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Brutal Survival Lessons From Hurricane Katrina…


Hurricane Katrina Lessons

On August 29, 2005, the third strongest hurricane on record (and the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States), Katrina, made landfall on the Northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

An estimated 1245 people died during the storm and its aftermath.

The days after Katrina provide us with a glimpse of what happens in an actual wide-scale survival situation – what works, what doesn’t, the good in people and the potential for evil in those around us. has a fascinating article written by a New Orleans police officer recounting his time during Katrina (here). I encourage you to read the entire article, but here are a few takeaways:

Relying on the government during the days after a disaster is a mistake:

The city only had a few high water vehicles, so it was a slow go operation. The fire department was on lock down, and initially we had no EMS services. The police department was performing the search and rescue operations with only a handful of officers having any prior training for the task.

From the beginning, it was obvious our command staff was not prepared to support the troops. Responding to calls for service was very difficult, because the terrain had changed drastically. Police radio communications were intermittent at best.

The lack of coordination of government agencies was ridiculous. One of the nights we were called for backup at the New Orleans International Airport, which had been shut down and turned into a makeshift triage center. A military convoy containing several school buses filled with refugees from the Superdome had stopped in the roadway. There was a two hour standoff because the ranking convoy commander stated he had been given orders from his superior to drop the refugees at the airport. A fight ensued between a member of the military and my agency because we refused to accept the people from the buses.

Even those that had some plans in place were not really prepared:

The sound of generators became a beacon for investigation. Many were killed from carbon monoxide poisoning from running generators without proper ventilation.

Our memories are short – most quickly went back to their previous way of life, oblivious to the potential for the next disaster to strike:

It is amazing how many people, even in this area, continue to live in a bubble. People, even some members of my own family, seem to forget things too quickly. Many of them evacuated to Florida during Katrina and spent a few weeks vacationing on the beach. Some of them returned home after the horrors had ended with minimal or no damage to their property and still have a false sense of security.

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Photo by Infrogmation of New Orleans licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.