Hurricane Katrina 10 Years Later to ACF OHSEPR Today

September 30, 2015
Sattelite photo of a hurricane.

Photo of Captain Mary Riley, OHSEPR DirectorOHSEPR Director Captain Mary RileyBy Captain Mary Riley, Director, Office of Human Services Emergency Preparedness and Response 

Ten years ago, as a Public Health Service officer, I deployed to Katrina in the aftermath of the storm. A month later, I went into the 9th Ward of New Orleans. The once flooded ground was now dry. The water marks were almost half way up the houses…rows and rows of houses. It was dusty, it was desolate, and nobody was home. Where were the children, where were the families, where was the community that once thrived here?

One year later, the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 Visit disclaimer page (PKEMRA) was passed. With PKEMRA, came the federal Immediate Disaster Case Management (IDCM) Program which was significant for establishing the ACF Office of Human Services Emergency Preparedness and Response, commonly known as OHSEPR, in 2007. 

In late July 2011, I came to ACF as the OHSEPR director. Within a month of coming on board, an earthquake Visit disclaimer page rippled across the D.C. area, Hurricane Irene (PDF) Visit disclaimer page and Tropic Storm Lee made landfall in New York and New Jersey, and OHSEPR had its very first IDCM activation – not one, but five – in response to the Texas wildfires, the Massachusetts tornadoes, and to Irene and Lee in Vermont, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York – for an unprecedented eight month mission!  OHSEPR was stretched beyond our capacity. Our team was small, but we leveraged everything we had to build a strong partnership with ACF's Office of Regional Operations Regional Administrators (RAs) and Regional Emergency Management Specialists (REMS), the ACF programs, and with our external partners, to advance our human services response in these disasters. 

Since then, but certainly not all inclusive – 

  • In 2012, OHSEPR established its first Strategic Plan and with a second version for 2014-2017
  • OHSEPR has actively contributed in 41 disaster/public health emergencies, and deployed ACF personnel in 16 of those events
  • There have been six IDCM FEMA activations – including New Jersey post Sandy for six months
  • The ACF Emergency Response Readiness Force (ERRF) kicked off in 2012
    • Today there are 61 ACF staff on the ERRF cadre – all completing the five required trainings
    • Quarterly ERRF webinars
  • The Monthly Emergency Preparedness and Response (EPRR) Video Teleconference (VTC) has an educational component
  • In 2012, Superstorm Sandy – Frankenstorm – brought catastrophic destruction to the northeast – again, Region 2 was the hardest hit.
    • At its peak, there were 86 Head Start closures in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut
    • At its peak, there were 697 child care provider closures in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut
    • After Superstorm Sandy, OHSEPR led a comprehensive after action review of the ACF-wide response and recovery mission capturing lessons learned and improvement processes going forward. This was a major turning point that greatly advanced ACF’s ability to respond in future disaster human services missions.
  • Established an ACF Program offices EPRR point of contact (POC) network
  • In 2013, delivered training to 248 OHS/OCC regional staff in 11 cities on EPRR
  • Organized a day long training for the Sandy Recovery Transition from emergency operations to sub-grant management
  • In 2014 – 2015, the ACF Program Disaster Information Collection Plans were developed
  • In 2014, in partnership with OHS/OCC developed the Early Childhood Disaster-Related Resource Webpage
  • The ACF deployable and non-deployable capabilities were established , including children and human services subject matter experts, IDCM liaison officers, and the Incident Management Team (IMT) housed in OHSEPR
  • The ACF Standardized EPRR Workforce Training is soon to be launched


In the words of Joyce A. Thomas, Lead RA for EPRR, who was with ACF during Katrina – 10 years later

Photo of Joyce A. Thomas, ACF Regional Administrator for Region 2ACF Regional Administrator Joyce A. Thomas - Region 2 New York.Hurricane Katrina was the pivotal and highly visible event that thrust ACF, a human services agency into the middle of the discussion about “who was responsible for helping vulnerable populations and systems that serve them to prepare for and respond to large scale disasters.” ACF’s compassionate employees provided an amazing response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Ten years later since Hurricane Katrina, ACF has built a culture of preparedness through establishment of the Office of Human Services Emergency Preparedness and Response (OHSEPR), Strong Regional Office and Central Office partnerships, hiring of Regional Emergency Management Specialist (REMS) in each regional office, incorporating Incident Command Systems, the development of the HHS Concept of Operations, establishment of the ACF Emergency Readiness Response Force and Disaster Case Management.

ACF’s compassionate employees are still the centerpiece of a Disaster response. The difference today is that ACF has a very well-coordinated and defined Human services Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery system.

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