Katrina Evacuees Helped Ga. Improve Emergency Response System | WABE 90.1 FM

Katrina Evacuees Helped Ga. Improve Emergency Response System

Aug 26, 2015

Veterans Administration doctors, nurses and other medical personnel from Georgia and South Carolina provide triage services to New Orleans evacuees when they arrived at Dobbins Air Reserve Base.
Credit George Armstrong / FEMA

Hurricane Katrina barreled ashore in the Gulf of Mexico 10 years ago this week, forever changing the people and the places in the storm’s path and wreaking untold devastation and tragedy on an area ill-prepared for the magnitude of the storm.

While Mississippi and Louisiana were the hardest hit, states like Georgia and Texas were profoundly impacted by the massive influx of evacuees in the aftermath of Katrina.

Pam Blackwell is now the emergency coordinator of the Cobb-Douglas Public Health District, but 10 years ago she was helping coordinate shelter for Katrina evacuees when they arrived at Dobbins Air Reserve Base.
Credit Stephanie M. Lennox / WABE

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, estimates as many as 100,000 people from New Orleans flooded into Atlanta to escape the horrendous conditions in their city.

Former Gov. Sonny Perdue said in an interview on “Closer Look” he was most proud and gratified by the way Georgians stepped up to the plate to offer humanitarian aid on an unprecedented level.

Pam Blackwell is one of the people Perdue is referring to. Blackwell is now the emergency coordinator of the Cobb-Douglas Public Health District, but 10 years ago she was helping coordinate shelter for Katrina evacuees.

Blackwell was working at Dobbins Air Reserve Base as part of the emergency support operation. The operation at Dobbins was part of the National Response System Patient Movement. It was the first time the National Disaster Medical System was activated for a civilian emergency, Blackwell said during an interview on “Closer Look.”

“We had training prior to the influx of refugees, but we had never handled anything like this,” she said.

Blackwell remembered the first days of assisting the evacuees as "very stressful" and tiring, but she said responders were on a mission to help because anyone could become a victim of circumstance and lose everything.

"There was a sense of accomplishment at the end," Blackwell explained, saying it was "truly an honor" to help those in such need.

She also said as hard as those first days following Katrina were for emergency responders, "the systems overall have improved" because of it.

WABE's April Williams, Rose Scott and Denis O'Hayer contributed to this report.