On This Date in 2004: Officials Declared Louisiana Was More Prepared for the Big One

| July 23, 2017 @ 3:00 pm

Newspaper article from Monroe LA newspaper about Hurricane Pam simulation

On this date in 2004, FEMA announced the results of its multi-agency Hurricane Pam simulation. Eerily, many of the predictions from the simulation would come true in Hurricane Katrina a year later.

The five-day exercise was held at the state Emergency Operations Center in Baton Rouge. The objective was to develop a response plan to a catastrophic hurricane striking Southeast Louisiana. The simulation involved a theoretical category three hurricane named Pam striking the area with 120 mph winds and twenty inches of flooding rains. Storm surge topped levees and flooded 80 percent of the City of New Orleans.

The FEMA press release mentioned that 600,000 buildings could be destroyed, but stopped short of predicting the devastating 25,000-100,000 fatalities that some had called for. It did predict 30 million cubic yards of debris and identified landfills. It said that 1,000 shelters would have to be maintained for 100 days. The team recognized that shelters would be needed in other states like Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi.

It conceived a transportation plan that would get stranded residents out of the area. It envisioned having to meet the educational needs of children displaced to temporary housing areas by the hurricane. It planned for medical needs of hospital patients and injured survivors. Eight hundred search and rescue teams would be needed.

So, with an exercise of this magnitude uncannily predicting results that would play out one year later, what went wrong in Hurricane Katrina? Or perhaps, what went right. Any fatalities are horrible, but only a fraction of the projected deaths occurred.

Were warnings and forecasts as effective as they could have been? Were evacuation procedures effective? Was the fact that Katrina became a Category Five storm one day before landfall before weakening to Category 4 enough to prompt higher evacuation rates?

Of course, there was much that went wrong, not to mention the fact that in many ways this was a man-made disaster, but some things did go right.


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Bill Murray is the President of The Weather Factory. He is the site's official weather historian and a weekend forecaster. He also anchors the site's severe weather coverage. Bill Murray is the proud holder of National Weather Association Digital Seal #0001 @wxhistorian

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