copied from
November 2005

Vol. 23 Issue 11

Chaos of Katrina: EMS maintains composure in the midst of anarchy




As Hurricane Katrina approached landfall on Saturday, Aug. 27, President Bush made an emergency disaster declaration for the parishes around New Orleans. Michael D. Brown, then-Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Emergency Preparedness and Response, announced that FEMA would “mobilize equipment and resources necessary to protect public health and safety by assisting law enforcement with evacuations, establishing shelters, supporting emergency medical needs, meeting immediate lifesaving and life-sustaining human needs and protecting property, in addition to other emergency protective measures.”

New Orleans residents were being urged to evacuate the city. City officials expressed fear that 80% of the city could be flooded. A major EMS conference being held at the convention center was in its final day, but attendees and exhibitors weren't told to leave the city early, leaving many stranded.

On Aug. 28, the New Orleans Superdome, a designated emergency shelter, opened its doors at daybreak.

As the storm grew, President Bush declared statewide emergencies for Louisiana and Mississippi.

FEMA began moving supplies of generators, water, ice and food into the region for immediate deployment once the storm passed. It also mobilized USAR teams, designating Shreveport, La., to serve as a staging area for teams from Tennessee, Missouri and Texas. USAR teams from Indiana and Ohio waited for orders in Meridian, Miss. Two teams each from Florida and Virginia and a team from Maryland remained on alert at their home stations.

Nine full Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMATs), each with 35 members, and nine strike teams, each with five members, were deployed to staging areas in Houston, Anniston, Ala., and Memphis, Miss.

At 7 a.m. (EDT) on Aug. 29, the National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning effective for the North Central Gulf Coast from Morgan City, La., eastward to the Alabama/Florida border, stating, “Preparations to protect life and property should have been completed. … Maximum sustained winds are near 145 mph … with higher gusts. Katrina is a strong category four hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Some fluctuations in strength are likely prior to landfall … but Katrina is expected to make landfall as a category four hurricane.”

A National Oceanic and Atmos-pheric Administration (NOAA) hurricane specialist says New Orleans suffered sustained winds of approximately 90–92 mph. A lakefront station at Lake Pontchartrain reported wind gusts of 114 mph.

In the storm's initial aftermath on Aug. 29, the media focused its attention on the Mississippi and Alabama coasts, where a 20-foot storm surge had wiped out entire coastal communities. Major highways had disappeared beneath water, sand and debris, eliminating hope of quick emergency aid. Then the levees that protected New Orleans from flooding began to fail. Within hours, the city was almost entirely under water.

Opposite: Paramedic Tim Stratten (bottom) and other New Orleans EMS providers (top) move patients by any means necessary. This page, top: New Orleans EMS providers join hands for a group prayer on Aug. 28 prior to the storm. Bottom: New Orleans EMS crews are rescued by boat following two days of entrapment in the Louisiana State University Dental School.

On Sept. 2, Brown called for patience, describing Katrina as “a disaster of catastrophic magnitude.” FEMA had deployed nine USAR teams, a National Emergency Response Team to Louisiana, and four Advance Emergency Response Teams to locations in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Thirty-one National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) teams, including 23 DMATs, were deployed to staging areas in Anniston, Ala., Memphis, Tenn., Houston, Dallas and New Orleans. Two Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams (VMAT) were also part of NDMS assets.

Also on Sept. 2, a thousand National Guardsmen were dispatched to the New Orleans Convention Center to help evacuate thousands of people who had been without food and water for up to five days. And on Sept. 3, President Bush ordered more than 7,000 active duty forces to the Gulf Coast.

Not until Sept. 4—six days after Katrina made landfall—were 100% of the evacuees stranded in the New Orleans Superdome and convention center evacuated.

Unfortunately, help did not reach the people most in need soon enough. In October, the Associated Press reported that the search for Hurricane Katrina victims had ended in Louisiana with a death toll of 964. In Mississippi, the toll was 221.

Although it's still too soon to attempt a full analysis, some lessons are already apparent. Bill Brown, RN, executive director of the National Registry of EMTs, volunteered to assist at the medical aid station established at the Superdome, and he offers the following lessons: “[T]here was no incident command system in place. This was a major mistake. … Although police and fire are necessary at most disasters, I found the need for medical personnel to be equally great. … Stockpiles of medical supplies must be made available.”

In the following pages, you'll read Brown's first-person account and the stories of several other providers who lived through Katrina, providing care to thousands of patients in the direst of circumstances.

Back to the main Katrina map page.
This is the most amazing magazine which details from an EMS point of view, the happenings of Katrina. It is called JEMS (Journal of Emergency Medical Services). Most of the links here have been taken down but you can still visit their site for more stories at
Living Nightmare by Courtney McCain, EMT-P
Shelter from the Storm by Valarie Ziminsky, EMT-P
FEMA Tennessee Task Force One Urban Search & Rescue by J. Harold Logan, EMT-P
Chaos of Katrina: EMS maintains composure in the midst of anarchy by Ann-Marie Lindstrom and Keri Losavio
Behind Katrina's Eye with New Orleans EMS
When Rules Change by A.J. Heightman, MPA, EMT-P from JEMS Journal, November 2005
In the aftermath of Katrina
Riding out the Surge - (pdf file 258kb) - Page 42 of JEMS Journal, November 2005
Build It & They Will Come (pdf file 213kb) - Page 50 of JEMS Journal, November 2005
JEMS pictures (pdf file 2.1mb) - Page 12 and 13 of JEMS Journal, November 2005
Text articles: The Big Picture; Flying into the Storm; Stranded Providers Pitch in to help.
PDF (3.3mb) of the same text articles with pictures from JEMS Journal, November 2005.