Introduction: On 04 September 2005, 1,589 Hurricane Katrina evacuees from the New Orleans area arrived in Oklahoma. The Oklahoma State Department of Health conducted a rapid needs assessment of the evacuees housed at a National Guard training facility to determine the medical and social needs of the population in order to allocate resources appropriately.
Methods: A standardized questionnaire that focused on individual and household evacuee characteristics was developed. Households from each shelter building were targeted for surveying, and a convenience sample was used.
Results: Data were collected on 197 households and 373 persons. When compared with the population of Orleans Parish, Louisiana, the evacuees sampled were more likely to be male, black, and 45-64 years of age. They also were less likely to report receiving a high school education and being employed pre-hurricane. Of those households of > 1 persons, 63% had at least one missing household member. Fifty-six percent of adults and 21% of children reported having at least one chronic disease. Adult women and non-black persons were more likely to report a pre-existing mental health condition. Fourteen percent of adult evacuees reported a mental illness that required medication pre-hurricane, and eight adults indicated that they either had been physically or sexually assaulted after the hurricane. Approximately half of adults reported that they had witnessed someone being severely injured or dead, and 10% of persons reported that someone close to them (family or friend) had died since the hurricane. Of the adults answering questions related to acute stress disorder, 50% indicated that they suffered at least one symptom of the disorder.
Conclusions: The results from this needs assessment highlight that the evacuees surveyed predominantly were black, of lower socio-economic status, and had substantial, pre-existing medical and mental health concerns. The evacuees experienced multiple emotional traumas, including witnessing grotesque scenes and the disruption of social systems, and had pre-existing psychopathologies that predisposed this population to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When disaster populations are displaced, mental health and social service providers should be available immediately upon the arrival of the evacuees, and should be integrally coordinated with the relief response. Because the displaced population is at high risk for disaster-related mental health problems, it should be monitored closely for persons with PTSD. This displaced population will likely require a substantial re-establishment of financial, medical, and educational resources in new communities or upon their return to Louisiana.