If there is one thing Louisiana knows how to handle, it’s a hurricane. And I guess you can add floods, tornadoes, and other various natural disasters to the list. Although our southern location provides many jobs and vital resources, it also makes us vulnerable to the elements.
Our state has weathered numerous storms, and despite the damage left behind, we have also learned great lessons. Years of experience have brought Louisiana to the forefront, as we are now considered a national leader in emergency preparedness and disaster response. The years have also showed us that Louisiana is resilient and strong.
In fact, over the past month, Louisiana’s emergency responders from our department have been actively engaged in responding to the human needs of three major disasters: hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
Although Louisiana has been spared, for the most part, from these three hurricanes that caused massive destruction and suffering, some of our neighbors – near and far – haven’t been so lucky. Although many people know of Louisiana’s role in the responses here and in Texas and Florida, few people realize our state’s role when it comes to coordinating assistance for the island of Puerto Rico.
It was on Wednesday, September 20 that Hurricane Maria barreled through Puerto Rico, knocking out all power and devastating the beautiful terrain, essentially cutting them off from the rest of the world. Their recovery is just beginning, and it will take a great deal of time and resources before they can fully return to normal. However, almost immediately following the storm’s passing, Louisiana responded and went to work.
Within the National Disaster Medical System, or NDMS, Shreveport was designated as a federal coordinating center (FCC). A main component of the NDMS is coordinating the movement of patients from a disaster area to a FCC in an unaffected area.
The team is made up of a Veteran’s Administration leader, Hospital Designated Regional Coordinator and EMS Designated Regional Coordinator. They are supported by hospitals in the Shreveport region, EMS personnel, first responders from the City of Shreveport, the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office and Fire Department and our federal partners who are all working together to receive evacuees from Puerto Rico.
One week after Hurricane Maria made landfall, the Shreveport Federal Coordinating Center had received a total of 29 patients, including several babies that were evacuated from hospitals on the island. They were accompanied by 15 caregivers. These people were brought to the FCC by the teams with the Department of Defense and a FEMAs contractor, American Medical Response.
This is a moment in history as we have never before had the NDMS system assist in the transport of NICU and PICU babies other than from an area where there was military conflict. In addition to the two babes that have already arrived at the FCC, at the time of this writing, more were expected.
Federal Coordinating Centers have opened throughout the country, with each run as a joint effort with local responders such as we are doing in Shreveport. In addition to the team members I describe above, there are members who serve in various roles such as patient reception, hospital coordination, and local EMS transportation, among other things.
The Shreveport FCC site, and other FCC locations, are selected based on proximity to the affected area. Patients must be able to be safely transported within a 250 mile radius, or two or less hours of flight time.
As shown in the Shreveport FCC, Louisiana continues to be on the frontlines of emergency response, willing to help patients near and far. Our hospitals and emergency response networks are rallying together to aid those coming from Puerto Rico.
Louisiana is committed to supporting our fellow man and lending expertise in the wake of this tragic storm. Our years of rebuilding and devastation have allowed us to provide comfort and assistance to those in need. We understand what it takes to rebuild. Natural disasters like Hurricane Maria will continue to happen for decades to come, but Louisiana stands strong and ready to face what is next.