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FEMA's 'Pam' Simulation Foretold Katrina Disaster

Preparedness action plans not implemented in time

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During the summer of 2004, FEMA ran a disaster simulation exercise in which a fictional hurricane named Pam hit the New Orleans area. The purpose of the Pam simulation was to help FEMA and local authorities in hurricane-prone areas to prepare for future disasters.

In the FEMA simulation, Pam hit New Orleans with sustained winds of 120 mph, dumping up to 20 inches of rain in parts of southeast Louisiana and creating a storm surge that topped levees in the New Orleans area. More than one million residents evacuated and Hurricane Pam destroyed 500,000-600,000 buildings. Emergency officials from 50 parish, state, federal and volunteer organizations participated in the five-day exercise held at the Louisiana State Emergency Operations Center in Baton Rouge.

The result of FEMA's Hurricane Pam simulation was a "plan of action" to prepare for real disasters, like Hurricane Katrina.

A partial summary of the Pam action plan included:

  • The establishment of about 1,000 shelters for a catastrophic disaster. The shelter team identified 784 shelters and developed plans for locating the remaining shelters.

  • The group identified the resources necessary to support 1000 shelters for 100 days. They planned for staff augmentation and how to include victims in shelter management.

  • The group planned how federal and other resources would replenish supplies at shelters after an initial 3-5 day period.

  • The search and rescue group developed a transportation plan for getting stranded residents out of harm's way.

  • Planners identified lead and support agencies for search and rescue and established a command structure that would include four areas with up to 800 searchers.

  • The medical care group reviewed and enhanced existing plans. The group determined how to implement existing immunization plans rapidly for tetanus, influenza and other diseases likely to be present after a major hurricane.

  • The group determined how to re-supply hospitals around the state that would face heavy patient loads. The medical action plan also included patient movement details and identified probable locations, such as state university campuses, where individuals would receive care and then be transported to hospitals, special needs shelters or regular shelters as necessary.

  • The plan also established a strategy for development and staffing of temporary schools near temporary housing communities built for hurricane victims.

    Clearly, none of FEMA's Pam simulation action plan's preparedness tasks had been implemented prior to Hurricane Katrina's devastating strike.

    Ironically, a FEMA press release issued after the conclusion of the Hurricane Pam simulation exercise on July 23, 2004, contained the following statement from Colonel Michael L. Brown, Deputy Director for Emergency Preparedness, Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness: "Hurricane planning in Louisiana will continue," stated Colonel Brown, "Over the next 60 days, we will polish the action plans developed during the Hurricane Pam exercise. We have also determined where to focus our efforts in the future."

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