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23.11.2021 | Kommentarer

To Work as a Nurse During Hurricane Katrina

Svetlana Morrison, BSc student, Bachelor of Health Care, Nursing, Novia UAS.
Anita Wikberg, Supervisor, RN, RM, PhD, Senior Lecturer, Novia UAS.


Hurricane Katrina was a devastating natural disaster which occurred on the Gulf Coast in the south of the United States of America. Due to the severity of the destruction it caused, many people suffered due to the effects of displacement, property loss and loss of life. The United States and its people suffered economically, socially, psychologically, and health care wise. There was a depletion of health care resources available to the public and health care professionals, especially nurses. Nurses endured stressful working conditions in combination with their own psychological trauma from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It is vital to reflect and learn about the reasons behind such a devastating event and what measures can be put in place in terms of prevention and to ensure minimal damage. However, though it is vital to ensure economic and societal safety, it is even more crucial to ensure nurses and health care professionals receive appropriate training, care, and resources available to be able to deal with the aftereffects of a large-scale disaster event, personally and professionally. 

What was the Cause and Ramifications of Hurricane Katrina?

A natural disaster is an event which is caused by an extreme change in atmospheric conditions. In such instances where there is an adverse change in climate, this may oftentimes result in critical risk to people's well-being, buildings, a country's national framework and national safety. A natural disaster is an umbrella term which encompasses several different adverse weather changes such as, tornadoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes (Homeland Security, 2021). A hurricane is an occurrence where there are accelerated revolutions of reduced atmospheric pressure, for this to occur there must be at least 63 kilometers per hour winds, this can then be classified as a "tropical storm". However, in weather conditions where there are gusts of at least 119 kilometers per hour, then an event can be classified as a hurricane. Hurricanes are most commonly occurring around areas of water which are situated around the equator. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2021).

Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster which occurred during late August 2005 in the region of New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. Hurricane Katrina is regarded as the third greatest hurricane to hit the United States since recording began. There were winds which were recorded up to 225 km/h with a breadth of 644 kilometers. The initial storm began in the region of the Northwestern West Indies, which then spread towards the United States. (Onion, Sullivan, & Mullen, 2019).

Hurricane Katrina negatively affected the United States in a number of ways; physically, mentally, and economically. The New Orleans region of the US was most affected, however the results were felt much more widespread throughout the United States and the world. It brought into the forefront questions about the level of preparedness required to avoid such catastrophic devastation on a grand scale. A major factor which occurred after Hurricane Katrina which physically affected people's overall well-being is how by having such an enormous volume of still water concentrated in the area, it precipitated the increase of health hazards. The predominant ones being the West Nile Virus, increase in fungus growth and bacterial growth, especially in the water supply. This in turn affected people's health greatly by ruining crops, water, and an increase of parasites. (Frank, 2012).

Economical effects of Hurricane Katrina had resulted in toxin release into the atmosphere due to damage which accumulated from damage to infrastructure and transportation. Consequently, the toxin release only adds to the already existing pollutants what were there. The financial fallout which occurred from Hurricane Katrina was measured at over $80 billion, which encompassed buildings with coverage for damage, however, the total loss to the economy amounted to $125 billion. Despite there being a substantial hit to the economy and infrastructure, the total number of casualties amounted to an estimation of less than 2000, though this is difficult to know entirely. Thankfully however, although there was a large amount of physical damage, the loss of life is minimal compared to other tropical disasters. (Hoyle, 2019). 

Many people who experienced the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, especially first-hand were greatly, negatively affected. Many survivors experienced immediate psychological distress from Hurricane Katrina, such as panic and terror. However, many more people experienced greater psychological symptoms long after the physical aftermath. Individuals of varying ages and backgrounds were impacted in a number of ways, this also being the case where various groups experienced psychological distress differently from others. Most prevalent being African American, due to aspects such as there being a greater number of African Americans present in the area. A further reason African Americans were most affected is because of their poor economic background and poorer quality of accommodation. The most common psychological concern people faced following Hurricane Katrina was post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), this is due to people experiencing the physical devastation of the hurricane, the displacement of people and the loss of life. PTSD from Hurricane Katrina was reported to be more prevalent for people who had been facing pre-existing hardships, this in turn can cause an even further psychological crisis situation. (American Psychological Association, 2006). 

Adolescents and younger have been discovered being a very at-risk group from experiencing psychological aftereffects from Hurricane Katrina. The most common issues which have been recorded have been, feelings of despair and low spirits, worry, hypervigilance and nervousness. These aforementioned signs are also experienced in combination with PTSD. However, other difficulties which have been reported to have affected the younger generation are issues which stem from poor conductivity of oneself, which includes inattentiveness. For children who are affected in this way, intensive care needs to be given to ensure and facilitate getting back into a routine. One area where children can receive help is with their education and being able to continue learning as efficiently as possible. Specific care needs must be implemented, and more in-depth care needs to be given, especially to those whose loved ones have passed. (American Psychological Association, 2006). 

Who Helped After the Events of Hurricane Katrina?

After the occurrence of Hurricane Katrina, news stations and newspapers broadcasted the efforts people went to help the survivors, however the people who were featured to be assisting in the aid of survivors were celebrities. Those who were highlighted being Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and Ellen DeGeneres (The Associated Press, 2005). Reports of celebrities such as these have both good and bad implications. The positive being, raising awareness of the devastation, putting time and money through actual work and donations to help victims. Regular people are also more likely to listen to celebrities and put forth their own donations to help survivors because they see someone they admire doing the same. However, negative implications of celebrities helping is that some people may believe that because celebrities have great amount of money, it is enough to assist survivors, which in turn could make some people think that donating towards registered organisations is not as important. A further negative impact could be that many celebrities are giving donations for egotistical reasons and not to actually help those in need. This could be the case if someone has an upcoming movie or concert to sell tickets and therefore make more money for themselves. (Berdanier, 2017).

One of the biggest organisations which assisted in giving aid to the victims of Hurricane Katrina was the Red Cross organisation based in America. After the redistribution of civilians following the event, the Red Cross assigned over a quarter of a million helpers which aided survivors in aspects such as funding, nutrition, housing, and providing survivors with psychological assistance to aid in recovery as much as possible. When looking at numbers in relation to the aid given, there has been around 4 million places given to people who required a safe place to sleep, in a number of different jurisdictions. There had been a total of nearly 70 million portions of food provided and urgent economic compensation. (American Red Cross, 2015). 

Another great source of aid for victims of Hurricane Katrina was Direct Relief, which provided a great amount of urgent care and resources, including in the form of accommodation where people can access medical supplies and care. This is extremely important and beneficial for people who cannot otherwise afford or have no coverage to access health care. In total, there was greater than $85 million given in medical aid supplies which covered the restoration of facilities in numerous states. Victims were also promised aid in the form of medication, including delivery of said medication. (Direct Relief, 2012).

To Work as a Nurse Following the Events of Hurricane Katrina

Nurses and other health care professionals reportedly gave the majority of basic care to the victims following the events of Hurricane Katrina. A conducted study discovered that for care to be given effectively, nurses within different specialities and disciplines were needed to join forces to help victims. Immediately in the years following Hurricane Katrina, the number of actively working and contributing nurses to the healthcare system grew while other medical and healthcare professions decreased in personnel. The apparent cause of the overall decrease in healthcare was as a result from a lack of finance and there being people who do not want to care for ethnic minorities. (Bell, Klasa, Iwashyna, Norton, & Davis, 2020).

In Oceans Springs Hospital on the Gulf of the Mississippi Coast, the prediction of Hurricane Katrina required the hospital to be fully equipped with personnel before the disaster actually occurred. Staff who would generally only work 24-48 hours consecutively, in this instance, however, were required to work far longer hours due to there not being available nurses and doctors to alleviate the work and pressure that was already present. Due to staff ultimately being "stuck" at the hospital, they discovered that a lot of their loved ones became victim to the disaster and a greater number ended up suffering from property destruction. Due to the severe strain of the event, hospital personnel suffered from a stressful working environment, they suffered from property damage and emotional distress of injuries of their loved ones. On top of the personal challenges of Hurricane Katrina the nurses and doctors experienced, this was accumulated by the great influx of patients needing care. Occupational therapy was provided for staff to receive aid in dealing with their experiences. (Babar & Rinker, 2006).

Hospital personnel were, and still are, under intense stress to work up to adequate and professional standards when caring for patients, this remaining a great pressure during disaster and crisis situations such as what Hurricane Katrina was. A hindrance which healthcare personnel faced during Hurricane Katrina was an electricity outage. This resulted in the inefficiency of many necessary machines and tools needed to care for and treat patients. An aspect which was the greatest affected was the ability to cool the hospital due to the increase in temperature of the environment. The electricity outage resulted in a deficit in being able to do analysis of patient blood and other diagnostic measures. (Babar & Rinker, 2006).

The area greatest affected in the hospital due to the disaster was within the emergency. This revealed a severe influx of patients requiring emergency care which the department had not enough resources to tackle. To make the care and patients needs run smoother and easier, a triage system was in place to determine who was at a greater need of care. One hospital luckily had a number of volunteers which were able to provide care to those with less severe and life-threatening injuries. This made the emergency team be able to focus on patients who greatly needed care. (Babar & Rinker, 2006).

What We Have Learned Following the Events of Hurricane Katrina.

Hurricane Katrina was so devastating due to the unforeseeable damage something so great could cause. The biggest ways we can avoid such massive destruction again is by having preventable measures in place and protocols which could be implemented in the case of such a natural disaster. An event such as Hurricane Katrina allows people to reevaluate what works efficiently to help people and what does not. Areas of improvement after a natural disaster are often multi-dimensional, covering economic, social and healthcare. Economic being one of the biggest, affecting people's security, job prospects and accommodation. (Atallah & Hoban, 2017).

An area which needed further development for victims of natural disasters such as this, is to ensure victims have adequate accommodation which is accessible to them. It has been reported that people who do not have their own house which they have purchased are at greater probability of not receiving help with their living situation, compared to those who do. This is due to, those who own their own home are perceived to having greater "power" to make affirmative decisions regarding society, while those in more temporary housing are seen as people who cannot make affirmative actions relating to how areas need to be organised and run. If more attention and care would be given to people of lower societal standing regarding their living arrangements, then people would not only have safety and security, but also are more likely to contribute to making informed decisions about their lives and environment. The peer group which was most affected by Hurricane Katrina was African American, however, due to their perceived lack of education, accommodation, and employment rates, they have also been reported to be the biggest group which received the least amount of help, post Hurricane Katrina. Changes need to be made to ensure minority groups are included within the plans to expand infrastructure as this will lead to greater productivity within the workforce and more money for the economy. (Atallah & Hoban, 2017).

When looking at the aftermath and the actions done after a natural disaster, it is vital to reflect and look for ways to improve, especially within healthcare. We can learn a great amount from the actions and implementations carried out after a natural disaster in other situations, such as COVID-19, which require a lot of contingencies and know-how about appropriate protocols to help people. It is paramount in the event of a large-scale crisis situation, that governmental bodies have thorough guidelines which people must follow. If these happen to be new, it is essential that thorough education and training is given to ensure people are aware of the requirements they need to demonstrate in order to provide complete care. There must also be resources and guidance available to those who may need further clarification. By having these measures in place, patients will be able to receive assistance at first point of contact within their community for any ailments or trauma they receive after a major event. (Broz, Levin, Mucha, Pelzel, Wong, Persky, & Hershow, 2009).

It is important for necessary arrangements to be made between different expertises to ensure that they run smoothly for the benefit of patients. One method of this coming to fruition, is by having thorough regulations for individual institutions and allow for them to have effective correspondence for them to know what their individual roles are to help patients. Immediate effective correspondence can be achieved by modern methods such as the use of mobile telephones or a secured location through the internet, this will include correct documentation. This will ensure that patients will receive the highest quality of care as everyone will know the care patients have already received, their care plan yet to be implemented and what could be improved. (Broz et al, 2009).


It is important for nurses and people in general to know of the causes and their aftereffects of a major event such as Hurricane Katrina. It is important to understand the reasons behind such an event for the purpose of, even though we cannot prevent a natural disaster from occurring, we can understand the appropriate measures required to ensure that people feel protected and reassured, and that there is the most minimal damage possible occurred to the environment. It is important to reflect on care and security given to people to ensure their safety, to make people feel heard and cared for, to ensure that trust is built.

However, while it is important for people who were directly affected by such events to receive care, those caring for them, nurses especially, also need to be heard and feel that their peers care about them to also ensure their well-being. Nurses need to be heard, cared for, and respected because as with other professions, those who feel listened to and respected, will take greater care and maintain passion for their work. Nurses must also feel respected and know of appropriate protocols so that they know how to efficiently care for patients. Nurses must be aware of where to go if they require further help, be it professional or personal. By ensuring care and safety measures for nurses, this will further ensure care and safety for their patients and what their requirements are in the event of another major disaster event.