In Context

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is the U.S. government agency responsible for disaster response, and it was heavily criticized for slow and fragmented recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina. FEMA was downsized and put under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and had lost some of its strongest leaders. In New Orleans, there were reports of FEMA turning down personnel and supplies offered by local businesses, police forces and emergency crews, while residents tried to figure out how to get back into their homes. In addition, FEMA had never dealt with a storm of Katrina's size, and preparations and resources were ultimately insufficient for a natural disaster of such magnitude. A later Congressional report deemed the response in New Orleans "a national failure, an abdication of the most solemn obligation to provide for the common welfare."

FEMA eventually supplied emergency food, water, medical supplies and services to residents, though the supplies were quickly depleted due to the number of residents in need. A lack of rebuilding funds and health problems left residents living in FEMA-supplied trailers--frequently criticized as a Band-Aid solution--for up to six years. Studies found some of those trailers were contaminated with formaldehyde, which contributed to various illnesses. The Times-Picayune, the city's major newspaper, reported that at one point New Orleans had more than 23,000 FEMA-issued trailers and mobile homes. The last trailer was removed from New Orleans in February 2012.

In the film, Carolyn Parker lives in a trailer for more than three years before moving back into her damaged home. The city instituted a "look and leave" policy, which allowed residents to return to their homes only briefly to assess damage, but Parker, fearing the city would take her property, instituted what she called her own "look and stay" policy.

Caption: The FEMA trailer in Carolyn Parker's backyard
Credit: Courtesy of I'm Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Mad, and the Beautiful

» Kunzelman, Michael. "FEMA Trailers Lawsuit: Settlement Reached Over Hazardous Fumes." The Huffington Post, May 28, 2012.
» "New Orleans is regaining its tree canopy, and other Signs of Recovery." The Times-Picayune, February 18, 2012.
» PBS NewsHour. "FEMA Faces Intense Scrutiny."
» U.S. Department of Homeland Security. "Performance Review of FEMA's Disaster Management Activities in Response to Hurricane Katrina."
» Wolff, Daniel. Fight For Home: How (Parts of) New Orleans Came Back. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2012.