Throughout the spring, the American Red Cross in South Florida has been busy tending to families impacted by disasters across the 13 counties it covers from Martin to Monroe, across to Lee and everything south. Red Cross volunteers responded to severe flooding and wildfires just prior to or right around the June 1 start date of the 2020 hurricane season.
In mid-May, wildfires in Collier County threatened neighborhoods in the surrounding areas. The Red Cross stepped in to support emergency management officials in running two county-managed reception centers to aid families. Additionally, the Red Cross provided more than 18 individuals with a safe place to stay and financial assistance.
Severe flooding throughout Miami-Dade County over Memorial Day weekend left many residents in need of temporary lodging and financial assistance. The Red Cross coordinated emergency aid for more than 60 families impacted, including 39 families from one mobile home community in Miami where water entered their homes. Disaster Action Team volunteers worked over night to help these families by providing relief supplies, health, mental health and spiritual care services, direct client assistance and support as they planned their next steps.
Neighborhoods in Martin County also experienced severe floods and the Red Cross worked with the county’s emergency management team to ensure the safety of residents.
Dave Evans and Jessica Reed are two Red Cross volunteers that assisted in all three disaster relief operations.
Dave normally works in warehousing for Logistics and Distribution of Emergency Supplies (DES) in disaster relief operations. Due to the smaller nature of these recent operations, he mainly acted as a runner, delivering COVID supplies to the Naples office for the reception centers and client assistance cards in Miami. In Martin County, his team did damage assessment and distributed clean-up kits simultaneously in an effort to minimize boots on the ground and exposure to COVID-19. They handled as much as they could virtually.
But even “smaller” disasters can be devastating to some. Dave recalls a young couple from Hobe Sound, Fla., that was hit particularly hard by the recent flooding. They had spent the last three years gutting and renovating their first home, investing every dime and spare minute they had. They had just finished it but hadn’t been able to get flood insurance. They lost everything. Dave and his team were only able to provide clean-up kits at the time, but he is hopeful that Red Cross caseworkers followed up to provide further assistance.
In previous operations in the region, Dave mobilized shelter supplies prior to Hurricane Dorian and when it missed Florida, he handled logistics and supplied materials for shelters for Bahamian refugees. He has also deployed to Goldsboro, N.C. for Hurricane Florence, Nebraska and Arkansas for flooding, Phoenix for border operations and to Panama City, Fla. for Hurricane Michael.
For all three recent operations, Jessica served as Staff Services Manager virtually. Smaller operations like these are different in scope – the number of staff and volunteers is limited, it’s a shorter time period and it’s usually local volunteers with whom she has a level of familiarity. Nevertheless, it is an essential role whose overarching focus is knowing “where are our people?” at all times and making sure that information is accurate in the system.
On bigger disaster operations to which she has deployed, staff services can check in anywhere between 1,500 to 2,500 volunteers within the first few days and they are responsible for closing down the operation. With volunteers coming in from all over the country, Jessica sees her role as the first and last interaction – the good hello and the good goodbye – someone may have in an operation.
To her, staff services is about taking care of the staff. In her steady state role as training regional program lead, it’s about getting that staff trained as well as possible because a well-trained staff can make everyone’s job a little easier. Jessica loves training people to learn the skills they need to do a better job.
“I’m always impressed with people willing to go out and use their time, effort and training to help someone on the worst days of their lives. How much better is it when someone from Red Cross comes along and says they are there to help you.”
Although the peak of hurricane season does not occur until September and October, the Red Cross workforce, together with local government and emergency officials, is planning ahead to be ready should a major storm come our way. Of course, the level of preparation is increased by health and safety protocols put into place for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Because of these unorthodox times, it is more important than ever for every individual and family do their part to prepare for hurricane season.
To learn what to do in case emergency help is delayed Take a First Aid and CPR/Course online Download the Red Cross Emergency App for instant access to weather alerts for your area and where loved ones live. Expert medical guidance and a hospital locator are included in the First Aid App in case travelers encounter any mishaps. These apps are available to download for free in app stores or at redcross.org/apps.
Visit redcross.org/hurricane for full information about what to do before, during and after a hurricane.
Written by Estefania Garcia