Conference brings Israeli expertise on emergency response to NOLA

A delegation of emergency response professionals from Israel will join with colleagues in New Orleans next month for the first New Orleans/Israel Partnership on Emergency Response and Medicine.

NIPERM is aimed at enhancing the ability of New Orleans responders and medical providers to crisis situations. While many of the sessions will be only for registered professionals, there will be two public programs.

As of press time, there are 32 experts on the agenda, nine of whom are Israeli. In general, the mornings from Dec. 2 to 5 will be filled with workshops and panels, with site visits in the afternoons.

Sponsored and coordinated by the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans and the Jones Walker law firm, the week has drawn participation and sponsorship by Acadian Ambulance Service, Children’s Hospital, the LSU Health Sciences Center, Ochsner Health System, Touro Infirmary and Tulane University.

Federation Executive Director Michael Weil said that when he arrived in New Orleans in 2007, he learned of the Partnership2Gether project with Rosh Ha’Ayin, and felt that for the partnership to be meaningful it needed to go in both directions, benefiting both communities.

“One of the sectors most impacted by Katrina in New Orleans was the health sector and I thought that here was a field with potential synergy between Israel and New Orleans,” he said. But after talking with law enforcement and medical professionals “it became apparent that there was a real concern of how New Orleans as major tourist destination might respond to a mass casualty crisis through terrorist activity.”

After the terrorist bombing of the Boston Marathon in April, the idea was pushed to the front burner.

Spearheading the program for Jones Walker is Managing Partner Bill Hines, who served as Rex, king of Carnival, this year. His firm had always been involved in the greater community, but after Katrina “things have gone up exponentially.”

A Catholic, Hines attended Isidore Newman School instead of a Catholic school, so he was immersed into Jewish New Orleans.

When he was growing up, “some of the most prominent leaders in the New Orleans community were prominent leaders in the Jewish community” and their children were his classmates.

Starting in the 1980s, New Orleans experienced a “brain drain” across the board. “We lost a lot of the leaders of the Jewish community, which affected all aspects of New Orleans.” Many of his Jewish classmates wound up in places like Boston, New York and Chicago.

On occasion he would have conversations with some of them about what it would take to bring them back to New Orleans, and before Katrina that was “a pipe dream.” But since the storm there has been a lot of affection and nostalgia about New Orleans, along with a sense of revitalization.

Part of that has been the Federation’s post-Katrina push to attract newcomers and build the Jewish community. With Hines’ involvement in renewing the city, he felt “something more formalized” with the Federation was called for, so he had a meeting with Weil.

They came up with ideas for several long-term projects, starting with involving New Orleans’ Idea Village, which Hines chairs. Since Katrina, Hines said, it has become “a national standard of entrepreneurship,” peaking each year with New Orleans Entrepreneur Week. Next March, some 5,000 business leaders, entrepreneurs, Fortune 500 representatives and students are expected to attend the showcase event.

Hines wanted to emphasize Jewish entrepreneurism and revitalize the Jewish business community. This past year, there was a session at Entrepreneur Week on Israel in conjunction with the Federation and other local Jewish business leaders.

That session received a lot of attention, impressing Vonage founder Jeff Pulver, who attended the program. This year, there will be an effort to greatly expand the Israel component, emphasizing the medical and high tech fields.

Hines noted that the key to these projects is repetition, because “one-shot deals don’t accomplish anything.”

Another idea that came out of the meeting was something dealing with emergency response, and Hines said “during our discussions we had the bombing of the Boston Marathon.”

Weil noted that while New Orleans has experience and skill in dealing with natural disasters, “it does not when it comes to terrorist incidents and other such emergencies. Israel unfortunately has had to develop best practices and skills accrued though dealing with terrorism and frequent wars on its borders.”

This is especially important in a place like New Orleans, which routinely hosts Super Bowls, Final Fours and college football national championship games in addition to the usual large-crowd Mardi Gras, JazzFest, Sugar Bowl and countless large conventions.

After the Boston bombing, there was a lot of media coverage with doctors praising the training they had received from Israel on how to deal with such situations. That preparation likely saved lives, it was reported.

Weil said the triage system at Massachusetts General Hopsital in the bombing aftermath “was based on a training provided by professor Avi Rivkind of Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.” Rivkind is one of the presenters at NIPERM.

Weil added that “the first mobile hospital set up in Haiti after their disaster was an Israel Defense Forces field hospital.”

Topics that will be addressed at the conference include crisis management, operational readiness, hospital evacuation, pandemics, terrorism response, hazmat/neighborhood containment and more.

Mental health, law enforcement and homeland security professionals will be among the experts presenting.

Two of the Israelis are residents of Rosh Ha’Ayin, furthering ties between the communities.

There have already been some New Orleans efforts to capitalize on Israeli expertise. Early this year, the heads of Tulane’s School of Social Work and the Tulane Traumatology Institute visited Tel Aviv to study how Israelis deal with traumatic stress.

Traumatology Institute Director Charles Figley, who will be one of the presenters next month, said the Israelis’ “motivation to talk with us was high because they knew we got it, and they know that the world can benefit from their knowledge.”

The community is invited to two public events. On Dec. 3 at 7:30 p.m. there will be a presentation on “Ethical Dilemmas in Disaster,” at the Brent House on Ochsner’s main campus.

On Dec. 4 at 7 p.m., “Lessons Learned from Disaster” will be at the Lavin-Bernick Center for University Life at Tulane.

In addition to New Orleans, officials from surrounding parishes have been invited to the conference. Registration is available online at

After the event is evaluated, organizers plan to discuss whether to have the conference every other year or every 18 months. There is also some discussion of expanding it regionally — especially given the strong medical community in Birmingham. For the first conference, the focus is on the New Orleans area.

Weil said “it is with great expectations that we look forward to this event and we hope that it will lead to further joint projects and cooperation.”