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Disaster’ Health and Medical Aspects: Hurricane Katrina Essay

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Updated: Apr 18th, 2021


The damage caused by Hurricane Katrina was a very serious one and an eye-opener to the emergency medical service providers and the fire department. Indeed it was the most powerful hurricane to have ever hit the United States. The fire departments are traditionally the first responders to many of such incidences of disaster and accidents.

The fire department not only responds to hurricanes but to all kinds of emergency circumstances, including bomb attacks, as the one the US experienced on September 11th, 2001. due to the fact that the fire department is the first responders to emergency calls, the medical emergency services have joined the panoply and are part of the fire brigade or come as a third party. During a disaster incidence, many governmental and non-governmental bodies turn out to assist in the management of the problem. This has stimulated the incorporation of public works departments into disaster response as the need for a combined effort, and coordinated operation is critical in the event of a disaster.

First Responder

It can be remembered that the fire department, along with its emergency medical service team, was the first organized group that responded to the bombing of the world trade center in New York City. Other responses were from individuals from police, security guards, and maintenance staff (Daniels 98). The organized response was more effective as the fire department and emergency medical services had brought protective gear, garments, and equipment. The organized response is usually very efficient because of the preparedness they portray in terms of discipline, Command, and the proper equipment for carrying out the job of emergency service provision (Christopher et al. 57).

The responsibility of first responders in the event of a disaster is critical and warrants some discussion here. In most cases, the EMS personnel come to the scene first when an emergency strikes. This emergency medical personnel, including paramedics, begin immediately trying to save lives by offering medical intervention. The reaction of the first response shapes the way the whole disaster response mission would be like (Daniels 103). Upon arriving at the scene of an emergency, the first responders should carry out a brief evaluation by use of a situation report. This report (SITREP) offers a standard format of the scene assessment, and this informs other responding organizations appropriately (Daniels 108).

The Emergency Medical Service

Hurricane Katrina of 2005 was the deadliest; hence an emergency medical service response was very important. As a requirement by any organized group that responds to a disaster and provide medical assistance, the emergency medical services, otherwise abbreviated as EMS, had to take a lot of precaution in handling the situation (Hogan& Burstein 78). Emergency medical services are designed to give pre-hospital and in-hospital treatment to victims of a disaster, just like hurricane Katrina. The treatment is to help the victims (ill or Injured) to reach the hospital and get the proper treatment that would enable them to attain the physical capabilities they had before the emergencies.

Emergency Medical service is the total combination of services and equipment that help provide medical assistance to the victims; it includes ambulances, paramedics, and other first-aid providers like the Red Cross (Hogan& Burstein 78). The hurricane Katrina victims greatly benefited from the services by the EMS, but the service was challenged by some operational problems that need to be improved (Chan 1230). Making a comparison with the situation in 2001 when the world trade center was bombed, the performance of the emergency service providers was quite improved in the 2005 Katrina disaster. This improvement could have resulted from the lesson learned from the previous.

Disasters are dynamic and unpredictable events that present threatening challenges to live and hence require critical management measures. In most cases, vital factors inherent to salvaging the situation are destroyed, like power loss, breakdown of communication, and destruction of transport means (Hogan& Burstein 78). Furthermore, the rescue could be restricted by jurisdiction disputes, economic limitations, and insufficient preparedness.

There are five critical elements that add up to the action to be taken and resources to be used for developing and adequately executing the rescue mission (Chan 1230). They are prevention, arrangement (plans), grounding, response, and analysis. Nonetheless, the EMS personnel are expected to remain calm, flexible, and realize that these elements are all equally important.


Disaster concentrates its efforts on identifying the specific hazards and then taking the relevant preventive measures to mitigate the loss of property and life (Chan 1230). EMS plays a vital duty of preventing disaster escalation through their extensive interaction with the members of the neighborhood, offering insights into medical attention and providing the infrastructure as well as their knowledge of the area geography. Moreover, EMS personnel are responsible for initiating preventative community education on handling victims (Chan 1230). They also insist on communication and utilization of information like hospital contacts or standard operating procedures.


Thorough planning, together with practical training, is vital for preparedness and is one of the strong factors of effective disaster management. EMS personnel and the responders are required to be very innovative so that they can improvise things to use for rescue (Chan 1232). Nonetheless, devoid of a properly practiced framework within which to operate, the response activities can be ineffective and disjointed. There are some very articulate responder guidelines prepared by the DHS office of disaster preparation describing the degrees of performance and management training. Disasters are rare, but when they occur, they are usually very stressful and therefore need a very high degree of competence for handling the case (Christopher et al. 57). Dairy drills for the EMS and fire department should include disaster management skills


The EMS has an Incident Command System (ICS) used for directing response operations. The ICS paradigm is vital for effectual disaster emergency response. The operations are categorized into Command, staging, medication, transportation, logistics, and triage. All the above functional elements are specific responsibilities for the EMS (Christopher et al. 58). Failing to perfume the duty properly in anyone of the can be very detrimental to the rest as well.

Conventionally, representatives of the fire department are required to have worked as Incident commanders (IC); however, regardless of who is the IC, the work has to be done within the ICS (Saqib 2). EMS also has a medical commander who is in charge of identifying casualties and organizing medical attention so that the injured persons can stabilize after treatment and that they are transported to a definitive healthcare facility. The success of the rescue mission greatly relied on the degree of training, facilities, and planning done by the EMS taking on the mission of rescue (Chan 1237).

The Response to Katrina

The national response plan of the United States identifies the response to any disaster incidence as the responsibility of the local government. In case the local government runs out of their resources, they can then request assistance from the county level, and similarly, the request proceeds to the federal government (Brinkley 123). Some disaster management of Katrina started some time before the hurricane, especially by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Other outstanding assistance teams were the coast guard who rescued over 33,000 people stranded in New Orleans, and the service of the armed forces.

The United States Northern command came up with a combined coordination program that helped to control and manage the operation of the Shelby camp in Mississippi (Brinkley 123). The joint task forces acted as military on-scene Command, and close to 60,000 security personnel were enlisted to deal with the aftermath of the storm. The troops were drawn from all over the 50 states of the united state (Saqib 2). Most of the assistance that was provided by the government was not an immediate one though it was of great importance to the survival of the victims.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provided help to house more than 700,000 household which had been left without homes. It also paid hotel residence for 12,000 individuals and families. Law enforcement and public safety agencies have also played a crucial role after the disaster, especially in Louisiana and some parts of New Orleans, by providing manpower and equipment for house construction (Brinkley 126).

National Incident Management System

It’s a framework that the US uses to coordinate the way emergency incidences will be managed and also take of the incidents at various stages of government like local, state, and federal levels. NIMS is used by government and non-government bodies when responding to disasters or terrorist attacks. This system was initiated by President Bush in 2003 (Brinkley 129). Homeland security was made responsive to developing and implementing the program. The program works on two principles, which are the flexibility of service and standardization. Regarding flexibility, NIMS offers a steady, flexible, and modifiable nationalized structure within the government and non-government entities (Christopher et al. 59). The response can be made together despite the size, place of complexity.

For standardization, NIMS offers a benchmark framework and set the requirements for the rescue, processes, and systems intended to develop operability among authorities and disciplines in several areas.

The major components of NIMS include Command and management chain and preparedness. The nationally recognized systems of Command are the Incident command system – this is a system developed to enable effective and efficient management of emergency situations by the integration of personnel, facilities, and processes; other systems include the Multi-Agency Coordination System and Public Information System (Saqib 3).

The component of preparedness is a range of vital tasks and undertaking appropriate to develop, uphold and advance the operational capacity to avert, guard against, respond to and recover from household events within NIMS; the concept of preparedness is focused on creating guidelines and standards for training and certifying personnel and equipment (Saqib 3).

Resource management components require that there be an efficient system in place to identify the resources that are obtainable at every jurisdictional point so as to allow well-timed and unhindered right to use to resources that are needed for preparation, response, and recovery from an emergency (Saqib 4). This is how mutual aid agreements come into play, use of specialized personnel from the local, state, and the federal government.

EMS Mutual aid is a response policy program to ensure that the rescue mission in the event of a disaster is successfully accomplished in a well-timed and dependable manner. The EMS mutual aid appeal, has to be done with the intention of creating the closest obtainable EMS unit respond to the victim’s medical needs, at the moment when the resources of the agency making the request are temporarily not available or have been exhausted (Saqib 4).

Improving Performance of Emergency Response

The risk involved in the rescue of victims involved in a disaster is the first problem that hinders the effective performance of the emergency medical service. The sites of the disaster are always risky, and at times they may lead to the loss of lives of the paramedics and the firefighters. The major improvement that has helped improve the performance of the emergency health care service providers have been the introduction of specialized units in the department (Cottone 213).

Paramedics provide first aid services to the victims as other firefighters put out any fires that may endanger the rescue plan. The health hazard has also been reduced by the provision of safer garments and equipment (especially modified breathing equipment) the fire without endangering their lives. The safer equipment is systematized into engine, ladder, and dangerous material units; all these enable assignment specific work that allows effective utilization of manpower and the apparatus (Cottone 213).

The on-scene operation has been a serious problem with some individuals working independently and bringing out confusion, which is risky to the victims who are in need of medical service (Cottone 216). The fire department has to restructure the on-scene command system managing all the aspects of the operations taking place at the scene of the disaster.

The management of the fire department is another area of concern that needs to be restructured to allow easier administration of the departments involved. Staffing in the populated communities requires that the fire department operate larger machines and attend to incidences that they cannot simply handle on their own. Working together with other departments of firefighter becomes necessary as disaster management requires mutual collaboration (Christopher et al. 59). Such conformity would require that agreement be made and executed between elected bodies and managers rather than working directly within the departments.

The ambulance transport system offered by the private sector has been very inefficient, resulting in problems and loss of lives. The United States developed specialized pre-hospital health care units to replace these simple ambulances. These allow the paramedics to offers some form of treatment before the victims are loaded into the ambulance to be taken to the hospital (Cottone 217). All local hospitals are required to have emergency sectors to handle such occurrences.


Improving the provision of emergency health care to victims of disasters is very important, and is, therefore, the duty of each one involved to make sure that the service is efficient. Major improvements made include the use of standing orders or protocols as compared to the radio calls that unreliable, sponsoring specialized teams that include rescue operations, vehicle searches, and hazardous material units. In order to increase the chances of survival of victims of disasters, the emergency health care providers have included other activities such as blood pressure screening, healthy living education, or pulmonary resuscitation teaching. Another notable advance in the provision of emergency medical care came with the development of modern emergency management replacing the civil defense system.

Works Cited

Brinkley, Douglas. The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. New York, William Morrow. 2005. Print.

Chan, Theodore, Killeen, Jim, Griswold, William, and Lennert, Leslie. Information Technology and Emergency Medical Care During Disasters. Academic Emergency Medicine, 11.11(2004): 1229–1236, 2004.

Christopher, Farmer et al. Providing Critical Care During A Disaster: The Interface Between Disaster Response Agencies And Hospitals. Critical Care Medicine, 34.3(2005): 56-59, 2005.

Ciottone, Gregory. Disaster Medicine, 3rd Ed., Philadelphia, Elsevier/Mosby, 2006. Print.

Daniels, Ronald., Kettl, Donald., and Kunreuther, Howard. On Risk And Disaster: Lessons From Hurricane Katrina. Philadelphia; University Of Pennsylvania Press, 2006. Print.

Hogan, David and Burstein, Jonathan. Disaster Medicine, Philadelphia; Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2007. Print.

Saqib, Dara. Worldwide Disaster Medical Response: An Historical Perspective. Critical Care Medicine, 33.1 (2008): 2-6.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Disaster' Health and Medical Aspects: Hurricane Katrina'. 18 April.

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