Katrina at 12: What FEMA did

Twelve years ago, the rest of the world was watching on their TVs scenes from the Mississippi Coast and New Orleans that were very similar to what we’re watching on our smart phones from the Texas coast today. After Katrina washed through, thousands of people got to work on rescue and the long, long road of recovery. One aspect of that recovery effort, a tiny aspect in the big scheme of things but one that’s important to Mississippi preservationists, was FEMA’s architectural and archaeological survey of the three coastal counties and four inland counties (Pearl River, Stone, George, and Forrest) that took the hardest hit from Katrina.

Lameuse Street Historic District, Biloxi.

FEMA’s survey, which began in 2007 and finished up in 2016, included fourteen National Register historic districts and scores of individually listed properties on the Coast. The survey also identified a number of new National Register districts and individual properties that were recommended for listing. Its purpose was to update the information for cities and the state to use in future disaster planning.  If you’ve been paying close attention to our annual descriptions of new National Register nominations for the last several years, you might have noticed that several were the result of these FEMA surveys.

  • In 2010
    • Old Bay St. Louis Historic District, Bay St. Louis
  • In 2011
    • International Shipbuilding Company Employee Housing Historic District, Pascagoula
  • In 2012
    • Moss Point Historic District, Moss Point
  • In 2013
    • Krebsville Historic District (Boundary Increase), Pascagoula
  • In 2014
    • Old Ocean Springs Historic District (Boundary Increase), Ocean Springs
  • In 2015
    • Reynoir Street Historic District, Biloxi
    • East Howard Avenue Historic District, Biloxi
    • Upper West Central Historic District, Biloxi
    • Lameuse Street Historic District, Biloxi
    • Broadmoor Place Historic District, Gulfport
    • Soria City Historic District, Gulfport
  • In 2016
    • Central Gulfport Historic District, Gulfport
    • Second Street Historic District, Gulfport
    • Southwest Gulfport Historic District, Gulfport
    • Gulf Gardens Historic District, Gulfport

FEMA took a lot of heat, and some of it deserved, for its Katrina response, but this is an impressive list and shows a sustained and serious effort to recognize the Coast’s remaining built landscape.
Last year, the FEMA office in Biloxi finally closed down, but before they did, they published four reports on their work, some of which are available online and all of which are available (in select locations) in print. The reports, which delve into the architectural history of each county, are surprisingly readable, and the “Integrated Report” details how FEMA conducted the survey:

Survey Methodology (p.6)
FEMA used trained historic preservation professionals to complete surveys in Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, Pearl River, Stone, George, and Forrest Counties. These surveys combined
sophisticated NPS standardized GPS/GIS survey and evaluation techniques with research and extensive consultation with the SHPO and the MBCI THPO. This produced a customized
digitally based inventory and geodatabase that met NPS draft cultural resources spatial data standards while providing the historic preservation review staff with an easily accessible and
comprehensive project planning and review tool.

. . . .
FEMA’s architectural surveys focused on Pre-Katrina National Register Historic Districts (NRHD) and individual structures to determine if they were still eligible. The surveys also targeted areas with a high probability of having previously unidentified historic districts and individual structures that might be eligible for the NRHP. Historic preservation specialists conducted architectural surveys within the context of 14 historical themes:

• European Exploration (1699-1812)
• Choctaw Communities (Late 18th Century-Mid 1960s)
• Agriculture (18th Century-1950)
• Resort Industry (1820-1969)
• Timber Industry (1840-1930)
• Civil War (1861-1865)
• Reconstruction (1866-1875)
• Railroad Development (1870-1930)
• Education (1870-1969)
• Seafood Industry (1820-1947)
• African American History (Early 19th Century-Late 1960s)
• Great Depression (1930-1940)
• World War II (1941-1945)
• Post World War II (1946-1969)

(For those of you who are policy wonks, the full description of FEMA’s work with historic properties and its agreement with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History that led to these surveys is available here: https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/129778.)

The “County Survey Data Publications” that cover the history and architecture of Hancock, Harrison, and Jackson counties are the most interesting, even for one who doesn’t live full time on the Coast. You can download the full pdf for Harrison County at the FEMA website, or by clicking on the image below. I’m not sure why the Hancock and Jackson county publications aren’t on that FEMA page, but you can also see printed copies at most local libraries and historical societies on the Coast or obtain one through the Department of Marine Resources’ Office of Coastal Restoration and Resiliency Biloxi office. You can also contact the Historic Preservation Division of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in Jackson for a printed copy.

On this 12th anniversary of Katrina, let’s hope that Houston and its environs don’t require such a lengthy and difficult recovery effort.


Categories: Disasters, Gulf Coast, Historic Preservation, Hurricane Katrina


1 reply

  1. I’ve got a paper copy of the Harrison County report that I reference frequently. I did not know about the PDF version, that will be very helpful too.


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