Helen Welch is an Information Resources Analyst for the American Red Cross, who is in the Philippines assessing damage on the ground and setting up relief efforts for Typhoon Haiyan. Welch is one of four people from the American Red Cross who went to the Philippines immediately following Haiyan’s landfall. She took a few minutes (while multi-tasking!) to talk via Skype about her work in the Philippines.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit where you are in the Philippines?
A. We’ve been doing assessments in Manila for the past few days, but are moving our operational hub to Cebu tonight [November 15]. Cebu is closer to the area affected by Typhoon Haiyan and will allow us to provide even more support to the Philippine Red Cross.
Q. Who else is with you?
A. The global Red Cross network has really mobilized for this emergency. There are 10 or 11 Red Cross teams here – all lending support to the Philippine Red Cross. The network has sent people who are specialized in relief, water, sanitation, basic healthcare, logistics, telecommunications and more. They’re arriving with the knowledge and equipment for doing rapid assessments and service delivery.
Q: You carried over 50 maps in your luggage when you left for the Philippines. How are those maps helping you?
A: Many of our print-outs were created by volunteers, using open source mapping. We’re utilizing the maps to brief newly-arrived relief workers and health teams. The maps are a great starting point for damage assessments. We’re sharing updated maps with different teams on the ground here and they’re happy to have access to the maps offline!
Q. What is the situation in Tacloban?
A. Tacloban was badly hit. It’s a huge priority. We are doing assessments of Tacloban and other badly-damaged places. I don’t want the American public to lose sight of all the other towns outside of Tacloban that need help.
Q. How does your Red Cross team decide where to provide help?
A. The Philippine Red Cross really leads the effort. We have team members traveling around doing operational assessments – deciding where to set up operations for service delivery.
Q: What is the one thing you would like people in the U.S. to know about this response?
A. The Philippine Red Cross has been helping people since day one. Disaster relief is a huge job, but we are overcoming the logistical challenges created by the damaged infrastructure and we’re making progress. Humanitarian relief teams are mobilizing as quickly as possible, while also being as strategic as possible. This is a ‘round the clock operation – teams aren’t slowing down; they’re only getting faster.