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Prehosp Disaster Med. 2010 Jan-Feb;25(1):80-6.

"Operation Helping Hands": Massachusetts health and medical response to Hurricane Katrina.

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  • 1Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA.



As Hurricane Katrina bore down on New Orleans in August 2005, the city's mandatory evacuation prompted the exodus of an estimated 80% of its 485,000 residents. According to estimates from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 18 states subsequently hosted more than 200,000 evacuees.


In this case study, "Operation Helping Hands" (OHH), the Massachusetts health and medical response in assisting Hurricane Katrina evacuees is described. Operation Helping Hands represents the largest medical response to evacuees in recent Massachusetts history.


The data describing OHH were derived from a series of structured interviews conducted with two leading public health officials directing planning efforts, and a sample of first responders with oversight of operations at the evacuation site. Also, a literature review was conducted to identify similar experiences, common challenges, and lessons learned.


Activities and services were provided in the following areas: (1) administration and management; (2) medical and mental health; (3) public health; and (4) social support. This study adds to the knowledge base for future evacuation and shelter planning, and presents a conceptual framework that could be used by other researchers and practitioners to describe the process and outcomes of similar operations.


This study provides a description of the planning and implementation efforts of the largest medical evacuee experience in recent Massachusetts history, an effort that involved multiple agencies and partners. The conceptual framework can inform future evacuation and shelter initiatives at the state and national levels, and promotes the overarching public health goal of the highest attainable standard of health for all.

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