Rotarians hear about Red Cross response

Published 5:38 pm Tuesday, May 16, 2017

In October, 2016, Andy Brubecker began his position as District Director of The American Red Cross of Southwest Georgia, just in time to get his feet wet before a series of storms, including two tornadoes, hit Albany. In January. He spoke to Rotary this week about the experience and how the American Red Cross typically responds to disasters. He said during the first tornado there were approximately 200 homes that suffered either major damage or were destroyed, while a second storm produced another 400-500 homes in those categories.

The Red Cross works in collaboration with other agencies and community organizations to assess damages and respond accordingly.

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Within 24 hours of an event, a team of American Red Cross volunteers from all over the U.S. come on the scene and begin going door to door to assess the amount of damage and see what persons need shelter or other services. Their assessment reports are submitted to FEMA.

During the tornadoes that hit Albany in January, nine power substations were destroyed, leaving hundreds of people without power for days, and in some cases weeks. With no power at such places as nursing homes, it was critical to find shelters, and the typical places they would have used for shelter also had no power.

They often find people with health problems exacerbated by the storm conditions and mental health workers and nurses are called in. Nurses will work with those who have lost their medications or medical equipment, and they network to get them the care needed. He cited one case where an Hispanic woman who lived in a mobile home had received injuries when the home was picked up and relocated by the wind. She had facial injuries and had been to a hospital where she was checked out and released. A nurse, with the help of an interpreter, found a physician who agreed to look at her and help her get treatment. It turned out she had suffered a concussion.

Religious organizations, such as the Billy Graham Foundation and Samaritan Purse also became involved, providing aid and financial assistance as needed.

Keeping people fed was a challenge, as without power, food spoiled in homes.

Brubecker said that food and cleaning products just kept appearing at his office. They would load up the trucks with food and set out into the affected areas. They fed about 6000 people following the first storm. “About the time we were beginning to get a handle on things, the next storm showed up.” It was worse and there were fatalities from it.

That time volunteers showed up from everywhere between the east and west coasts.

Asked about what is needed to be designated an appropriate shelter, Brubecker said they need to determine the square footage available and how many beds it will hold. More importantly is the availability of showering facilities, along with cooking or catering area.

Another question asked about bringing persons from nursing homes and placing them in with the general population. Brubecker said they can share space with others as long as they do not have a contagious condition, but must bring their own nursing staff with them.

The mission of the American Red Cross is to prevent and eliminate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.