Do The Right Thing in Times of Disaster: A Lesson from the Louisiana Floods – Insights by Dr. Robert Chandler

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There are far too many anecdotal tales told about crisis mismanagement and performance failures for disaster mitigation and recovery. Every once in a while, it is helpful to call our attention to those who seem to be doing the right things even at the worst times of a major disaster. One such positive story emerged in the aftermath of the August 2016 floods in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Storms and Floods

Gonzales, La, Thursday, August 19, 2016 -- Regional Response Team Six conduct search and rescue operations by boat in Ascension Parish. (Photo by J.T. Blatty/FEMA)

Gonzales, La, Thursday, August 19, 2016 — Regional Response Team Six conduct search and rescue operations by boat in Ascension Parish. (Photo by J.T. Blatty/FEMA)

The state of Louisiana and some areas of Mississippi experienced severe storms and extreme flooding in August 2016. Deep, tropical moisture in combination with low pressure near the earth’s surface and aloft were the main ingredients that fueled the serious flooding in Louisiana and adjacent parts of southwest Mississippi. On the morning of Aug. 12, NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center said this when talking about the heavy rain event: “The best description of this system is that of an inland sheared tropical depression.”

This slow-moving area of low pressure and near-record amounts of atmospheric moisture led to extreme rainfall (more than 24 inches of rain) and historic flooding in southeast Louisiana between August 11, 2016 to August 31, 2016. More than 60,000 homes were impacted and at least 13 people lost their lives as a result of the severe flooding in both Louisiana and Mississippi. As a result, the Federal Government declared a major disaster, believed the worst disaster to hit the U.S. since sub-tropical “Superstorm Sandy.”

The rainfall it produced was indeed very similar to what one would expect from a slow-moving tropical depression or storm since rainfall potential is related to the forward speed of those types of systems. Rainfall totals in the double digits from slow-moving tropical depressions or storms can wreak extreme havoc on a region. Rivers can rise rapidly and easily exceed flood levels by a wide margin, inundating homes and businesses and in some cases making travel impossible. The highest storm total rainfall report was 31.39 inches near Watson, Louisiana, according to NOAA.

The rainfall total was higher than from any tropical cyclone or remnant in Louisiana since 1950, though an August 1940 hurricane wrung out 37.50 inches on Miller Island, according to NOAA/WPC forecaster and tropical cyclone rainfall expert, David Roth.

Here are some additional rainfall totals from NOAA:

  • 47 inches near Brownfields, Louisiana
  • 75 inches near Denham Springs, Louisiana
  • 84 inches near Gloster, Mississippi
  • 60 inches at Lafayette, Louisiana
  • 14 inches in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (Record daily rainfall on Friday and Saturday)
  • 43 inches in Panama City, Florida

Lafayette, Louisiana, had two consecutive days with 10 inches or more of rainfall Aug. 12 and Aug. 13. Prior to that, dating to 1893, that happened only one other day in Lafayette.

At least 11 river gauges saw record crests in Louisiana, some by a large margin. Here’s a list of the record crests:

Gonzales, La, Thursday, August 19, 2016 -- Views from the boat with Regional Response Team Six during search and rescue operations in Ascension Parish. (Photo by J.T. Blatty/FEMA)

Gonzales, La, Thursday, August 19, 2016 — Views from the boat with Regional Response Team Six during search and rescue operations in Ascension Parish. (Photo by J.T. Blatty/FEMA)

  • Comite River at Comite Joor Road: Record crest set by 3+ feet on Aug. 14
  • Comite River near Olive Branch: Record crest set on Aug. 13
  • Amite River at Magnolia: Record crest set by 6+ feet on Aug. 13
  • Amite River at Denham Springs: Record crest set by nearly 5 feet on Aug. 14
  • Amite River Basin at Bayou Mancha Near Little Prairie: Record crest set on Aug. 14
  • Amite River at Bayou Manchac Point: Record crest set on Aug. 14
  • Amite River at Port Vincent: Record crest set by almost 3 feet on Aug. 14
  • Amite River at French Settlement: Record set on Aug. 14
  • Tangipahoa River at Robert: Record crest set on Aug. 13
  • Tickfaw River at Holden: Record crest set on Aug. 13
  • Tickfaw River at Liverpool: Record crest set on Aug. 12

The Vermillion River at Lafayette, Louisiana, crested at its highest level since an August 1940 hurricane, about 7.5 feet above flood stage and about 6 feet above the March 2016 flood.

The Louisiana Economic Development estimates that the August 2016 Louisiana Flood caused $8.7 billion in damage to Louisiana residential and commercial properties, with damage to businesses in the state exceeding $2 billion. Those figures do not include damage to the state’s public infrastructure.

In addition, more than 6,000 businesses were impacted by the flooding. The combined cost of losses for those buildings and their contents was estimated to be more than $2.2 billion.

With an estimated 146,000 homes damaged in the flooding, and 60,000 residents left homeless, thousands of Louisianans were forced into shelters, with more than 11,000 seeking refuge in state-operated shelters. Because many of the areas that flooded were not in “high flood risk areas,” the majority of homeowners affected by the flood did not have flood insurance.

Crisis Management Exemplariness

Described in an article by Lauren Weber in the The Wall Street Journal (“One CEO’s Hands-On Crisis Management,” 21 September 2016, B8), Amedisys CEO Paul Kusserow is praised for doing the right during the disaster.

Amedisys Home Health and Hospice Care, based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is one of the largest home health provider and fourth largest hospice care provider in the United States. Amedisys provides in-home skilled nursing, Physical therapy, Occupational therapy and speech language pathology, medical social work, home aides and hospice and bereavement services, with 11 million patient care visits annually.

The Amedisys corporate philosophy includes the following:

Mission: To provide patient-centered care every day and be the leading healthcare at home team in the communities we serve.

Gonzales, La, Thursday, August 19, 2016 -- Standing floodwaters remain in Ascension Parish. (Photo by J.T. Blatty/FEMA)

Gonzales, La, Thursday, August 19, 2016 — Standing floodwaters remain in Ascension Parish. (Photo by J.T. Blatty/FEMA)

Core Beliefs: The Amedisys SPIRIT

  • Service – Remember why we are here
  • Passion – Care and serve from the heart
  • Integrity – Do the right thing, always
  • Respect – Communicate openly and honestly
  • Innovation – Influence and embrace change
  • Talent – Invest in personal and professional growth

Amedisys, as part of their corporate philosophy is committed to participating in the disaster response in the communities where they operate. “Assistance in Disaster Recovery Efforts: Our care centers are part of communities across the country. When floods, blizzards or other federally declared disasters strike, we stand with our people offering ongoing care and assistance to help recovery efforts.”

However, it is the extra measures undertaken during the August floods that has attracted the praise for the crisis management actions to take care of their own employees and patients during the disaster.

According to Weber’s “Workarounds” report:

The August disaster had left nearly one quarter of Amedisys’ 400 employees with flooded homes and property, and put at risk the company’s patients. Among the people who died in the flooding was Bill Borne, the founder of Amedisys.

Weber quotes Kusserow’s recounting of steps taken in the days after the rains had begun:

“We knew the flooding might shut down fuel stations and that wait times would be huge at the remaining ones, so we brought in a fuel truck on August 14 and were dispensing fuel to caregivers so they could get out to see their patients. We started to collect information on whose property and homes were damaged and we just wired them all $2500 straight out of the bank account. I went to a Lowe’s in New Orleans in the middle of the night with our general counsel. Those were long lines. We bought mops, buckets, fans, bleach, anti-mold spray, anything that was on the shelves.”

Weber concludes that “every crisis is an opportunity to do the right thing.”

Paul and his team did their job, protected their people and their clients even at the most challenging time. For most of us in the crisis management and disaster management field, we know that they “were just doing what they had planned and prepared to do” at these critical moments. I’m guessing that they aren’t necessarily looking for praise or applause. Nonetheless, I think it appropriate, for those of us in the crisis and disaster management sector, to call attention to those who seem to be doing the right things even at the worst times of a major disaster. In this case, let’s give a “thumb’s up” and pat on the back to Paul Kusserow and his team at Amedisys for their “above and beyond” actions during the August floods.

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