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A Citizen’s Eye View of Public Preparedness

NY Red Cross Chapter Starts New Blog — Initial Posts Describe Gulf Relief Work During Gustav

September 4th, 2008 · No Comments

As I have written in recent posts here (as well as on the national American Red Cross’ Blog, Red Cross Chat, where I am a Guest Blogger this week), I have been following the Hurricane Gustav emergency preparations and response on several relatively new web sites set up to provide information to the public, the media and emergency responders during a disaster. I believe that these resources nicely complement the traditional media coverage of disasters by offering an ‘on the scene, in the trenches’ view of the event, often directly from the perspective of responders and citizens right in the middle of the emergency. And, now that much of the media has moved away from covering Gustav, these sites can be particularly important for those trying find out about what is going on in the Gulf region and how the recovery is progressing. 

One of those new resources I have not mentioned yet is the new blog of the American Red Cross of Greater New York, which is called the ARC/GNY News Blog. Over the past several days, it has been offering some fascinating ground-level reports from Louisiana where its President, Terry Bischoff, and Chief Response Officer, Scott Graham, led more than 40 volunteers down from New York to help in the preparedness and relief efforts. (The Greater New York Red Cross is my home chapter, and I am proudly wearing its hat in the Red Cross Chat blog photo taken by 8-year-old daughter.) The new New York blog can be found at

With little national press attention currently on the Gulf region, blogs such as ARC/GNY News are a very helpful (and in some cases the only) way to get updates on what is happening ‘on the ground’ post-Gustav. They also provide average citizens, like myself, who have not gone through a major disaster a real sense of what happens in this kind of relief operation. 

Below is an excerpt from one of Terry’s most recent posts (”2 and 1/2 days or was it a lifetime?”) in which she describes getting the shelter at Louisiana State University in Alexandria ready for occupancy by displaced members of the public:

“By 11am our team, minus a few who were still on their way, arrived at the new mega shelter on the campus of Louisiana State University in Alexandria. The 35 of us walked into a gigantic, empty building. I mean GIGANTIC; the floor space covers 5 acres and my feet would soon know ever inch of it. I also mean EMPTY, the constuction of the building had been completed two weeks ago.

All we found inside were pallet after pallet of boxes of cots, blankets, tables, chairs, etc. We quickly got to work setting things up. Our DART team jumped on fork lifts and the rest of us started unpacking. We worked straight through until 8:30pm, but which time we had set up 1,700 costs with blankets, the cafeteria space and the women’s and men’s dormitory we would soon call home. We went out for a quick dinner and retruned by 10:30. Knowing we had a lot more setting up to do the next day, I fell asleep immediately. Unfortunately, around 11;30pm I heard a voice yelling,”The buses are in the driveway, get ready.” Within minutes we had 10 buses unloading several hundred evacuees who had been on these buses for more than 12 hours. Many of them were children, with the youngest just 9 days old.

Everyone was tired and hungry. We fed them as best we could with our meager supplies and got them to their cots. More buses kept arriving as well as cars. By nightfall on Sunday we had 1,500 hundred people in the building. I did get away for a little while when I accompanyed the DART team on a trip to Sam’s Club. We arrived over an hour before opening time but talked our way in. Within an hour we had filled eight huge carts with all the food, drinks and supplies we could carry. I put the $2,200 bill on my personal credit card and our Fema partner told me they would reiburse me.

We continued to organize the shelter, feed everyone and try to keep the place clean. The kids soon began to join our team, asking how they could help. They would do anything, from handing out bottles of water to sweeping the floors. Many adults also joined in. I think Louisiana is going to have a lot of terrific new Red Cross volunteers when this is over.”

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