Disaster Response Sites

In 2011 I spent 3 days working during Hurricane Irene in a local high school managing registration at a Red Cross shelter. Shelters are often staged in school buildings.

I recall the days leading up to the hurricane. Quickly I stocked my go-bag and loaded up on non-perishable supplies from the grocery store. I waited at the Red Cross headquarters in Monmouth County as disaster response officials met for my assignment.

Eventually I was assigned to a local high school. On my way there, I passed right past the parking lot for a major concert venue. The lot was jammed with tailgaters drinking and partying. I was shocked. Didn’t they know that a state of emergency was about to be put in effect? Didn’t they know that shelters were being opened and mandatory evacuations taking place just miles away in poorer communities?

When I reached the shelter, evacuees were already waiting within the shelter, relocated from zones that were anticipated to be flooded. Less than a mile away I had seen the tailgaters who appeared completely carefree to the fact that we were anticipating a major disaster. It was a shocking juxtaposition.

As a representative from the Red Cross, the building supervisors asked me to perform the walk-through and inspections. All shelters must be inspected with a shelter manager and site manager for current status. Forms must also be signed to prepare for post-sheltering maintenance and liability. Since it was my first sheltering assignment, I was able to postpone the walk-through until a Red Cross veteran with a few more years than me could be sent from the busy headquarters to perform the inspection.

These site inspections are a critical part of the Red Cross sheltering management.

Did the high schoolers know their school had a such an important dual role to play in the community? Why not engage students and educate them on the role of their school and allow them to play a role themselves? Why not store basic Red Cross supplies at these sites and allow high school students to maintain and inspect them?

Storing Red Cross signage at a minimum and allowing students to work on projects with “providing information” could be a great benefit to these students.

During registration, we were disappointed that some of our Red Cross supplies had not been properly accounted. These supplies had been brought from the Red Cross headquarters in our county. At the headquarters, a gigantic storage room is filled with these supplies up to the ceiling. Forklifts are engaged in maneuvering them. With this large amount of items, it is difficult to keep account of the quality of supplies. Our supply kit lacked an important medical form. I had to repeatedly contact the headquarters and ask for someone to deliver it to us or fax the form. By maintaining at least a minimum of these supplies at school and engaging students in responsibility for their oversight we could have had them there and just photocopied them.

By storing extra of these items at sheltering sites and allowing high school Red Cross clubs to inspect them and be educated on their usage, this problem could have been avoided and students could have been empowered in disaster management.

Read about how other countries are approaching disaster response here: http://mariebiro.info/disaster-relief-school-programs-challenge-based-learning/







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