News Release

Friday, Sept. 23, 2005

Contact: HHS Press Office
(202) 690-6343

Getting Ready for Rita -- HHS Secretary Declares Public Health Emergency for Texas and Louisiana

HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt today declared public health emergencies for Texas and Louisiana in order to quickly provide the department’s full complement of emergency response assets and resources to the states, its municipalities, hospitals and others in need of public health assistance for response to Hurricane Rita.

“Again our thoughts and prayers are with the people who are in the path of Hurricane Rita,” Secretary Leavitt said. “We are mobilizing all of our capabilities to help provide care and assistance to the victims of yet another major storm.”

The HHS Operations Center which operates 24 hours a day has been staffed up since late August before Hurricane Katrina hit and remains in constant communication with state and local emergency management operations, as well as other federal departments, including Homeland Security and the White House.

The following actions have already been taken:

  • HHS liaisons are working in the Texas and Louisiana state operations center and the federal regional coordination centers in Denton, Texas and Atlanta, Ga. The HHS Secretary’s Emergency Response Team (SERT), led by RADM Mary P. Couig, USPHS is working out of the Joint Field Office (JFO) in Austin and the HHS SERT led by RADM William C. Vanderwagen, USPHS is at the JFO in Baton Rouge.
  • The Strategic National Stockpile is on alert and push packages of medical supplies and materials are ready to ship. The equipment and supplies for four Federal Medical Shelters (FMS), each with a 250-bed capability are being pre-positioned in Texas. Two FMS are set up on the Texas A&M; University campus in College Station. The other two will be held in Austin until after the storm clears.
  • Secretary Leavitt earlier activated the entire US Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps to respond to Hurricane Katrina. USPHS officers are now on alert across the nation and could be sent to help respond to Hurricane Rita. In addition, more than 3,500 health care workers have been credentialed from the HHS volunteer database and are ready to respond as temporary federal employees.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has assembled four teams of 20 to deploy after Rita makes landfall. CDC has three-dozen public health staff in Texas as part of its Katrina recovery effort, providing support at shelters, hospitals and local health departments.
  • The HHS Web site homepage is featuring a link to public health and safety information specifically related to hurricanes at www.hhs.gov.


Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other press materials are available at http://www.hhs.gov/news.

Last revised: September 23, 2005