Point-To-Point: Progress After Katrina
In the 10 years since Hurricane Katrina, Melissa Thaxton has seen challenge and change.
Thaxton, the marketing manager for the Monroe Civic Center, faced a dilemma in 2005. She was preparing for storm evacuees to arrive, when she got a call from a family member. "It was my dad. They live on the Northshore. He said we're headed your way. There were aunts, uncles, cousins - about 20 people."
The next couple of weeks were a draining cycle of work mirroring life at home. "I never really got away from it," she said.
Communication stayed positive for those stayed at the civic center. Updates were regular, assistance was essential. But, the arena did create concern for a brief moment. "One night the lights went out, but were back on after a moment," she recalls.
Following the storm, funding began to flow to shelter sites for future emergency needs. The city of Monroe was provided over $1 million dollars from the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. Seven generators at the civic center, and additional units for some community centers that can serve as shelters were acquired.
Improved facilities provided the means for the state to seek point-to-point partnerships between southern and northern parishes.
Monroe has signed three agreements. Community Affairs Director John Ross feels this streamlines the process. "We have something in place where certain cities will be at certain places, and we can provide for them," said Ross.
One agreement is with Lafourche Parish. Emergency Preparedness Director Chris Boudreaux reflects on how local officials came through the devastating storm. "Administration did pretty good. I was in the position for seven months. It was my first major hurricane, so I learned in a hurry."
He says those who evacuated during Katrina got on buses. There was no means to track where they were headed to get away from the storm. It was a big problem.
In developing a plan, they reached out to the city of Monroe. "We worked with them and came up with shelter space. Lafourche residents can go there and we can update them about what's going on here. If relatives are concerned, we'll know exactly where they're at."
West Monroe has also seen emergency projects develop since Katrina. The city’s Senior Center and Community Center saw about $3 million in funding.
Mayor Dave Norris explains some of the work that went into making the senior complex better prepared in case of evacuation. "We have more facilities there. A better kitchen and an assembly room that can quickly be converted into sleeping quarters."
The city has an agreement in place with Plaquemines Parish. A contract with another parish is being reviewed at this time. Norris says communication and shelters are much improved to address a major event. However, the volunteer organization component draws some concern. "The way Red Cross has been redesigned, as far as representation from Ouachita Parish that we've had in the past," said Norris.
A national restructuring of the Red Cross earlier this year resulted in several positions cut at the Northeast Louisiana chapter. There were delays in response during a severe thunderstorm event in April.
Executive Director Michelle Davison says personnel needs that were an issue at that time, have been resolved. "We were in between our disaster managers. So, we're now operating with a new volunteer coordinator and skeleton crew."
Local officials agree that while progress in communication and planning since Katrina have improved, it’s people - and teamwork – that matter most when faced with an emergency.