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Emergency responders called into action after Hurricane Katrina were put to the test as they handled thousands of emergencies in less than ideal conditions.

Brandon Bond, team member with the Disaster Medical Assistance Team CA-6 gives a first-hand account of his experiences. DMAT is a volunteer team organized under the National Disaster Medical System and operates under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to provide emergency medical care during times of disaster.

Bond, a disaster preparedness manager for Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, Calif., was deployed to Houston, Texas, with his team on Sunday, Aug. 28, one day before Katrina made landfall on the gulf coast.
 On Tuesday, Aug. 30, the team moved to Baton Rouge and was staged at the Louisiana State University campus. On Wednesday, they were on the move to the Superdome in New Orleans.

The Superdome was used as an emergency shelter for thousands of people who were unable to evacuate out of the hurricane’s path. At one point, more than 20,000 refugees sought shelter in the dome. With no air conditioning, inadequate supplies and restroom facilities, conditions quickly deteriorated. Tempers flared and emotions reached a peak as evacuees clamored for food, water and answers.

“It was a delicate situation,” said Bond.

Team members arrived with medical supplies and began treating thousands of injured and traumatized individuals. Bond said the treatments ranged from cuts to childbirths to assault wounds.

As conditions worsened in the dome and throughout New Orleans, security concerns forced the evacuation of the DMAT team on Thursday.

“We were pulled out because of safety concerns,” said Bond. “The National Guard was being overwhelmed.”

In a quiet and controlled evacuation, the team was ushered out in small groups. Leaving their personal gear behind, they made their way from the building. Wading through waste-high floodwater, they loaded in to trucks and returned to Baton Rouge. The team was able to reclaim their belongings at a later point.

“It was very difficult to leave,” said Bond. “As responders we are trained to take care of our patients. But the situation at the dome was extremely unstable.”

The team was soon at work at the New Orleans airport, which had turned into a temporary hospital and evacuation site. The team treated patients onsite before sending them to other parts of the country. During the first week following Katrina, some 125,000 evacuees went through the airport, making it the one of the largest evacuations in U.S. history.

During the two-week stay in Louisiana, Bond and his team learned the importance of teamwork, training and leadership.

“Our team leader was very experienced,” he said. “We stayed in constant contact through radios and satellite phones.”

The team made sure to take sufficient breaks and stay hydrated and fed in order to maintain focus. Bond carried Meals Ready to Eat, water and other nutritional needs in his backpack.

“It may sound trivial, but taking care of yourself is important. You have to make sure you maintain your health and stamina so that you can provide for others,” he said.

This lesson should carry over to any organization that has an emergency operations center, said Bond. It is important to keep enough food, water and supplies on hand to take care of all your employees. It is also important that emergency responders or crisis managers get proper rest.

Another lesson for business continuity planners is to remain flexible.

“In this case, there is a city that lost their complete infrastructure. There were towns that were completely destroyed,” said Bond. “We talk about backups and alternate locations, but in this case you can see how those are vital.”

Emergency kits should be kept in offices, homes and vehicles in order to plan for any emergency.

“You have to have supplies on hand for the worst-case scenario,” he said
Bond returned to California Sept. 6, taking with him lessons learned and memories of an event he will never forget.

“It was unlike anything I have ever dealt with before,” he said.