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Written by: Samantha Antenucci

Months after the hurricanes wreaked havoc in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, local residents still face hurdles on the path to recovery. While most of us cannot imagine the devastation, local Red Cross volunteers who have traveled to the affected areas have had a first-hand look at the recovery efforts.

When the hurricanes first struck, Red Cross volunteer Heidi Dampman was originally intending to leave for a vacation. When she first heard about Hurricane Harvey, she postponed her plans and took of an extra week of unpaid time off from work to go down to Texas to help. She recalled, “Even if I was going to get fired for taking off, I still would have done it. If I would have lost my job, that would have been alright, because for the first time in my life, I knew I was doing something right.”

Hurricane Harvey 2017

September 1, 2017. Woodsboro, Texas An Emergency Response Vehicle delivers hot meals in the town of Woodsboro, Texas where there is still now power a week after the storm made landfall. Photo by Chuck Haupt for the American Red Cross

Dampman’s positive attitude was contagious during her time in Texas where she drove a Red Cross emergency response vehicle into damaged neighborhoods to provide families with hot meals and drinks. As she was setting up for her shift, she had an idea to lift the spirits of the community members. She turned up the music in the truck for the neighborhood to hear, and as soon as she did, young children to the elderly, came out of their homes and started dancing in the streets! Dampman was giving them more than just a hot meal, she gave them hope.

Even though there were some heartwarming stories, Dampman remembers the hardships of her deployment as well. She recalls an image of a family standing outside of their home with all their belongings sprawled out on the front lawn. With an estimated five feet worth of flood damage, their home was destroyed.  When she offered the family food and water, they started crying. Dampman said, “It was difficult. You really got attached to the people there.”

Unfortunately, home destruction is not uncommon. John and Jane Hoopingarner, both Red Cross volunteers, worked in spiritual care for victims of Harvey as well. The Hoopingarners were deployed for two and a half weeks to Beaumont and Port Arthur and volunteered to listen, encourage, and work to restore some sense of normalcy to the hurricane victims. When the Hoopingarners arrived, they witnessed “the miles of damage with homes that were flooded to the roof and so many people lost absolutely everything.”

 

They described how some people were able to return to work and began to start over, but so many people were left homeless and moving from shelter to shelter. While there, the couple lived in and worked in the shelter with other victims, consoling them as much as they could. Mr. Hoopingarner recalled how many were in an emotional and physical downward spiral and how they managed to escape the disaster on helicopters and boats.

Mrs. Hoopingarner shared some of the stories of the people she encountered at the shelter. She shared how a family consisting of a single mother, and her two children, a 12-year-old daughter with disabilities and her 16-year-old son, came to the shelter after the hurricane. The family was in turmoil and Mrs. Hoopingarner consoled the family every day, sometimes twice a day, until her deployment ended. Once she left Texas, Mrs. Hoopingarner described how the mother found a job and started working while the people at the shelter would look after her daughter while she was at work!

When asked what people can do to help the victims of the hurricanes, they emphasized, “Though the recovery is still raw, we ask people not to forget what happened to Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico once the news stops reporting on it.”

Though the damage is done and the news has simmered down, the recovery is still new, raw, and will take years to bounce back.

 

As AmeriCorps National Preparedness & Response Corps (NPRC) members, we have had the opportunity to take a variety of American Red Cross training courses over the past few months. These trainings have given us the tools needed to prepare and respond to local and national disasters, and have helped us become a part of the Red Cross SEPA team!

One of my favorite trainings so far, was learning Client Casework. During this day long training session, we were able to learn how to properly carry out client services-skills we can apply to both local and national disasters.  Our team was able to conduct practice interviews, assess client needs and determine the appropriate assistance. This training was especially helpful to me during my first rotation at the Red Cross House. While at Red Cross House, I was able to implement client services at a local level by helping families get back on their feet following a disaster.

Becoming certified in driving and using the equipment on the Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs) was another exciting AmeriCorps NPRC training. The Emergency Response Vehicles help the Red Cross respond to local and national disasters ranging from house fires to hurricanes. Learning how to properly operate and drive an ERV is an important part of being a Red Cross disaster volunteer. These vehicles are essential to disaster relief operations. ERVs are used to provide mobile or stationary feedings, distribute items, and, as necessary, perform casework and transfer supplies. To prepare us for safe ERV driving, we all completed an online defensive driving course before taking the road test. Members also learned how to safely handle and serve food that will be delivered to clients through an online training. I look forward to perhaps one day operating the ERV on a national deployment. We all passed the road test!

Our team also became CPR & First Aid certified through the American Red Cross. In addition to the classroom trainings, AmeriCorps NPRC members have the opportunity to sign up individually for American Red Cross trainings in areas we may wish to specialize in when responding to national disasters. I look forward to taking more training courses that will advance me in Client Casework, as I enjoy carrying out client services. Joining the Red Cross SEPA team has been an exciting opportunity and I look forward to taking more trainings in preparedness and response at the upcoming Pennsylvania Disaster Training Institute on October 25th-29th.

Pictured: (Left) Megan Wood and (Right) Jingwen Li taking the CPR Certification Test

               Pictured: (L) Megan Wood and (R) Jingwen Li taking the CPR Certification test

1Hey, people of our Philadelphia region! Did you know that the current fleet of American Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles is undergoing a redesign process?

This week, the American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania (SEPA) will play host to the newly designed prototype of our Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV). The new prototype will stop in Philadelphia as part of its journey to Red Cross Chapters all over the country. The idea is to allow chapter employees and volunteers to provide feedback on its design and make any recommendations for changes once they have used the vehicle in the field.

American Red Cross ERVs have become an iconic symbol of our disaster relief services. In 1898, Clara Barton used a wagon as an ambulance for her work on the battlefield. Later, the organization used club mobiles to serve WWII soldiers. Before standardization began in the 1980s, the Red Cross used converted bread trucks, station wagons and pickup trucks painted with our iconic logo to deliver meals and other essentials after disasters. The current “ambulance design” was first used to support people affected by tornados in Western Pennsylvania.

Wise readers familiar with the current design know that it resembles a large box on wheels and is slightly unwhieldy to drive. The new model will lighten up, resembling the more agile service vehicles sometimes seen in densely packed European cities. Still, the key to it all will be whether these vehicles help our trained responders meet the needs of our clients in a timely and humane way. The national fleet of 320 ERVs is now more than 10 years old and is challenging to maintain. Once the new design is chosen, the Red Cross plans to completely replace and expand the existing fleet over the next ten years.

 ERV_Prototype_Response1.31.13 019

As always, the Red Cross will make changes with an eye toward efficiency and the bottom line. The new ERV’s will be less expensive to purchase and maintain. According to my colleague, Sara Smith, who rode in one this morning, the new design emphasizes comfort, fuel efficiency, storage and connectivity. They provide enough space for our trained responders to meet with clients inside the van, away from the scene of the disaster. I know our volunteers will appreciate the opportunity to take clients away from water or smoke and shelter them immediately.  The ERVs will also include an external dynamic messaging system, allowing responders to share real time information with others.

SEPA is excited to take part in this testing process. We will be seeking to discover if the new ERV’s features — such as a loading/unloading system, enhanced technology and a back-up camera – meet the needs of people who turn to our chapter for help after disasters.  This new model may not be “the one”  but it’s really great get the chance to take it for a spin.

–       Submitted by Sarah Peterson (Communications Volunteer)