This past Thursday at 7 p.m., “The Global Katrina Effect, 2005-2015″ Symposium included a keynote presentation entitled “Hurricane Katrina and Lessons Learned.” The keynote speaker was retired Colonel Earl “Pat” Santos, Deputy Director of Emergency Management within the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. Santos was a participant in helping aid people after Hurricane Katrina.
“The Global Katrina Effect, 2005-2015” Symposium was held in memorial of Katrina’s upcoming 10th anniversary. The Category 5 hurricane occurred Aug. 23, 2005. Approximately 1,833 died due to the hurricane and subsequent flooding.
Kirsten Bookmiller opened the keynote speech by explaining the event as a whole. The symposium was interdisciplinary, due to the inclusion of information from the subjects of meteorology, government, social work and geography.
Those who spoke at the symposium included professionals from Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi. International participants featured those from Australia, France and New Zealand.
The idea for this event came from the Emergency Management degree offered at Millersville as well as faculty and student discussion that developed into much more.
The symposium was only a part of what the faculty involved are doing to further the discussion. They are working on a piece headed for publication in the International Journal of Emergency Management. Although the deadline is close, they are aiming to publish it in time for the anniversary. It will be an open-source journal for all to reference.
Duane Hagelgans, a professor of Emergency Management, introduced Santos. The retired colonel was once in the Louisiana National Guard, and assisted in ensuring the safety of thousands of New Orleans citizens. He was asked to recall his experiences with Hurricane Katrina, one of the largest natural disasters to ever impact the U.S.
“If you can see your event from space, it’s probably going to be pretty bad,” Santos said. Santos explained that the timing influenced the hurricane’s impact; the week after Aug. 23, New Orleans was expecting the return of a brigade from Iraq.
Though the brigade didn’t make it in time, nearly 8,000 people in the reserved forces helped out. The National Guard represented 48 states. They came before the federal forces had arrived.
Later, FEMA provided transportation. Buses arrived on Aug. 25 and were able to traverse the high water around the Superdome. About 866 buses were used to transport people, while others were flown out by helicopter.
In his words, the evacuation for Katrina went well. A small percentage of people had stayed put because they either did not want to leave, or did not have the capability to do so. A shelter based in a school was opened for those who couldn’t evacuate. The Superdome was not intended to be a shelter.
Seven days were spent at the Superdome. Santos reflected on the fact that there were no aviation accidents, although helicopters frequented the area trying to get people out. Most pilots were flying for long periods of time, which increased the likelihood of accidents.
Santos went on a rescue mission with the Coast Guard on a helicopter; his wife helped those in need by volunteering at a hospital.
“New Orleans is a bowl,” Santos said. The city on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico is below sea level. New Orleans contains canals and a lake. The levees meant to hold back the water from the canals failed. Salt water intrusion tripled the size of the canals, making the conditions worse.
In addition to lives being lost, tourism and small business were also impacted negatively. According to Santos, the oil spilled was nearly the size of Exxon Valdese spill. Gas prices across the country then increased. “As you can see, oil and gas from this area is very important to our country,” Santos said.
Santos addressed criticism by explaining “a catastrophic event quickly overwhelms state and local resources.” He went on to say that “we didn’t get people out of the Superdome right away because we were too busy getting them out of trees and off rooftops.”
Santos went on to present the measures that Louisiana has taken for prevention. Before, there wasn’t a state pre-event assistance transport plan, no state run general population shelters, shelter task force coordinated parish shelters and no pet shelters. Post-Katrina policies include federal and state government conducted after-action review, assessment and planning assistance and coordination with host states. A storm shelter built was built in Louisiana. It was the first one invested in by the state.
This new plan of action was put to the test by Hurricane Gustav in August 2008. Although it was not the size or scale of Katrina, it showed what Louisiana must adjust.
For Gustav, 9,534 people didn’t have evacuation transportation. Out of that total, 88 people and 77 dogs needed to be rescued. Santos shared that his team overestimated the need for animal cages. Hardly any of the 24,000 cages they ordered were used. “If someone needs a cage, see me after,” Santos said.
Santos wishes to involve private business into helping aid those who couldn’t evacuate. An example is catering for meals for displaced people to help small businesses survive.
“Everybody has a role to play, and if you don’t tap into that, you are missing out,” Santos said.