Despite the pandemic, American Red Cross volunteers continue to work hard to ensure that South Florida stays safe and is prepared for this year’s hurricane season.
Last week, volunteers from around the South Florida Region met in the Red Cross Riviera Beach warehouse to assemble personal protective equipment (PPE) kits for volunteers. Each kit included gloves, forehead thermometers, and face coverings. These kits will be distributed throughout the region to front-line volunteers and staff members, including shelter workers, health service volunteers, mental health service workers, and logistics workers.
Gary Pelletier, Disaster Program Manager for the Palm Beach and Treasure Coast chapter, noted that “this hurricane season, the Red Cross’ mission and services have stayed the same, but the delivery has been modified due to the COVID environment.”
Pelletier acknowledged that “workforce safety is #1,” and therefore it was of crucial importance to prepare these PPE kits. The Red Cross will be taking a variety of measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus. These new standards and procedures are based on FEMA and the Center for Disease Control guidelines.
Volunteers will be asked to take their temperature before undertaking any work. Masks will be mandatory inside shelters. Gloves and gowns will be used in some high-risk situations. Workers, volunteers, and clients will be asked to practice social distancing and to clean their hands regularly. These modifications are in line with the Red Cross “C-D-C” strategy: Cover, Distance, Clean.
The Red Cross will continue to provide shelters to temporarily house people who are displaced by the hurricane. Depending on the size and scale of the disaster, the Red Cross will prioritize individual hotel rooms or dormitory-style rooms. This non-congregate sheltering method has been successfully employed across the U.S. since the beginning of the pandemic. Since April, the Red Cross has provided over 40,000 hotel stays.
In the event of a larger-scale disaster requiring evacuations, the South Florida Red Cross is prepared to open emergency shelters. Working in conjunction with local authorities, the Red Cross has put additional precautions in place and developed special training for our workforce to help keep people safe in the COVID-19 environment. This includes taking precautions like requiring face coverings for everyone working and staying in a shelter, health screenings up entry to a shelter, social distancing protocols, providing additional handwashing stations, and more.
Volunteers have been given additional training regarding best practices to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Pelletier acknowledged that the toolkits available online are comprehensive, providing volunteers with a clear grasp of new procedures.
As in past years, Pelletier highlighted the important relationship between the Red Cross and local partners: “We continue to train and work with our partners to meet the needs of our community.” Responding to disasters is a team effort, and this is especially the case given the current environment.
Depending on the hurricane, the Red Cross may focus efforts on supporting post-landfall shelters in some communities. Local volunteers will be on hand to provide critical, urgent relief on the ground. Additionally, some services will be offered virtually, including health and mental health services. This will ensure the safety of volunteers, staff, and clients alike.
If needed, the Red Cross will continue to support communities by distributing food and relief supplies. In an effort to continue practicing social distancing, the Red Cross will work with partners to create distribution centers in damaged areas.
It is more important than ever for all Floridians to have a plan in place in the event of a hurricane or natural disaster. Pelletier urges everyone in our community to “get a kit, make a plan, and stay informed.”
Before a hurricane comes, each family should have an evacuation plan. This minimizes confusion and fear during the event. Households should build an emergency kit that includes one gallon of water per person, per day, non-perishable items, a battery-powered radio, a first aid kit, medications, and more. Any important paperwork, such as insurance policies and identification documents, and valuables should be kept in a safe place or safety-deposit box.
Don’t forget to make a plan for your pets! If it’s not safe for you to stay in your home during an emergency, it’s not safe for them either. Be sure to check with your county government to find a pet-friendly shelter in advance.
Your home must also be protected from the storm. You should cover windows with storm shutters and store lawn furniture, toys, gardening tools, and trash bins to ensure that they are not moved by high winds. Ideally, you should also clear clogged rain gutters to prevent flooding and pressure on awnings.
To stay informed about all upcoming storms, download the free Red Cross Emergency app. You’ll be the first to receive up to 35 different severe weather and emergency alerts. The app also gives you more detailed information about how to best prepare for all emergencies, from hurricanes to house fires.
Volunteers are the lifeline of the Red Cross, comprising 90% of our workforce. If you would like to learn more about helping our community prepare for the hurricane season and beyond, please visit redcross.org/sflvolunteer to become a Red Cross volunteer.
Written by Riley Kaminer
Photos by Riley Kaminer