Lessons learned from Chicago's emergency response to mass evacuations caused by Hurricane Katrina

Am J Public Health. 2009 Aug;99(8):1496-504. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2007.126680. Epub 2009 Feb 5.


Objectives: We analyzed the response of the Chicago Department of Public Health with respect to its effectiveness in providing health care to Hurricane Katrina evacuees arriving in the city.

Methods: Between September 12 and October 21, 2005, we conducted a real-time qualitative assessment of a medical unit in Chicago's Hurricane Victim Welcome and Relief Center. A semistructured guide was used to interview 33 emergency responders in an effort to identify key operational successes and failures.

Results: The medical unit functioned at a relatively high level, primarily as a result of the flexibility, creativity, and dedication of its staff and the presence of strong leadership. Chronic health care services and prescription refills were the most commonly mentioned services provided, and collaboration with a national pharmacy proved instrumental in reconstructing medication histories. The lack of a comprehensive and well-communicated emergency response plan resulted in several preventable inefficiencies.

Conclusions: Our findings highlight the need for improved planning for care of evacuee populations after a major emergency event and the importance of ensuring continuity of care for the most vulnerable. We provide an emergency response preparedness checklist for local public health departments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Chicago / epidemiology
  • Chronic Disease
  • Communication
  • Cyclonic Storms / statistics & numerical data*
  • Emergencies / epidemiology*
  • Health Planning / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Services / supply & distribution*
  • Housing / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Louisiana / epidemiology
  • Personnel Staffing and Scheduling
  • Relief Work / statistics & numerical data*
  • Rescue Work / statistics & numerical data*