Hurricane Katrina Case Study Ibm

Hurricane Katrina

At least 1,500 people were killed and around $300 billion worth of damage was caused when Hurricane Katrina hit the south-eastern part of the USA. Arriving in late August 2005 with winds of up to 127 mph, the storm caused widespread flooding.

Physical impacts of Hurricane Katrina

Hurricanes can cause the sea level around them to rise, this effect is called a storm surge. This is often the most dangerous characteristic of a hurricane, and causes the most hurricane-related deaths. It is especially dangerous in low-lying areas close to the coast.

There is more about hurricanes in the weather section of the Met Office website

Hurricane Katrina tracked over the Gulf of Mexico and hit New Orleans, a coastal city with huge areas below sea-level which were protected by defence walls, called levees. The hurricane’s storm surge, combined with huge waves generated by the wind, pushed up water levels around the city.

The levees were overwhelmed by the extra water, with many collapsing completely. This allowed water to flood into New Orleans, and up to 80% of the city was flooded to depths of up to six metres.

Hurricane Katrina also produced a lot of rainfall, which also contributed to the flooding.

In pictures

House and car destroyed by the hurricane

Flooded New Orleans street

Boat on top of a house

Strong winds
The strongest winds during 25-30 August were over the coastal areas of Louisiana and Florida. A map of the maximum wind speeds which were recorded during the Hurricane Katrina episode is shown. Although the winds did not directly kill many people, it did produce a storm surge over the ocean which led to flooding in coastal areas and was responsible for many deaths.

Satellite Image

Fig. 1 Satellite Image of Hurricane Katrina, 28 August 2005 at 2045 GMT. Courtesy NOAA/CIMSS/SSEC.

Hurricane Katrina animated satellite image


Fig 2. Illustration showing different wave heights on a shoreline. Image courtesy of NOAA.

Hurricanes can create tornadoes. Thirty-three tornadoes were produced by Hurricane Katrina over a five-day period, although only one person died due to a tornado which affected Georgia.

Impact on humans

  • 1,500 deaths in the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida.
  • Costs of about $300 billion.
  • Thousands of homes and businesses destroyed.
  • Criminal gangs roamed the streets, looting homes and businesses and committing other crimes.
  • Thousands of jobs lost and millions of dollars in lost tax incomes.
  • Agricultural production was damaged by tornadoes and flooding. Cotton and sugar-cane crops were flattened.
  • Three million people were left without electricity for over a week.
  • Tourism centres were badly affected.
  • A significant part of the USA oil refining capacity was disrupted after the storm due to flooded refineries and broken pipelines, and several oil rigs in the Gulf were damaged.
  • Major highways were disrupted and some major road bridges were destroyed.
  • Many people have moved to live in other parts of the USA and many may never return to their original homes.


The broken levees were repaired by engineers and the flood water in the streets of New Orleans took several months to drain away. The broken levees and consequent flooding were largely responsible for most of the deaths in New Orleans. One of the first challenges in the aftermath of the flooding was to repair the broken levees. Vast quantities of materials, such as sandbags, were airlifted in by the army and air force and the levees were eventually repaired and strengthened.

Although the USA is one of the wealthiest developed countries in the world, it highlighted that when a disaster is large enough, even very developed countries struggle to cope.

Weather Map

Fig 3. Map of America showing highest wind speeds. Image courtesy of NOAA.

Web page reproduced with the kind permission of the Met Office

IBMers mobilized to help from the first news reports, which came on a Sunday at the start of a customary weeklong holiday for many employees. In India, IBM employees collected more than eight tons of food, clothes, blankets and medicines for the Red Cross. Software applications were developed to help track and create ID cards for victims and monitor the distribution of relief materials. In Thailand, IBMers built a website to provide information and updates for the public from the government response agencies. In Indonesia, IBM developed the Aceh Disaster Management System, established a wireless network in this remote area, and donated four servers, 275 ThinkPad notebook computers and other hardware to run the application. IBM trained government and United Nations volunteers to use the system, and in just over two months, they had collected International Displaced Person registrations for more than 150,000 people.

In Sri Lanka, IBM collaborated with volunteers from the open-source IT community and the government—led by a senior IBM researcher recently returned to the country—to develop a free, open-source disaster management system called Sahana. The software was used to track dead and missing persons, and displaced persons in refugee camps. It also helped improve logistics efforts and was used to develop rebuilding plans.

IBM’s efforts helped locate more than 40,000 missing children during the first week after the tsunami. More than 700 employees were involved for stretches of up to three and four months, and IBM’s overall contribution totaled more than US$3.2 million.

This kind of response is not unusual at IBM, where humanitarian ethics are part of the corporate culture.

“IBM has a tradition of responding whenever there’s a disaster, whenever there’s a significant occurrence in one of the communities where we live and work,” says Robin Willner, IBM’s vice president of Global Community Initiatives. “That’s part of being a good corporate citizen.”

In 1914, the first year Thomas J. Watson Sr. joined the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Corporation, the company donated funds to more than 20 charities. One of the company’s first grants was to the Red Cross to help relocate refugees in Europe from the First World War. Throughout the years, IBMers have always been encouraged to make donations to those in need—in 2008, IBM employees and retirees donated more than US$36 million to charitable causes.

Starting in the 1990s, IBM has made a strategic effort to respond to the world’s disasters, with not just financial donations, but by lending its talent, expertise and compassion to help victims recover their lives after suffering the effects of earthquakes, floods and tsunamis. The IBM ® On Demand Community, a global volunteer and service network launched in 1993, enables IBMers to find volunteer opportunities, training and resources related to disaster preparedness and response. As a global company with more than 400,000 employees in 170 countries, IBM has hearts and hands available worldwide when the unthinkable happens.

Within 24 hours after the attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York on September 11, 2001, IBM chairman and CEO Lou Gerstner and IBM president and COO Sam Palmisano pledged US$5 million in technology, services and cash in support of relief and recovery efforts, and mobilized IBM to help. IBM helped establish the September 11 th Fund within the first 36 hours after the attack, and then provided call center support and highly secure online capacity for contributions during the historic all-stations telethon, which raised US$120 million in its first 20 hours and eventually would raise more than US$500 million overall for victims, families and communities affected by the attacks. Hundreds of IBM laptops and other computers were donated to the New York City mayor’s office, the National Guard, the Red Cross and Disaster Services Assistance Center. IBM established a wireless network at Ground Zero after all cell phone access had been destroyed and created a database for the major aid organizations to help avoid duplication of efforts or fraud, and to help get all available and appropriate aid to the families.

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and would become the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States. To help rebuild, IBM developed the Jobs4Recovery website, joining with the US Chamber of Commerce to help connect post-Katrina jobseekers with employment opportunities. More than 400 IBMers volunteered for clean-up and housing rehab in the city of New Orleans.

Following the May 2008 earthquake that hit China’s Sichuan Province, IBMers around the world made more than US$800,000 in donations to Red Cross organizations. IBM donated six high-end enterprise servers to relief efforts, and more than 50 IBM development laboratory and technical support experts worked around the clock to customize and translate Sahana software for deployment.

The earthquake in Haiti in January 2010 would displace more than one million people. The IBM community responded with US$2 million in donations to Haiti earthquake relief, beginning 48 hours after the first quake. IBM worked with humanitarian aid organizations to design tracking systems for vehicles and supplies, and consulted on creating a mobile datacenter.

In February 2010, a massive earthquake devastated much of Chile. IBM built a “Smarter Command Center” for the Chilean Red Cross using the Sahana platform (already translated into Spanish after an earlier earthquake in Peru), including donated servers, notebook computers and software, and renovated the basement of the Red Cross building to turn it into a command center.

Through its responses to natural disasters, IBM continues to innovate and create new solutions. Sahana, the open-source software created in the wake of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and now governed by the Sahana Software Foundation, continues to evolve and is often referred to as “disaster relief in a box” for its ease of deployment. IBM continues to support its use for disaster relief and has deployed it in more than a dozen instances since its creation, including the 2008 Chengdu-Sichuan Province earthquake in China and the 2010 Chile earthquake.

Work following the tsunami also led to publication of two Global Caregivers’ Guides For Helping Survivors Of Disaster—one specifically for children and another for adults—designed for use by professionals and volunteers providing support to children following a disaster and produced by IBM. The guides have been produced in English, Spanish, French, Haitian Creole, Chinese and Japanese.

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