Katrina Sets Record in State-to-State Help
By Kathleen Murphy, Staff Writer
Hurricane Katrina prompted the largest-ever sharing of resources and personnel among states despite bureaucratic bungling that hindered response efforts.
Police officers from New York, chainsaws from Virginia, ambulances from Florida and National Guard troops from 40 states crossed state lines to help hurricane survivors in Mississippi and Louisiana. Dozens of states sent more than 31,000 people to the hurricane-stricken Gulf region to handle search and rescue, law enforcement and biomedical waste management.
The assistance was triggered through use of a little-known tool in the emergency response arsenal. State governments legally can share fire trucks, helicopters, employees and other resources through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), endorsed by all states except California and Hawaii.
Hurricane Katrina set in motion the largest deployment in the agreement's nine-year history, said Karen Cobulius, spokeswoman for the National Emergency Management Association , a group that provides administrative support for the compact and is an affiliate of the Council of State Governments. It was the ninth time this year that the pact was activated for disasters, including Hurricane Dennis in mid-July when Florida and Alabama received assistance, Cobulius said.
In Katrina's aftermath, some of the borrowed state workers have assisted with fighting fires, providing transportation and re-establishing communications systems. New York sent 100 buses and 28 National Guard aircraft. Oklahoma foresters are helping with debris removal. Florida sent four Black Hawk helicopters, about 100 vehicles and 1,847 workers to the affected states, totaling about $71 million worth of aid.
"This is exactly what EMAC is designed for," Cobulius said. "It did exactly what it was designed to do."
But red tape blocked some sharing attempts, The Associated Press reported: West Virginia's five planes sent to shuttle evacuees came back empty, and Gov. Joe Manchin (D) blamed a lack of coordination. It's uncertain whether the planes were sent through EMAC. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) said paperwork delayed the departure of National Guard troops dispatched to New Orleans.
When Govs. Haley Barbour (R) of Mississippi and Kathleen Blanco (D) of Louisiana declared emergencies Aug. 26, a few days before the hurricane hit, they triggered the emergency compact. State EMAC officers sent requests by email for needed items or personnel. Multiple states respond via the Internet, and a state EMAC officer filters responses and decides which state will fulfill the request.
States are not required to assist other states unless they are able, and states that ask for help are responsible for reimbursing all out-of-state costs and are liable for out-of-state personnel. States in need usually rely on federal funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover the costs.
Medical assistance among the states has its own set of issues. EMAC doesn't specifically cover sharing of medical supplies and doctors, and licensure requirements for physicians and a lack of state-owned medical resources often stand in the way. The federal government declared much of the Gulf Coast region a state of emergency, so some red tape has been tossed aside to let out-of-state medical teams respond more quickly.
Still, some volunteer doctors said they were stymied from aiding Hurricane Katrina victims because Mississippi officials would not let them deploy, The Associated Press reported. Other doctors and private citizens reported in online blogs that they found ways to get around bureaucracy and relied on Louisiana's and Mississippi's "Good Samaritan" laws that protect volunteer medical providers against liability concerns. Actor John Travolta, for example, delivered 400 doses of tetanus vaccine to Baton Rouge, La., in his private plane this week.
Often state governments don't possess the kind of medical help requested by states affected by a disaster and must look to local officials. Some states have shared local assets by enacting special agreements to use certain local employees such as doctors and medical examiners for the hurricane response, according to the Center for Law & the Public's Health at Georgetown and Johns Hopkins Universities.
Formal state agreements to loan doctors and medicine in emergencies are just getting off the ground. Both in the Midwest and the South, regional alliances are being forged. The Midwestern alliance would include Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah. The Southern Governors' Association , meanwhile, has been working to develop agreements and the technological know-how to share medical expertise in emergencies.