Dr. Chris Souders & Dr. Kevin Schulz

Dr. Chris Souders, Associate Medical Director for the Houston Fire Department Emergency Medical Services (HFD EMS), and Kevin Schulz, Assistant Medical Director, helped to organize the emergency medical services offered at the George R. Brown Convention Center (GRB) during Hurricane Harvey.

Souders explains that the response to Harvey was based largely on the response to Hurricane Katriana, when a shelter opened in the Astrodome [and GRB]to house displaced residents from New Orleans. Using GRB as a shelter was not in the original plan from the city, but the decision to open it was made after officials realized that the disaster required a more coordinated response. Schulz says that the length of the flooding event, lasting over several days, caused many to reconsider the size and scope of relief efforts and realize the need for long-term medical care for those in shelters. Souders was called to open the GRB shelter and said that evacuees were arriving in dump trucks and buses. The initial response focused mainly on getting people dry, finding them clothes, and feeding them with the initial resources provided by the nearby Hilton hotel. After the first twenty-four hours the challenge became expanding the GRB medical services beyond the simple first aid station originally set up. As more medical volunteers arrived, the medical station became like a small emergency room. HFD EMS medical director, Dr. David Persse, served as the shelter’s chief medical officer. One major task was deciding which patients could be treated at GRB and which needed to go to a hospital. Souders explains that area hospitals were dealing with their own influx of patients and internal disasters, so the doctors at the shelter tried to avoid overwhelming the hospitals by treating as many patients on site as possible. A few days after the shelter opened, assistance from FEMA, with Disaster Medical Assistance Teams and ambulance strike teams, arrived to take over medical care while HFD EMS continued in an oversight role. Schulz describes the conditions that were treated, from injuries to patients with chronic illnesses who had missed treatment or who had been without medication for several days. A pharmacy, stocked with donated medicines, was able to provide medication to those who needed it. Both Schulz and Souders emphasized the generosity of the community, saying the shelter was overwhelmed with donations of food, towels, clothes, and other supplies. Schulz says that the thing that had the biggest impact on him was that the people in the shelter were very appreciative of the help they received, and that there was upbeat atmosphere in the shelter. Both men agree that lessons learned from operating the shelter can apply to future disasters, including that aid can come from many sources inside and outside the community.