Remembering Hurricane Pam

Hurricane Pam, a slow-moving Category 3 storm, hit New Orleans with 120 mph winds. Twenty inches of rain fell in some places, and the storm surge topped the levees. Over a million residents evacuated, and between 500,000 and 600,000 buildings were destroyed. Some say that 60,000 people died; others say the death toll was between 25,000 and 100,000.

If you’re trying to figure out why you’ve never heard of Hurricane Pam, let me explain: Unless you work for FEMA or live in Louisiana, you couldn’t be expected to know about it. Hurricane Pam was a hypothetical storm created for a 2004 tabletop exercise done by FEMA and Louisiana officials. The Hurricane Pam scenario involved thirteen parishes, and launched an action plan that included, among other things:

*The establishment of 1,000 shelters, 784 of which were immediately identified

*The identification of resources to support these shelters for 100 days

*A plan for replenishing resources after a 3 to 5 day period

*The identification of search and rescue personnel

*The establishment of a plan to remove people from harm’s way–it was estimated that 100,000 in New Orleans would not have cars

*The implementation of an immunization program

*Obtaining emergency preparedness relief staff

*A plan for getting supplies to hospitals and getting patients to temporary medical units

*Establishing a system for debris removal

*Development and staffing of temporary schools

Hurricane Pam was deemed a success by everyone who attended the exercise. Hurricane Katrina, a fast-moving storm which shifted from a Category 5 to a Category 4 and moved eastward right before it landed, did not match Pam on paper, but its results were very similar. What was different was the implementation of the plan, which fell apart when a real storm landed on the Gulf Coast.