9013-1.

Prater CS, Lindell MK: Politics of hazard reduction. Nat Hazards Rev. 2000; 1: 73-82.

Waugh WL: Shelter From the Storm: Repairing the National Emergency Managment System After Hurricane Katrina. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage; 2006.

Fernandez M, Fausset R: Houston mayor’s no-win dilemma: Whether to tell residents to stay or go. The New York Times. 2017:11.

Bascetta C: Disaster Preparedness: Preliminare Observations on the Evacuation of Vulnerable Populations Due to Hurricanes and Other Disasters. Washington, DC: United States Government Accountability Office; 2006.

Cutter SL, Boruff BJ, Shirley WL: Social vulnerability to environmental hazards. Soc Sci Q. 2003; 84(2): 242-261.

Cutter SL: The vulnerability of science and the science of vulnerability. Ann Assoc Am Geogr. 2003; 93(1): 1-12. DOI: 10.1007/978-90-481-2350-6.

Finch C, Emrich CT, Cutter SL: Disaster disparities and differential recovery in New Orleans. Popul Environ. 2010; 31(4): 179-202. DOI: 10.1007/s11111-009-0099-8.

Comfort L, Wisner B, Cutter S, et al.: Reframing disaster policy: The global evolution of vulnerable communities. Environ Hazards. 1999; 1(1): 39-44. DOI: 10.3763/ehaz.1999.0105.

Fothergill A, Peek LA: Poverty and disasters in the United States: A review of recent sociological findings. Nat Hazards. 2004; 32: 89-110. DOI: 10.1023/B:NHAZ.0000026792.76181.d9.

Fussell E: The long term recovery of New Orleans’ population after Hurricane Katrina. Am Behav Sci. 2015; 59(10): 1231-1245. DOI: 10.1177/0002764215591181.

Hoffman S: Preparing for disaster: Protecting the most vulnerable in emergencies. UC Davis Law Rev. 2008; 42: 1491-1547.

Savilonis M: Prisons and disasters. 2013. Available at Accessed February 1, 2020.

Omorogieva W: Prison preparedness and legal obligations to protect prisoners during natural disasters. 2018. Available at Accessed February 1, 2020.

Estelle v. Gamble, 429 US 97 (1976).

Farmer v. Brennan, 511 US 825 (1995).

Vumback M: Evacuating the incarcerated: The intricacies of keeping prisoner’s Eighth Amendment rights intact during natural disasters. Law J Soc Justice. 2019; 11: 1-17.

US Department of Justice, Bureau of Prisons: Organization and Functions Manual. 2020. Available at Accessed February 1, 2020.

Blaikie P, Cannon T, Davis I, et al.: At Risk: Natural Hazards, People’s Vulnerability, and Disasters. Abingdon, United Kingdom: Routledge; 1994.

Morrow BH: Identifying and mapping community vulnerability. Disasters. 1999; 23(1): 1-18.

Inmate Statistics: Race; 2018. Availble at Accessed February 1, 2020.

Nicholas J: Just leave them to die. The crisis at Brooklyn’s federal jail reveals how jails and prisons are not prepared for a disaster. The Appeal. 2019. Available at Accessed February 1, 2020.

Duckworth T, Hassan M: GAO BOP final letter. 2019. Available at of Prisons Final Letter.pdf. Accessed February 1, 2020.

Ferris T, Moreno-centeno E, El-sherif M, et al.: Studying the usage of social media and mobile technology during extreme events and their implications for evacuation decisions: A case study of Hurricane Sandy. Int J Mass Emerg Disasters. 2016; 34(2): 204-230.

Buchanan DA: Reflections: Good practice, not rocket science—understanding failures to change after extreme events. J Chang Manag. 2011; 11(3): 273-288. DOI: 10.1080/14697017.2011.597571.

Quarantelli EL: Converting disaster scholarship into effective disaster planning and managing: Possibilities and limitations. Int J Mass Emerg Disasters. 1993; 11(1): 15-39.

DiMaggio PJ, Powell WW: The iron cage revisited: Institutional isomorphism and collective rationality in organizational fields. Am Sociol Rev. 1983; 48(2): 147-160.

Toft B, Reynolds S: Learning from Disasters: A Management Approach. 3rd ed. London, UK: Perpetuity Press; 2005. DOI: 10.1007/978-1-349-27902-9.

Kaeble D, Cowhig M: Correctional Populations in the Unites States, 2016; 2018. Available at Accessed February 1, 2020.

US Department of Commerce, US Census Bureau: QuickFacts Houston City, Texas. 2020. Accessed February 1, 2020.

Walmsley R: World Prison Population List; 2013. Available at Accessed February 1, 2020.

Robbins IP: Lessons from Hurricane Katrina: Prison emergency preparedness as a constitutional imperative. Univ Michigan J Law Reform. 2008; 42(1): 199-206.

Kiefer JJ, Montjoy RS: Incrementalism before the storm: Network performance for the evacuation of New Orleans. Public Adm Rev. 2006; 66(1): 122-130.

Gray BH, Hebert K: Hospitals in hurricane Katrina: Challenges facing custodial institutions in a disaster. J Health Care Poor Underserved. 2007; 18(2): 283-298. DOI: 10.1353/hpu.2007.0031.

Glick R, Bish DR, Agca E: Optimization-based decision support to assist in logistics planning for hospital evacuations. J Emerg Manag. 2013; 11(4): 261-270.

Yin R: Case Study Research and Applications: Design and Methods. 6th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage; 2018.

Lewis-Beck M, Bryman A, Liao T, eds.: The Sage Encyclopedia of Social Science Research Methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage; 2004.

Balaban E, Jawetz T: Abandoned and Abused: Complete Report. 2006. Available at Accessed February 1, 2020.

Le Dé L, Gaillard JC: Disaster risk reduction and emergency management in prison: A scoping study from New Zealand. J Contingencies Cris Manag. 2017; 25(4): 376-381. DOI: 10.1111/1468-5973.12165.

Williams B: Reflections on Katrina’s first year: The story of chaos and continuing abuse in one of America’s worst justice systems. Prison Legal News. 2007. Available at Accessed February 1, 2020.

Webster R: New Orleans prison’s future in question. New Orleans City Business. 2005. Available at Accessed February 1, 2020.

Webster R. Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff’s Office employees describe chaos in prison following hurricane. New Orleans CityBusiness. Published March 27, 2006. Accessed February 1, 2020.

Harding J: Qualitative Data Analysis: From Start to Finish. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage; 2013.

Erlingsson C, Brysiewicz P: A hands-on guide to doing content analysis. African J Emerg Med. 2017; 7(3): 93-99. DOI: 10.1016/j.afjem.2017.08.001.

Waugh WL: Katrina and the governors. Public Organ Rev. 2009; 9(4): 343-351. DOI: 10.1007/s11115-009-0092-9.

FEMA: Hurricane Pam Exercise Concludes. 2004. Available at Accessed February 1, 2020.

Pasch R, Penny A, Berg R: National Hurricane Center Tropical Cyclone Report: Hurricane Maria; 2018. Available at Accessed February 1, 2020.

Southeast Region Locations: Federal Bureau of Prisons. 2019. Available at Accessed October 22, 2019.

Chrastil N: A Puerto Rican federal inmate’s horrifying account of what the prison did after Hurricane Maria. ThinkProgress. 2018. Available at Accessed February 1, 2020.

Schwartz J, Barry C: A Guide to Preparing for and Responding to Prison Emergencies. 2005. Available at Accessed February 1, 2020.

Chandra A, Moen S, Sellers C: What Role Does the Private Sector Have in Supporting Disaster Recovery, and What Challenges Does It Face in Doing So? Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corp; 2016. DOI: 10.7249/pe187.

Martinez Y, Flagg A, Caballero A: Prisons and the deluge: For prisoners in a hurricane, there’s nowhere to run. The Marshall Project. 2017. Available at Accessed February 1, 2020.

Response and Recovery after Maria: Lessons for Disaster Law and Policy. UC Berkeley. Available at Accessed February 1, 2020.

National Hurricane Center: Costliest US Tropical Cyclones Tables Updated.; 2018. Available at Accessed February 1, 2020.

Gates J: State is housing 1,200 federal prisoners from Puerto Rico. Mississippi Clarion Ledger. 2017. Available at Accessed February 1, 2020.

Zeng Z: Jail Inmates in 2018. 2020. Available at Accessed February 1, 2020.

Bureau of Prisons: Federal Bureau of Prisons—Our Locations. 2020. Available at Accessed February 1, 2020.

Sylves R: Disaster Policy and Politics: Emergency Management and Homeland Security. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage; 2020.

Barzilai-Nahon K: Toward a theory of network gatekeeping: A framework for exploring information control. J Am Soc Inf Sci Technol. 2008; 59(9): 1493-1513. DOI: 10.1002/asi.

Berke P, Smith G, Lyles W: Planning for resiliency: Evaluation of state hazard mitigation plans under the Disaster Mitigation Act. Nat Hazards Rev. 2012; 13(2): 139-149. DOI: 10.1061/(ASCE)NH.1527-6996.0000063.

GAO: GAO at a glance. 2019. Available at Accessed February 1, 2020.

Federal Emergency Management Agency: The Hazard Mitigation Assistance Grant Programs; 2015. Available at Accessed February 1, 2020.

Masterson J, Peacock WG, Van Zandt S, et al.: Planning for Community Resilience: A Handbook for Reducing Vulnerability to Disasters. Washington, DC: Island Press; 2014.

Cutter SL, Mitchell JT, Scott MS: Revealing the vulnerability of people and places: A case study of Georgetown county, South Carolina. Hazards, Vulnerability Environ Justice. 2012; 90(4): 83-114. DOI: 10.4324/9781849771542.

McConnell A, Drennan L: Mission impossible? Planning and preparing for crisis. J Contingencies Cris Manag. 2006; 14(2): 59-70. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-5973.2006.00482.x.

Clarke L: Some functions of planning. In: Mission Improbable: Using Fantasy Documents to Tame Disaster. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press; 1999: 1-15.

Johnson M: How to prepare for emergencies in your correctional facility ahead of time. CorrectionsOne. 2018. Available at Accessed February 1, 2020.

US Department of Homeland Security: Build a Kit. 2020. Available at Accessed February 1, 2020.