"Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in late August 2005, causing catastrophic wind damage and flooding in several states, and a massive dislocation of victims across the country. The storm is one of the worst natural disasters in the nation's history. Early estimates are that hundreds of people were killed and about one million displaced. In response to a series of disasters and terrorist attacks over the past decade, and especially since the terror attacks of 2001, Congress, the Administration, state and local governments and the private sector have made investments to improve disaster preparedness and response. New federal authorities and programs to strengthen the nation's public health system were introduced in comprehensive bioterrorism preparedness legislation in 2002. Congress also created a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2002 to provide national leadership for coordinated preparedness and response planning. A new National Response Plan (NRP), launched by DHS in December 2004, has met its first major test in the response to Hurricane Katrina. According to the NRP, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is tasked with coordinating the response of the public health and medical sectors following a disaster. HHS works with several other agencies to accomplish this mission, which includes assuring the safety of food, water and environments, treating the ranks of the ill and injured, and identifying the dead. HHS activities are coordinated with those of other lead agencies under the overall leadership of DHS."
CRS Report for Congress, RL33096