DRO 734-2013 — Hurricane Isaac Wednesday, Aug 29 2012 

For the last two years I’ve been responding to a disaster that has impacted the US around the anniversary of Katrina. Last year I attended a couple Katrina related events and then left for my deployment as a shelter manager in Vermont. My current deployment with the American Red Cross is in my own backyard.

So, an update after the first official night of Hurricane Isaac. I spent Aug. 27th in the Red Cross COOP (Continuity Of Operations Plan) office in Madisonville on the Northshore. It’s a 15 minute drive from my house in bad traffic. That’s where the Southeast Louisiana chapter shelters during a storm. We were extremely short staffed so while my official title is Community Partnerships Lead I helped out with government liaison, staffing, training, and sheltering. I slept on a cot in the photocopier room to stay warm (they kept the building soooooo cold so if the power went out it wouldn’t hurt as quickly) for about 5 hrs.

After getting woken at 5:15 to troubleshoot a shelter issue I decided to get up and at ’em. I did an initial interview with a producer at CTV and some social media but was asked by my leads if I would change roles and head to the town if Franklinton in Washington Parish. I’m embedded at the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. I’m in the headquarters which has reps from the Fire dept, sheriff’s office, health dept, national guard, parish staff, EOP staff etc. The Parish President and council members drop by as do folks from other departments, especially at National Weather Service briefing times.

The storm is moving very, very slowly. We haven’t been hit hard here yet, a few hundred homes without power, some trees down, light to moderate winds and some rain, heavy at times. In other words, a normal day in Louisiana. The storm is coming, it’s just slow.

Other areas haven’t been so lucky. About half a million homes are without power across South Louisiana. Lots and lots of rain and heavy winds. The storm sat over Grand Isle (one of the centers of damage during the oil spill) for hours and hasn’t moved far away. In Plaquemines Parish (also affected by the oil spill and basically wiped off the map in Katrina) damage is wide spread.   There is either a breach or levee overtopping and ppl are reporting 12 ft of water in homes. Ppl are trapped, but rescue efforts are hindered by the weather conditions.

New Orleans has been slammed since last night. Winds of 50-70 miles an hour. Several inches of rain. The storm may continue to affect it with hurricane or tropical storm conditions for another 24 hours. There is street flooding, power is out almost everywhere in the city, and will likely be out at least another couple days.

It’s likely that we’ll get hit soon so I’ll sign off. More when I can. I’m tweeting @TanyaMGulliver and will continue while we have power/signal. We do have a generator so hopefully I’ll have phone or texting capacity.

Volunteering with the Red Cross Tuesday, Jun 5 2012 

I’ve been volunteering since I was a kid. I think the first time was with my dad when he did his shifts at the Smith Township library; later I did my own shifts. In elementary school I began organizing fundraisers and events to help feed children in Africa. From high school on volunteering was an important part of what I did in my life. I dedicate a significant amount of time  to volunteering every week; even here in the US (as I write this I have just finished a call-in to a board meeting with the Professional Writers Association of Canada where, as I finish my 7th year on the board this week, I serve as Past-President).

I volunteer with the Disaster Services arm of the American Red Cross.

I’m really enjoying my work with the American Red Cross. I’ve written before about my two experiences on bigger Disaster Relief Operations – in Vermont with Hurricane Irene last August/September and in Carencro (Lafayette), Louisiana this past march with the SWLA Flood. Most recently, I trained as an instructor in the disasters stream and have been doing some trainings prepping volunteers to be shelter volunteers if needed in the hurricane season.

Red Cross cot assembly

The shelter training participants at the New Roads library in Point Coupee around a Red Cross cot they learned to assemble (My training partner, Jonathan Hammett, Regional Partnership Manager for Southern Louisiana is in the red shirt).

Even though my Master’s degree I received in 2009 and the PhD I am undertaking now are technically in Environmental Studies, there was/is a huge focus on disasters in both of them. The courses I took at York University – through the Faculty of Environmental Studies and the Disaster and Emergency Management program have been incredibly helpful and useful as I learn more about the inner workings of a Disaster Relief Operation. I sat in on a planning meeting last week; the number of volunteers that will be required if a large hurricane hits is enormous. On top of that, you have to anticipate that some trained volunteers won’t be able to respond given their own life circumstances, so training must include 3x the number of people  you actually anticipate needing.

The most common disaster in the United States is the single home house fire (image source: American Red Cross).

Even outside of “wartime” ie when there isn’t a formal, large-scale disaster there is lots of work to be done. A standard disaster cycle is Preparedness, Mitigation, Response and Recovery. But once you have recovered, the system is right back into preparing and mitigating. What worked, what didn’t work, how many people need to be trained this year, what shelters will be needed, where will they be etc etc etc.

My other main function with the Red Cross right now is helping the South Louisiana Regional Partnerships Manager, Jonathan Hammett, with some of the preparedness work. Not only are we training volunteers, but we are in a constant recruitment mode to try to find more. We are also connecting with groups and organizations, especially churches, to secure spaces for a shelter. This involves meeting with an interested church, assessing their interest and capacity, then if they are supportive having a full evaluation of their space completed to ensure that it is safe and suitable. Finally, a partnerships agreement is signed. During an actual disaster, I’ll be a Community Partner Services Lead for the South-East Lousiana chapter which will include connecting with our partner groups and helping to mobilize them (Jonathan has the same role but will be based out of the Baton Rouge chapter). The Madisonville office where disaster operations will be based for the SELA reponse is less than a 15 minute drive from my place (though there are rooms for sleeping if required).

A little blurry but this is *why* I volunteer. The question asks “How did the Red Cross help you” and under “other” the client wrote “Smiles”. In a time of crisis, knowing that someone was there with a smile and support is the most important gift we can give our neighbours.

Will you consider being

“Ready When the Time Comes”

and become a Red Cross volunteer?

Ask me for details!!

Louisiana American Red Cross State-Wide Training Days Monday, Jun 4 2012 

Image Red Cross Statewide Training Days

Red Cross Statewide Training Days

If you’ve ever thought about volunteering in a shelter during a hurricane evacuation, now is the time to get trained. Saturday June 9th and Saturday July 14th are state-wide training days in Louisiana.

In the New Orleans area there will be training at the Canal Street office and the Madisonville offfice. If you’re outside the Metro area there is also training in Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Shreveport, Monroe, Alexandria and Lafayette (Scott) on both days. There will also be training on June 9th only in Thibodaux and in Luling on July 14th only.

Personally, on July 7th I should be doing a training at the New Orleans Healing Center’s Street University and on July 14th, I’ll be doing a training in New Roads, Point Coupee.

The Disaster Services Overview  and Shelter Operations/Simulation combined course is just one day of training and then you’re “Ready When the Time Comes” to serve in a shelter in case of a hurricane.

The easiest way to register is to go to: http://www.batonrouge.redcross.org/hurricane-training

Click the date and the chapter that works best for you. This will take you to the registration system. Click on New User at the top right of page and fill out the very short form. Last, click Place Order. (There is no charge for disaster courses.)

Although details will confirm only the first class of the day, you will be signed up for the sequence of courses throughout the day. The training runs 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Hurricane Season starts today! Friday, Jun 1 2012 

From today (June 1st) until November 30th is Hurricane Season! Are you ready?

Image of Gulf hurricane

A look at Hurricane Ivan in the Gulf of Mexico.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts a near-normal year for hurricanes with nine to 15 storms in the Atlantic Ocean. Of these storms, four to 8 could strengthen to a hurricane with winds of 74 mph or higher, with as many as three becoming major hurricanes with winds of 111 mph or higher.

According to the American Red Cross, “Getting prepared ahead of time is the best way to be ready for any emergency of weather disaster.”

Their three step plan is “Get a Kit, Make a Plan, Be Prepared”.

Image three step plan for preparedness from Red Cross

Be Red Cross Ready in case of a disaster

  • Build an emergency kit with a gallon of water per person, per day, non-perishable food, a flashlight, battery-powered radio, first aid kit, medications, supplies for an infant if applicable, a multi-purpose tool, personal hygiene items, copies of important papers, cell phone chargers, extra cash, blankets, maps of the area and emergency contact information.
  • Talk with household members and create an evacuation plan. Planning and practicing evacuation plan minimizes confusion and fear during the event.
  • Be informed. Learn about the community’s hurricane response plan. Plan routes to local shelters, register family members with special medical needs as required and make plans for pets to be cared for.
  • Because standard homeowners insurance doesn’t cover flooding, it’s important to have protection from the floods associated with hurricanes, tropical storms, heavy rains and other conditions that impact the U.S. For more information on flood insurance, please visit the National Flood Insurance Program website at www.FloodSmart.gov.

Part 2 – DR404-12 SWLAFLD Saturday, Mar 17 2012 

Second day with the Red Cross up in Carencro, Louisiana. For some great photos of the flooding (to the extent that pictures of a disaster can be called great) see here and here for an article  and videos about people still trapped in their homes.

We were getting ready this morning to go out to a couple homes to do casework when one of the Damage Assessment Teams called in to report a neighbourhood in need of clean-up kits. So we loaded the car and headed out. Sure enough, there was extensive flooding. The street was on a hill so those at the bottom had more flooding than those at the top. One house had four feet; most had two-three feet.

We met Miss V. first. She lives closer to the top of the street. Her lawn was covered in clothes. They belonged to her neighbours. Many of them. She was washing clothes and helping out in cleaning as much as she could. I mentioned this to my bf Joey and he said something like “That’s the way we do it in Louisiana.” I knew that, but at the same time it’s so great to see it in action.

We went door to door, talking to folks and handing out the cleaning kits. At the bottom of the street we came across Miss C. She had incurred four feet  of water in her house and showed us some pictures. When the flooding came she evacuated grabbing only her purse, her dogs, the clothes she had on and her car keys. When she got to the top of the street she realized she couldn’t go any further. All the exit roads were blocked with flooding so she spent the day there.

But she told us that she’s lucky; she has flood insurance, most of her neighbours don’t. Yet, as she told us her story, and pictures of her houses –she and her husband have already gutted it four feet up all around the first floor– her eyes welled up several times. But at one point, she said “If I had a choice, I would sell. I don’t want to go through this again” and started crying. Yet, she also admitted that it’s been less than a week and that her feelings may change.

Later that day most of the houses on that street were declared as having major damage so we were able to go back to start providing financial assistance. We only had time to do two houses and went to Miss C.’s house first.  Red Cross, when a disaster meets certain criteria, is able to provide disaster-related emergency assistance in certain areas; for this disaster that includes clothing/shoes, food/groceries, storage containers and bedding.

As I mentioned yesterday, 91% of Red Cross spending is for humanitarian services and programs. The amount of funding isn’t huge; it is, after all, intended to be emergency assistance. Red Cross is very cognizant that their funding, as an NGO, is from individuals; “donated by the American public” is a catch-phrase I heard yesterday and found myself using a couple times today.  What strikes me about important in terms of Red Cross funding is that it doesn’t require a ton of hoops on the client’s part. Once the damage has been assessed and Red Cross has determined its level of involvement, casework can be done in 45 minutes to an hour. At the end of that time clients are given a special credit card. While some people in this flood may get insurance money down the road – it is just that, down the road. People need help now and Red Cross is there to help today.

Miss C. and her husband were so grateful for the assistance we were able to provide. One question that we ask at the end is “Would you state that the Red Cross has been able to meet all of your disaster-related emergency needs?” Miss C said “oh yes, it’s more than I imagined we could get.” And started crying again. She gave us each a long hug as we left to head to the neighbours, saying “Thank you. thank you so much.”

Tomorrow we go back to the same street to provide assistance to a few of her neighbours. Can’t wait!!

From the Red Cross website: “The American Red Cross is where people mobilize to help their neighbors—across the street, across the country, and across the world—in emergencies. Each year, in communities large and small, victims of some 70,000 disasters turn to neighbors familiar and new—the more than half a million volunteers and 35,000 employees of the Red Cross.”

DR 404-12 SWLAFLD Friday, Mar 16 2012 

Image

Goods removed from a home following the flood.

I’m in a hotel in Scott, Louisiana, a suburb of Lafayette. I drove up this morning to help with the latest disaster to hit Louisiana, what the American Red Cross is calling DR 404-12, (Disaster Relief) SWLAFLD (SouthWest Louisiana Flood). Heavy rains fell overnight Sunday into Monday morning. In some areas – especially in Carencro – there was up to 19 inches of rain and 7 feet of water on the streets. Interestingly enough, there has been very little media coverage about this in the New Orleans area (at least on TV) but supposedly CNN has been covering it. For a great summary please read this.

My last DR (in Vermont in Aug/Sept for Hurricane Irene) was extremely stressful. Already, after just a day of being here I feel like I have done more concrete work; admittedly shelters – especially on the night shift – are very low-key. But it was clear today to see how my contributions were valued and needed.

Today I drove up – left Abita Springs at 6am!! – in time for a morning orientation/update session for the Disaster Assessment and Client Casework volunteers. I spent the morning helping develop sample forms to assist with Client Casework (which starts tomorrow). I was also able to edit materials and double-check data for errors; my writing/editing skills are being put to good use. In the afternoon I attended the Client Casework Training and then organized all the materials and documents caseworkers will need.

Image

Flooded contents (and possibly vehicle).

It was also determined that I have amazing handwriting skills; really, I just did what my dad does which is to write in block print. It’s clear, easy to read and leaves very little room for confusion. But, nonetheless, I was asked to write up everything from the staffing flowchart to the sample forms to labels.

It was also noted — and my mom and bf should likely put down any drinks so as not to spew their contents in disbelief — that I am incredibly organized. Mom? Joey? Still with me? I think in part it comes from being able to see both the big picture and the little details at the same time. When you concentrate on just one aspect you tend to lose perspective.

Tomorrow I will be going out to do some client casework, and then depending upon demand will likely be doing data entry on Sunday.

Tonight we found out (and I only know because I am rooming with the Client Casework lead) that Red Cross National has approved funding so that Client Assistance Cards (CACs) can be provided to people with major damage (which is usually more than 36 inches of flooding) or those whose housing was completely destroyed. These funds can be used for food, bedding, storage containers, clothing, shoes, diapers etc.

In a future post I will share some thoughts about Environmental Justice and Disasters…but 7am comes very early (especially since my roommate is getting up at 530am!!!). I’ll leave you with an interesting tidbit from the ARC website: “An average of 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs. The Red Cross is not a government agency; it relies on donations of time, money, and blood to do its work.”

Image

Mylar balloons danced in the wind amongst the debris pulled from a trailer.

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