Louisiana’s Disaster Preparedness Network

Dr. David J. Holcombe
Dr. David J. Holcombe

Although Louisiana has many challenging health-related problems relative to other states, we do have some bright spots in our state rankings.  One of these relates to our disaster preparedness activities, which were ranked 3/50 among the states by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) in 2013.


Our costly previous experiences with a succession of hurricanes and our vulnerable geographic position have conspired to make us very sensitive to and very prepared for disasters.  The catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina overwhelmed our state’s (and nation’s) resources.  Since then, much time, effort and money have been devoted to improving our preparedness status.


Louisiana possesses a network of shelters, among them, the 200,000 square foot permanent shelter at Alexandria.  Other shelters, managed by the Department of Children and Family Services, are opened on an as-needed basis in other locations and can accommodate almost 30,000 residents—most without transportation—that require sheltering.


State shelters (and their capacities) include:  Critical Transportation Needs Shelters (11,500), Medical Special Needs Shelters (1,640), Federal Medical Needs Shelters (1,250), a Sex Offender Shelter (120), an Unaccompanied Minor Shelter (60) and Ambulatory Elderly Shelters (1,828).   Point-to-Point Shelters (12,595) are organized by mutual agreement between evacuating parishes and sheltering parishes.


The Critical Transportation Needs Shelters cater to those evacuees “without a ride,” while the Medical Special Needs and Federal Medical Shelters accommodate those with specific medical needs (i.e. brittle diabetes, tube feedings, wound care, oxygen dependence and other complex medical conditions). All state-sponsored shelters work in collaboration with the Red Cross and other privately sponsored shelters which cater to the general evacuee population with their own private modes of transportation.  During an event, the 211 Call Center directs callers to appropriate available shelters.


Despite these efforts, the needs may well exceed the demand in case of a “full coastal evacuation”.  The difference between needs and resources is called the “needs gap” and there are collaborative agreements with neighboring states to receive evacuees from Louisiana.  States participating in these efforts and their capacities (which are subject to change depending on circumstances) include Texas (10,000), Tennessee (3,500), Arkansas (4,000) Georgia (3,000) and possibly Kentucky (3,500), which comes to a total of 24,000.  Activation of this vast intra-state and inter-state system requires state and federal emergency declarations.  The phases of activation include: (1) preparedness, (2) pre-mobilization, (3) activation, (4) shelter operation and (5) demobilization.


Multiple governmental and non-governmental agencies participate in this mammoth sheltering activity.  The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness plays a critical role in coordinating the sheltering response once it is initiated by state and federal emergency declarations.  Individual department secretaries (i.e. Department of Children and Family Services and Department of Health and Hospitals) participate in decision-making and implementation, as do the many other participating state agencies and departments (i.e. State Police, Wildlife and Fisheries, National Guard, Department of Transportation and many others).


getagameplanDespite this massive governmental initiative, it still remains the responsibility of every individual (and business) to have a disaster plan.  Information is available at www.getagameplan.org to assist in developing a personalized response.  As with many issues in public health, individual actions, coupled with governmental efforts, offer the best opportunity for successful sheltering, for which Louisiana distinguishes itself as a leader among states.