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Rapid response

shelter cots
I think we responded exactly how we should

Heavy rain on the morning of August 7 pushed waterways in Waynesville and other areas out of their banks, but even before the water crested the American Red Cross made arrangements to respond to the growing disaster.

“I think we responded exactly how we should,” said Phillip Iman, a Heart of Missouri Chapter’s disaster specialist who also served as the Red Cross response’s assistant director. “We got people in place immediately. The (Pulaski County) emergency management director (EMD) made the request immediately, just like he should.

“We got the shelter open. We met the immediate needs of people so they had food and a safe place to go. We had management in place by noon. We had showers available for them. We were dealing with pets. We were dealing with health and mental health.”

Iman received the initial call from the Pulaski County EMD at 3:45 a.m. on August 7. The EMD informed Iman that evacuations were taking place in Waynesville and asked the Red Cross to open a shelter.

The first call Iman made was to the Red Cross regional office in St. Louis to inform them of the situation. He then began calling local volunteers at 3:55 a.m. to move a shelter trailer with cots to the St. Robert Community Center, the shelter’s location.

Iman, working from his home, continued to make calls – calling Rolla Red Cross volunteers at 3:58 a.m. asking them to respond. He called a Red Cross shelter manager who lives in Cuba at 4:12 a.m. When the shelter manager agreed to respond, Iman got the phone numbers of his teams and started calling those volunteers to assist.

The shelter trailer arrived at the Community Center at 4:15 a.m. Clients were at the shelter at 4:40 a.m. and at 4:44 a.m. more volunteers began arriving. The shelter manager and his team were on board by 5:50 a.m. and scheduled to arrive by 8 a.m.

Iman then called local businesses for food donations. He remained on the phone during the morning coordinating a number of ongoing situations such as: documenting the shelter opening with national Red Cross headquarters; having clothing donations delivered to the shelter; securing a disaster assessment team; and dealing with clients’ pets.

Logistics was in place procuring food donations along with buying food items.

Flooding was the top priority of the morning, but that didn’t stop another disaster from happening north of the Missouri River. Iman took a call about a single-family fire in Mexico and sought volunteers from that area to respond to those clients.

While handling the growing crisis and a fire in Mexico, the Red Cross’s initial response to the flooding was in place before the first briefing for emergency agencies at 10 a.m.

Responders learned at the briefing the weather was going to be an ongoing problem with rain continuing through the day. They also learned of a toddler’s death in the flash flood and the search for his missing mother.

“Not only did we do well, but our partners stepped up to the plate huge,” Iman said. “Everybody joined together and took care of business. It’s just kudos all the way around – to the community and to our Red Cross volunteers who met the need. I can’t think of anything that did not go as it should have.”

The shelter population varied during the first day. Mobile feeding operations took shape, information came in about flooding in Maries County, disaster assessment teams coordinated with the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), plans came together for the shelter’s evening meal, an emergency response vehicle (ERV) was en route, clean up kits were requested and volunteers for the shelter’s night shift were assigned.

“You can see how intense this was,” Iman said. “I never left the table until 10 o’clock that night. I never ate, never did anything but talk on the phone.”

Situations started again the next morning.

Information came in at 6:45 a.m. that Newburg was being evacuated. The Lake Ozark Fire Department requested a shelter at 8:08 a.m. for Bagnell residents who had to leave their homes when the flood gates at Bagnell Dam opened and swamped areas along the Osage River.

Even with the additional situations, the response was not as hectic on the second day.

“Everything was looking much better by the middle of the day on Thursday,” Iman said. “By that time, we realized this was a much larger event that needed a larger response. We had people calling to help. The first hours are always intense, but 24 hours later we’ve got everything in place. We are still getting a lot of requests at this point. The disaster is growing. It’s still raining. Nobody knows how bad it’s going to be.”

The Red Cross did establish shelters in Lake Ozark and Hollister in the first days of the operation.

Water began to roll over sections of local roadways, closing portions of Highway 63, Highway 17 and Interstate 44, which presented a travel challenge for everyone seeking ways in and out of the area.

Reports of flooding from other counties started coming Friday morning. The state opened an emergency operations center (EOC) with Red Cross had a representative on hand.

Members of the Community Organizations Active in Disasters (COAD) had their first meeting Friday morning.

“The community is starting to organize instead of just scattered responses,” Iman said. “We’re realizing we need more people because we’re opening up the MARC (Multi-Agency Relief Center) and we’re requesting more staff.”

Talks with Westside Baptist Church began Friday about opening the MARC.

Red Cross staff and volunteers from the Southern Missouri Region, which is based in Springfield, and the St. Louis Chapter were available to assist where needed.

Flooding affected 13 counties by the time the rain stopped.

The MARC opened August 13 at the Westside Baptist Church with representatives from local, county, state and non-profit agencies staffing information tables. It was available to anyone impacted by the flooding and continued through August 16.

“You really see the importance of working together,” Iman said.

Operations centered around Waynesville and Pulaski County, which was hit hard, but Red Cross volunteers fanned out to the other 12 counties providing damage assessment, casework, mobile feeding and supplies.

Shelters eventually closed, the MARC ceased operation and the disaster response operation wound down.

Red Cross volunteers remained on call in the area to provide service and the logistics team moved their headquarters to Rolla. The Red Cross provided lunch to volunteers in Waynesville during the week of August 19 and expanded that to include areas in Phelps and Maries counties that weekend.

The Red Cross initial response closed out on August 25, but volunteers did provide food in Sugar Tree on August 26.

Red Cross volunteers provided services in the impacted areas for 20 days.

“Our volunteers really met the challenge as did everyone and every other agency involved in this disaster,” Iman said. “What was done could not have been done by one or two agencies. It took a group effort to put those impacted on the path to recovery.”

The Red Cross remains available to provide referrals. Clients can call toll free at 866-815-2738.