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Hurricane Katrina & Hurricane Rita

Hurricane Katrina, one of the most devastating hurricanes in history, followed a couple of weeks by Hurricane Rita were both very disastrous for the people of Louisiana, Mississippi and in Alabama and Texas. Due to the level of displacement that the storms caused, all surrounding states were affected. Three years later, in 2008, Louisiana is still in recovery. One very critical factor that was pushed beyond its limits was emergency response- the 911 system was overwhelmed and was not available to thousands of people.

211 during the Hurricanes

The Louisiana 211 system was established in 2003 but when the Hurricanes hit, the 211 system was inoperable in many places including New Orleans, one of the hardest hit cities. Mississippi did not have a 211 system and as a result many victims had to call 911 to find out information, as well as had to reach out to more than 200 individual agencies until a 1-800 phone line was set up (GovTech). It was in Monroe, Louisiana, a small town with less than 60,000 people, where 211 was operable and became a primary resource for surrounding communities. The call center which was held in a local United Way office expanded to a full time staff of 12 people and installed fifty additional phone lines a day after Katrina hit (Chronicle of Philanthropy). Volunteers from other states flew into Monroe, LA to assist in providing aid. Between September and December 2005, the 211 call center in Monroe, LA handled 111,000 calls (Chronicle of Philanthropy).

211 Around the Country: An example

A good example of the benefits of 211 being a nationwide system is the fact that 211 provides standardized services no matter where the system is operating. 211 added value to a network of existing non-profit organizations and churches that played a role in recovery and response. During and after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita there was response by 211 systems as far away as Southern California, over 1,000 miles away. 211 San Bernardino County sent call specialists to Monroe, Louisiana to assist staff. 211 San Diego worked with the American Red Cross to recruit volunteers to answer thousands of calls that came through the Red Cross Volunteer Hotline. During a period of 2 weeks (8/31/05-9/11/05), 4,275 calls were handled at American Red Cross in Southern California (211 Sandiego News Release 2005). Furthermore, 211 centers worked with hundreds of evacuees who traveled to Southern California.

Lessons Learned

Mississippi now has a 211 system, established in July 2006. The president and chief executive of the Jackson United Way stated that "It would have been so much more manageable here if one phone call was all that was needed to send people to the right place with the right information; instead it was chaos." (United Way Nashville).

Conclusion

Although Hurricane Katrina and Rita were unforgettable natural disasters that affected the entire country, there were many lessons learned about emergency response, as well as how to create and improve state, national, and local level plans for emergencies. 211 is not a resolution by itself, but it served a critical role as a relief to 911 in disseminating critical information, linking people in need to organizations that could help, and mobilizing volunteers for further assistance.

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