A year after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, officials on the local, state and federal level are not only pausing to honor those who lost their lives, they're also trying to convince themselves and residents of the Gulf Coast that this will not happen again ... that next time, things will be different.
In New Orleans, the Army Corps of Engineers has erected flood gates to keep waters from filling up fragile canals that buckled under the weight of Katrina's floodwaters last year. It is staggering what the Corps has accomplished in the last year, but even Corps officials admit, the true measure of their success won't be known until the next storm hits.
In the course of the past year, a lot of work has gone into arranging buses, trains, planes and automobiles to shuttle people out of the city if another storm threatens the Crescent City. There are 200 buses on standby in Louisiana, and another 1,600 that could quickly be pulled into service. Twenty-four train cars sit idle at the station, waiting to evacuate people in case of emergency. It's all part of a plan to get people out of the city, especially people who don't have the resources to get themselves out.
But in the course of all this planning, one group has seemed to fall by the wayside -- the elderly. In the aftermath of Katrina, 32 residents of St. Rita's nursing home died before rescuers could reach them. In response to that tragedy and other similar cases, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals decided to test nursing homes in the affected region to see if they'd be ready when the next big one hit.
So teams from the DHH set forth to test out hurricane readiness plans for the 72 nursing homes in the New Orleans area. They were checking to see if the nursing homes had things like adequate generators to power life support devices, sufficient transportation contracts to get residents out if the need arose and a place to shelter those residents in the days following a catastrophe.
The results of those surveys were mailed to the operators of the homes in July. The outcome?
Out of 72 nursing homes, only 21 of them complied with the minimum licensing standards for emergency preparedness. Nineteen facilities had one fault in their plans -- either they didn't have adequate generators or they didn't have a bus contract to evacuate. Then there are the other 32 nursing homes that had multiple gaps in their emergency preparations -- not only did they not have generators, they also didn't have a plan for how or when to evacuate.
So, one year later, the question remains: If and when the next big storm hits New Orleans, will the people who need help the most be in a position to get it?