August 2018: Flags Hung in New Orleans Office During Hurricane Katrina
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall. The destructive hurricane resulted in devastating loss of life, billions of dollars of damage, and the displacement of over a million people. More than 80 percent of New Orleans was flooded. Quite simply, the amount of damage was unprecedented.
The FBI’s New Orleans Division did not escape damage, as many of the division’s offices and their content were ruined by water or mold; part of the roof peeled back and let water into the building. As the city was underwater, and both electricity and communications were down, the FBI deployed multiple SWAT members to the New Orleans Division to protect and secure the facility.
The SWAT teams on the ground could not stay or sleep in the field office building, as it had no electricity or air conditioning, and mold was beginning to form on the walls. They had to sleep on cots in the division garage.
Despite the damage to the New Orleans field office, within days the FBI had nearly 500 special agents, intelligence analysts, and professional staff from across the country on the ground, working with state and local authorities to help respond to the chaos and rescue those still stranded. FBI personnel from across the country worked out of a downtown hotel spared from the worst of the flooding and from a mobile command center established in Baton Rouge. They worked cases related to the hurricane but also continued to work the ongoing cases FBI New Orleans had been handling prior to Hurricane Katrina.
The FBI was also represented in the Law Enforcement Coordination Center, a multi-agency task force that drew members from local, state, and federal agencies and was focused on securing the city. FBI tactical personnel were the lead federal agents working with the New Orleans police departments in two of the city’s eight police districts. They answered emergency calls, prevented criminal activity, and assisted with search and rescue operations. And as floodwaters receded and the death toll rose, the FBI’s Disaster Squad—a team of highly trained forensic examiners from the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia—got to work identifying the victims.
However, the FBI’s work was not limited to mitigating the immediate damage left by Hurricane Katrina—the Hurricane Katrina Task Force was established to address the inundation of fraudulent claims against the government in relation to Katrina. There are many different kinds of disaster fraud, including contract fraud, investment fraud, and charity fraud, as well as various embezzlement schemes. The task force’s fraud cases stretched for years, and many crimes were uncovered or prosecuted long after Hurricane Katrina struck.
August’s #ArtifactoftheMonth is this collection of flags. FBI SWAT agents hung them in the garage where they were sleeping to remind them of their mission: protect the lives and property of New Orleans’ residents. These flags still hang in the New Orleans Field Office to remind everyone of the help the Division provided to the New Orleans community during a tragic and difficult time in the city’s history.