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The NIH Director

NIH Response to Hurricane Katrina Disaster

August 31, 2005

To: All NIH Staff
From: Director, NIH
Subject: NIH Response to Hurricane Katrina Disaster

As we see and hear the reports from Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama about the loss of life and the suffering of so many individuals as a result of the devastation caused by hurricane Katrina, our thoughts go out to all those who have been injured and those who have lost loved ones or their homes, or even their communities. I know you join me in expressing our profound sadness to members of our staff who have family and colleagues in the midst of this disaster. As a medical, public health agency, we are also deeply concerned about the ill and the vulnerable. I am particularly moved that so many NIHers have contacted various offices to try to see what they could do to help.

I have spoken with Secretary Leavitt, the IC Directors, the Scientific Directors, the Clinical Directors, and other NIH staff over the last two days as the emergency has grown more grave. NIH is planning to respond to this overwhelming tragedy and is quickly exploring several ways that will maximize the use of the unique skill sets of the NIH staff.

I am grateful that the NIH Clinical Directors have formed a working group, with the support of the IC and Scientific Directors, to assess the best possible use of our local resources to triage and support acute care in areas where we have special expertise. NIH is working on strengthening partnerships with our local medical community as well as with our centers with specialties across the country. Examples of areas where we might help, depending upon the information gathered in the next few hours, would be emergency care for oncology and pediatric oncology patients and transplant and psychiatric patients with acute needs. We will respond to this natural disaster by diverting resources from our traditional mission as well as some traditional uses of our resources.

NIH is participating in a Departmental Task Force to respond to these events. The Secretary has asked the medical and public health leadership to help staff field hospitals in the disaster area. Each of these facilities will house a 250-bed hospital. I have asked the Clinical Directors, the Scientific Directors, and the IC Directors to collaborate as our clinical personnel assess our capabilities to staff these acute care facilities serving those who are being evacuated from damaged hospitals. NIH already has approximately one-third of our “basic ready” Commissioned Officers in the field or ready for deployment.

We are also grateful for the expressions of willingness to help from our staff at large. We anticipate, for example, that we may need to offer housing to family members who accompany individuals brought here for care that would exceed our usual capacity in the Children’s Inn and Safra Lodge. We would also look to the immediate community if that is needed. We have staff looking at the best way to manage the outpouring of offers from you all. We will keep you informed as we have more information.

This effort is one that will require flexibility and cooperation. We will need to expedite processes that are unusual to us. We will need to engage all our partners, and we will need to set aside business as usual in this unusual time.

This is the right thing to do.

Our thoughts are with all who are in distress,
Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.

This page last reviewed on February 14, 2011

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