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.

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.

Day 1 of my Katrina 6th Anniversary Project Wednesday, Aug 31 2011 

Left home today at 5am Central after packing and repacking all night. I was underweight (not what I expected) so now I suspect I have left critical stuff at home. Ah well, will see what happens.

I flew to Hartford, CT (via DC) and then met up with a few other volunteers at the Avis rental centre. We took two cars and headed off, convoy style to Southbridge MA. The woman, Margaret, that I travelled with is 74 and is on her 51st mission; in 8 years. Yeah, she doesn’t spend much time at home.

She and I are both assigned to Mass Care (shelters/feeding) but when we arrived at the headquarters in Southbridge today we were told that we will probably be shipped off to Vermont tomorrow. Not sure where exactly we will be going but the flooded roads — including three historic, covered bridges that have been washed away — will make it very difficult. We will be making a long detour west, through NY state and then into Vermont.

I found this video showing the types of flooding that occurred in Vermont this weekend.

Hurricane Tomas Friday, Nov 5 2010 

As I write this Hurricane Tomas is sitting above Haiti. That country is far from recovered from the earthquake in January. Many people are still homeless or very under-housed. A recent cholera outbreak is likely going to be amplified by this newest disaster.

The Times Picayune reports:

Storm surge: A dangerous storm surge will raise water levels by as much as 3 to 5 feet above normal tide levels in areas of onshore winds in the hurricane warning area. Storm surge flooding in eastern Cuba and western Haiti should diminish on Saturday. Near the coast, the surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves.

Wind: Hurricane conditions are likely occurring over portions of northwestern Haiti, and are expected in other portions of the hurricane warning area tonight.

Rainfall: Tomas is expected to produce total rain accumulations of 5 to 10 inches over much of   Haiti and the Dominican Republic with possible isolated maximum amounts of 15 inches. These rains could cause life-threatening flash floods and mud slides over mountainous terrain.

An update from the US government states they feel like response is well in-hand….

“As far as the U.S. Government’s response, we were well prepared. We knew that there was a very good chance that there would be a severe storm or a hurricane, and beginning in the early summer, we were doing assessments. We were pre-positioning supplies that we would need for heavy weather, things like hygiene kits and water containers, kitchen sets, blankets. We had enough in the country for a hundred thousand people. When it became clear within the last week that we were going to get a severe storm, we got a lot more in, we added enough to help another 25,000 people. So we were ready for about 125,000 people. We moved quickly.”

My prayers and thoughts are with the people of Haiti, and the responders.

Disasters and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Monday, Jul 12 2010 

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) ” is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat.”

This fall/winter I was diagnosed with vicarious or secondary PTSD. In this post I want to share a little about my experiences, as well as the broader implications of PTSD in a community following large-scale disasters.

PTSD is something that is quite common after a natural disaster but usually resolves (for the most part) within a few weeks or months. Primarily, that occurs because after the crisis, life returns to some semblance of normalcy. With Hurricane Katrina, the Earthquake in Haiti and now with the BP Oil Spill, normal no longer exists for many people.

Today is the six month anniversary of the earthquake, we’re a week away from the three-month anniversary of the oil spill, and just a little more than 6 weeks away from the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

I live in St. Bernard Parish (SBP), just a few blocks from where it meets the city of New Orleans at the Lower Ninth Ward. SBP or “da Parish” (as it is known, although all the areas around here are called parishes) and the Lower Ninth were two of the hardest hit areas.

In 2007, two years post-Katrina, Jerry St. Pierre (then President of the Central Association of Obstetricians Gynecologists)  said “Katrina has assaulted all the senses, and it is not over yet. This was not an acute injury, it is long-term. It is not a post traumatic stress disorder because we are still living it daily. One has the feeling that New Orleans is on life support and is struggling to survive.” These words really resonate for me. La Pierre stated them three years ago, August 29th will be the 5th anniversary of Katrina and yet, the city continues to suffer Katrina-related PTSD. Now with the oil spill, it can only get worse.

I recently wrote a chapter for an upcoming textbook and said “The mere experience of living amongst abandoned houses, or seeing the remaining signs of the disaster – destroyed properties, lack of trees, search marks on buildings – creates a constant reminder of the tragedy and loss.”  If this is true for me, a resident only for a few months, it must be remarkably so for those who have been here since before the storm.

An empty lot, Lower Ninth Ward

This picture is a typical sight in this area. Empty lots, with just steps or broken concrete in front, are everywhere, especially in Orleans Parish. In St. Bernard blight removal funding has allowed the parish government to start removing the concrete slabs and steps, leaving grass. Quickly the dirt becomes covered with grass and plants. The memory of what was quickly disappears.

While I hadn’t directly experienced Hurricane Katrina I had fallen in love with New Orleans on my first visit. In the fall 2009, as I began my PhD work, I spent all my school time studying issues of post-Katrina recovery. Primarily I was studying the emotional, cultural, social and psychological impacts of Katrina on the residents. It wasn’t unusual for me to spend 40, 50, 60 hours a week immersed in readings about this. When I had extra time, I was studying disaster impacts more generally. And when it came time for more casual reading I was reading books (fiction or non) about New Orleans. It was basically all I did. 100 hours on Katrina, disasters and recovery. Every week, for months.

I began realizing that I was experiencing trauma. I was more emotional, disconnected, stressed. But it was pretty manageable. I joked about it. I have spent more than a dozen years working with homeless people, sex workers, psych survivors etc. I am familiar with vicarious trauma and figured I could manage it on my own.

Until the earthquake in Haiti hit. All my symptoms came to the fore. I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t sleep. My anxiety was high. My appetite was off. I couldn’t focus on school work. I cried all the time. I watched the news because if I didn’t I got upset but when I did watch it I cried more. All typical PTSD symptoms.

I tried to manage it and couldn’t so I sought help with a therapist. We discussed coping strategies and I began to feel better. In talking to him I realized that my symptoms were less obvious, less intense, when I was actually in New Orleans. Each time I visited my stress decreased; when I was in Canada it increased.  As I talked to my therapist I realized that when I was there I was able to see the recovery taking place. When I was not there and just reading about it the research tended to be focussed on the negative and less on the progress and recovery so that was less visible.

I had hoped that my move to the area would help make things better. I’d be able to see  the changes and improvements. I would absorb the spirit of the people. I left for New Orleans on April 25th. On April 20th the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill had happened but at first the impact wasn’t reported as being as significant as we now know it is. Today, day 84 of the spill and BP finally believes it is contained. Testing will further determine this tomorrow.

But it is too little too late. The lower parishes, including the lower part of my own parish, have been severely impacted by  the oil. Coastal communities from Texas to Florida have had oil wash ashore. Last week it came into New Orleans itself in Lake Ponchartrain.  The oil spill is going to have more of an impact than Katrina had and will be made even worse if any serious hurricanes hit the Gulf this summer.

The effect of the oil spill isn’t just this fishing and shrimping season. It isn’t just this season of lost employment. It is a complete change in people’s way of life. This is going to change how people live. In fact today I saw a video (included below) where a reporter predicts a mandatory evacuation will occur within a week. I don’t know if I believe it will be that soon but I do believe there are communities – like Venice, and Grand Isle, where an evacuation is quite likely.

There is work being done to help people with the impact of the oil spill. I have volunteered a few times with Catholic Charities at food pantry/financial assistance programs. My lovely pal Joycelyn (Happy Birthday today darl btw) Heintz was featured in an article in the New York Times yesterday looking at mental aspects of the oil spill. She works as the coordinator at the Center for Wellness and Mental Health with the St. Bernard Project, the organization my students primarily worked with  this summer. Joycelyn was also the 100th home finished by the project – they have now finished 280 and have 50 under construction.  The St.Bernard Project has been a leader in rebuilding and providing mental health support to the local community, now they’re working on employment opportunities for vets and unemployed residents, as well as providing support to fishing families affected by the oil spill.

I’ve realized in the past few weeks that my PTSD isn’t as in control as it was in April before I left. But I hope that being here allows me to manage it better than I might have been able to do in Canada. Being able to volunteer will hopefully help me feel like I am contributing towards change. We’ll see. I do know I’ll feel a lot better if the cap holds up to testing tomorrow.

Hurricane Alex & the oil spill Wednesday, Jun 30 2010 

A couple hours ago Tropical Storm Alex became Hurricane Alex. It’s not on track for New Orleans so I only need to worry about winds and rain; and there have been a lot of that in the last couple days.

But it does have an impact on the oil spill. Clean up is delayed; small crafts cant be out right now. The oil is being pushed further on to the shore; every so often my phone lights up with a “coastal flooding” warning because I have it set to give me critical weather alerts.

I’ve been building my hurricane survival kit piece by piece as I get money. So far I have two flashlights, two gallons of water, some strike anywhere matches, a couple portable BBQ kits and a container to keep it all in. Not much but as hyper vigilant I am about monitoring the weather, I’m sure I’ll have enough time to add in some canned food etc. from the pantry.  I’m making sure I always keep gas in my car (I tend to let it get close to empty before filling usually) and I can lay my hand on my passport and wallet in 5 seconds.

Today I saw a cool weather alert radio and a hand crank flashlight. Those and some extra gallons of gas are likely the next purchases I will make when I get money.

G20 and BP Friday, Jun 25 2010 

If I was back in Toronto right now, I’d likely be on the street protesting the G20. Instead, I am thousands of miles away reading about it online at the Toronto Star’s live blog.   Already, there have been arrests including an acquaintance Dave Vasey.

Tomorrow I am heading out to a “Hands Across the Sand” event in Mississippi – likely the one in Pass Christian which was one of the earliest spots that dead turtles and tar balls started washing ashore back in early May.

There are events across North America – please try to get out to one if you can.

I can’t help but think of the connections between the two events.

The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill on April 20th continues to spew oil out into the gulf. No matter what methods – top kill, cap, burn off – the oil is filling the gulf. There is a potential hurricane brewing right now; and a heavy season expected. If it looks bad now, just wait til a hurricane lifts the oil and throws it several miles inland. BP is involved in providing response and recovery. It continually throws money at the problem; at the same time it controls media and public response. Volunteers and BP contractors are under a gag order. Kindra Arnesen is one of the locals not afraid to tell it like it is. (I heard this speech and it is great!). BP has spent about $2 billion in relief efforts (and pledged $20 billion into an escrow account for income loss).

The G20 (and G8) meetings which occurred this week in Ontario bring together world leaders to discuss key economic and development issues. The theme for the summit is Recovery and New Beginnings and is intended to discuss recovery from the recession and moving forward. 7 LCBO (liquor) stores, the PATH (underground corridors), the Art Gallery of Ontario, the University of Toronto, the CN tower (ironically included in the G20 icon) are all closed. Many businesses and organizations downtown – including the Professional Writers Association  of Canada of which I am President – have shut down for the day or are having employees work offsite.

$1.1 billion has been spent on the security and set-up of the summit; that’s just the amount they have told us about. From the fake lake to the security fence to over the top amounts of security police the summit organizers have turned Toronto into a police state.  The information that gets out will be as spun and controlled as the truth about the oil spill.

The protesters at the G20 aren’t just complaining about the cost of the summit. They’re there to talk about women’s rights, immigrant rights, health care, poverty, job security and climate justice.

The latter is where the biggest connection (after the outrageous security and media control) come into play. Environmental issues are critical. At the same time that the oil spill occurred and President Obama declared a moratorium on offshore drilling, Prime Minister Harper relaxed Canadian laws.

The oil spill is the fault not just of BP or governments but the fault of all of us. We have an over-dependence on gas and oil; it stems from our desire to drive, and consumerism. I include myself in this. As someone with a disability I depend on my car; I live in a community that has hardly any transit so my car is necessary. I don’t ever shop at Wal-Mart but the substitutes here – at least for low cost – are Family Dollar and Dollar General. That means that if I don’t want to spend a ton of money I need to buy cheap plastic products, likely made in China. I’m doing my best to find local sources, shopping at local non-chain stores, but its still a challenge.

What the G20 should be talking about this weekend is oil. It should be looking into clean energy options on a global scale. They should have a serious talk about the environment and the need for climate justice. I don’t have any faith that it will happen in any way but I wish it would. Maybe then the world would start heading in the right direction.

If you’re Canadian, on Facebook and want to show your support for residents affected by the BP oil spill, please join Canadians in Support of Gulf Coast Residents.

Obama and New Orleans Sunday, Aug 23 2009 

This is a GREAT ARTICLE ON OBAMA AND NEW ORLEANS from the Times-Picayune.

In part…

But his administration has shown a dogged dedication to bending the federal bureaucracy in what Flozell Daniels Jr., president and CEO of the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation, describes as a “kinder, gentler” direction.

With “federal agencies finally working as partners and not adversaries, ” Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-LA, said, “in its first seven months, the Obama Administration has made significant progress toward making the Gulf Coast recovery effort quicker and more efficient.”

“I would say what they have demonstrated in this first year is a low-key but genuine commitment to accelerate the business of recovery, ” said Amy Liu, deputy director of the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, which publishes an annual New Orleans Index, detailing the city’s progress since Katrina.

Or as the president put it in an Oval Office interview in advance of the fourth anniversary, of Katrina: “In terms of rebuilding, two of my best Cabinet members, Secretary Napolitano of Homeland Security and HUD Secretary Donovan, have been spending an extraordinary amount of time thinking about how to deal with the blockage of assistance in the region.”

10 Social Media Methods for Hurricanes – 10 days to 4 years Wednesday, Aug 19 2009 

A few days ago I wrote about Emicus.com which is looking at social media as a tool during hurricanes.

This article on Inventorspot.com goes even further with ten different ways social media can help during a hurricane season.

Examples:

4- Communication- Hurricane Katrina illustrated that a widespread disaster can displace residents and employees without access to Internet connections or working land-lines. In advance of natural disasters, less-traditional communication methods might include two-way radios, cellular telephones with out-of-state area codes and/or text messaging capability, satellite telephones, or personal data assistant (PDAs). Cell phones that have access to social networks can be used to report one’s location and current status.

5- People Finders- Twitter, Facebook and other social networks should devise a ‘disaster recovery plan’ to assist in locating people that are stranded by a storm. Perhaps similar to a 911 call to a police station, postings to a central location on these social networks with one’s location and contact information could be another means for the distressed to reach out to family and loved ones. In reverse, the social networks can communicate safe-house facilities in various areas that can provide the displaced with updated shelter locations.

Emicus.com – using social media to deal with weather emergencies (Aug 12 days to go) Tuesday, Aug 18 2009 

From Emicus.com founder:

One of my startups is being put to the ultimate test by a threesome: Ana, Bill and Claudette — and it’s not going to be fun.

When we started Emicus.com, our focus was to prevent the horrors of Hurricane Katrina from ever happening again. We were ambitious – in fact extremely audacious because we believe in the power of social media and the basic goodness of people and that we could build a system to actually deliver real-time web information to save lives, prevent injuries and mitigate property loss. Above all, we wanted to to be a one-stop resource for disaster preparedness. If we save but one life, we would meet our goal.

We’ve worked long and hard to build out our system and it’s up and running. Along with social media tools; Twitter, SMS and geo-tags, we’ve implemented a near-real-time storm tracker. We’re still making changes to the user interface and user experience. GEEK WARNING: We’re pushing the Agile methodology, RoR, geo coding to the extreme and this week is going to be the true test of our software and site’s capabilities.

I take that back – this week is NOT A TEST. It could be a real disaster and emergency.

In the next 80 hours, we may be experiencing THREE (3) named storms all barreling into the Caribbean, Florida and maybe the Carolinas.

Read more about Emicus.com

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