Emergency Management

How The Aftermath Of Hurricane Katrina And Gustav Gave Birth To The ESF8 Portal

The world watched in horror as Hurricane Harvey hit the southeast coast of Texas on August 25th, 2017. According to FEMA, over 30,000 people needed shelter and 450,000 citizens required assistance. According to CBS News, the death toll touched 63.

The only sunshine moment in this grim situation was the quick response from the first responders in comparison to their lagged response during Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Gustav in 2005 and 2008 respectively.

This was possible due to the changes in FEMA’s approach towards disaster management. After the frustrating experience of managing medical emergencies during Hurricane Gustav and Hurricane Katrina, the agency changed its rules in order to mobilize emergency response in advance.

In fact, President Donald Trump sanctioned disaster declaration for Texas even before Hurricane Harvey made a landfall on August 25th. His approval enabled FEMA to station rescue teams in Texas and open bases in Texas and Louisiana to provide food, water, and shelter to displaced people as soon as the calamity hit the coast.

The neighboring state of Louisiana had also prepared its logistics to accommodate victims from Texas in their mega-shelter. This was made possible by the ESF8 Portal that is used extensively to manage medical emergencies during such disasters.

The Story of ESF8 Portal

ESF8 Portal is an outcome of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Gustav. It’s motto is very simple – to prepare, prepare and prepare. To understand from where the idea of building a centralized application came from, let us walk down to the year 2005 when Hurricane Katrina changed the entire face of the Gulf coast.

The memories are painful, but it is important to know the background and compare the emergency preparedness especially in the background of the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey.

Lesson # 1 – Hurricane Katrina

On August 25th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Florida coast as a category 1 hurricane. It quickly intensified into a category 2 hurricane and soon became a category 5 hurricane by August 28th, 2005. New Orleans was completely devastated, the residents had to be evacuated and shifted to Louisiana’s Superdome. Over 25,000 to 30,000 New Orleans residents were seeking shelter in Superdome. But, as luck would have it, the storm that hit Louisiana ripped a hole in the Superdome, risking the lives of the victims. The then President Bush declared an emergency disaster for Louisiana and Mississippi.


On August 30th, 2005, Katrina was downgraded to a tropical storm. But the damage was done. Nearly 80% of New Orleans was under water. Violence and looting began, due to which rescue operators were diverted to the areas of violence to control the situation. This delayed the rescue operations. Power outages and lack of drinking water worsened the situation.


Meanwhile, the condition at the Superdome was quickly degenerating. The water had entered the premises and had reached a perilous level. Toilets were broken, garbage was overflowing, electricity was shut down and the victims were huddled in unhygienic conditions. The area that was marked as the last resort for refuge had become ineffectual for victims. The victims had to be evacuated soon and according to the officials, it was scheduled to happen over two days.


The arrangements at the Superdome were so poor that the government officials at the local, state and federal level were criticized for poor response to emergency and for the delay in sending basic supplies to victims. While the Louisiana National Guard provided three days’ food supplies to 15,000 victims, the absence of medical staff in the center, medicines or even a medical bay made the conditions unlivable. 


To add to the woes, the rescue operations were happening at such a slow pace that President Bush expressed his dissatisfaction over the results of the operations. This led to the resignation of then FEMA president, Michael Brown who received flak for the delay in sending the aids.


The entire Gulf coast suffered an irreparable loss of approximately 1,836 lives and damages worth $108 billion and the memories of the devastating hurricane still haunt the entire country.


Lesson # 2 – Hurricane Gustav


After receiving severe criticism for the disastrous management during hurricane Katrina, FEMA revamped its policies for better preparedness during emergencies.

The results were seen during Hurricane Gustav that hit the Gulf coast again in 2008. Hurricane Gustav was less destructive than Hurricane Katrina, but the state’s emergency preparedness was appreciated.

Basic planning and execution of decisions such as moving less vulnerable patients into other facilities before the storm, postponing elective procedures, and providing most of the nursing homes and hospitals with power and emergency generators for 2-3 days were some instances of the lessons learned from the disastrous rescue operations of Hurricane Katrina.

However, there were still unprecedented issues that highlighted the vulnerabilities of the local, state and federal government. For example, gasoline supplies were not sent to places that had requested for it despite requesting for it in advance.


The Emergency Healthcare Professionals also faced issues, as they had to refer to multiple, independent software tools while carrying out the rescue operations. It was an excruciating problem for the responders as each of these tools dealt with only partial areas of emergency and was not adept at managing large-scale emergency at the same time.

Lessons Learned – Development of ESF8 portal


The frustrating and first-hand experience of managing large-scale disasters led to the development of the ESF8 Portal.


Developed by ComTec Information Systems, the ESF8 Portal is an integrated software suite that provides all the information required by emergency responders in a single place.


It is a one-stop solution for hospitals, nursing homes, adult care facilities and the executive teams. One of the main advantages of ESF8 Portal is its ability to provide real-time dashboards on the census and status of all facilities, so in case of a disaster, the Emergency Healthcare Professionals will be aware of the census in each hospital and will be able to move the patients requiring immediate medical attention to hospitals with more bed availability.


Besides resource management, the ESF8 Portal provides other services such as Risk Assessment and Emergency Planning, Incident Management i.e. providing in-depth information on the power status, fuel, and generator availability to avoid disruptions. Real-time updates on the situation of facilities i.e. if they are closed, open, partially or fully evacuated and so on. It also helps in tracking and locating the patient details and providing information to the families.

It provides all the information that EPs require while handling medical emergencies that arise from disasters such as Hurricane Harvey.

The aftermath of Hurricane Harvey can never be forgotten. There will be damages, and reconstruction of the damaged properties. 


But, one thing that can be said with certainty is, the Emergency Healthcare Professionals of Louisiana will be well-equipped to address the emergency in incidents like Hurricane Harvey with support from the ESF8 Portal.

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