Academic journal article Journal of Environmental Health

The Public Health Response to Disasters in the 21st Century: Reflections on Hurricane Katrina

Academic journal article Journal of Environmental Health

The Public Health Response to Disasters in the 21st Century: Reflections on Hurricane Katrina

Article excerpt

* In the last decade, America has experienced many public health advances related to disaster preparedness.

* So what went wrong with the Hurricane Katrina disaster?

* Also, what may have gone right with the public health response to this event?

* Prior to landfall of Hurricane Katrina, major evacuation steps were taken to move susceptible populations from high-risk areas.

* Nevertheless, many people did not or could not evacuate.

* In the first three or four days following impact, those who had not evacuated the flooded areas required basic care, support, and protection.

* Most victims did not receive this support.

* As a result, many people died unnecessarily.

* Those who did not die experienced undue hardships.

* Hurricane Katrina was responsible for more than 1,300 deaths

* It may not be the direct role of public health professionals to rescue victims from rooftops or to deliver food or clean water.

* But it is their role to

-- "monitor health status to identify and solve community health problems";

-- "diagnose and investigate health problems and health hazards in the community";

-- "inform, educate, and empower people about health issues"; and

-- "mobilize community partnerships and action to identify and solve health problems."

* These are the first four of the 10 essential public health services outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1994.

* As part of the public health role in disaster preparedness, key public health leaders should be clearly designated.

* These leaders should be responsible for coordinating all public health responses, including public health communications.

* After Hurricane Katrina, both CDC and state and local public health agencies participated in workforce deployments to affected communities.

* For instance, the Bureau of Emergency Medical Services of the Pennsylvania Department of Health coordinated the deployment of emergency medical services from Pennsylvania to Louisiana. …

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