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Lessons From Katrina

Reunion Arena Hosting Evacuees
Reunion Arena Hosting Evacuees

By BJ Austin

Dallas, TX – Five years ago today, North Texans were rallying supplies, volunteering at shelters, opening their homes to what would be thousands of people fleeing Hurricane Katrina. KERA's BJ Austin takes a look at lessons learned during the unprecedented relief effort.

August 30, 2005 Hurricane Katrina was ashore and her storm surge was tearing through the New Orleans levees. 80% of the city was under water. Thousands of people scrambling to safety, on the road to Houston, Dallas, Arlington, Fort Worth and other North Texas cities.

Anita Foster with the Dallas-area Red Cross she and others were not prepared for the surge of storm evacuees.

Foster: On August 29, 2005 there were 11 people in the Red Cross shelter. By the next night, there were 500 people. And by the third night, we were opening Reunion Arena. And then the day after that was the Dallas Convention Center. All said, there were 24,299 evacuees from New Orleans that registered at one of our shelters. And it was just overwhelming to have the responsibility and not have the resources.

Foster says the first night the buses rolled into Reunion Arena they had 15 hundred cots on the shelves and eight thousand people looking at them.

She says that's when the community, churches, corporations, individuals came to the rescue.

Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief says Katrina provided an important lesson about "regional" cooperation, and providing help quickly at the "local" level.

Moncrief: It was a case of solving problems, one after another. And I watched how our city responded. I felt like we were not followers, but leaders.

And Mayor Moncrief says Fort Worth is getting a new Emergency Operations Center as a result of Katrina's demands and lessons.

Moncrief: We are now in the process of completing a new EOC that is better equipped to help us with coordinating with the county, the school districts, the faith-based communities.

The Red Cross's Anita Foster says Katrina taught relief providers a few important lessons. One; they needed more trained volunteers. Two programs were born: a "Ready When the Time Comes" volunteer program. Foster says corporations provide employees to be trained and allow time to work disasters when called. The other program is Disaster Reserve: volunteers keep their training up to date and are on call for catastrophic events.

But Foster says one new program changed disaster response in a profound way. It's called the Mass Care Task Force formed by the Red Cross, Salvation Army, North Texas Food Bank and the Volunteer Center of North Texas.

Foster: It was completely born out of the demand from Katrina. We were duplicating services and didn't realize it. And that was just making chaos, where chaos was already abundant. So through this partnership, we have been able to streamline a response to a catastrophic disaster in Dallas that is really unheard of in any other city.

More than 65 thousand evacuees landed in North Texas, most with little more than the clothes on their backs. It's estimated at least 20 thousand of them stayed to make a new life in Dallas-Fort Worth.

Email BJ Austin