Friday, September 23, 2005

Brookhaven to Grainfield via Jackson, Chicago, Boston, and Denver

On Wednesday afternoon, my Red Cross assignment came to an end. I left the logistics duties at the Red Cross shelter at the Brookhaven, Miss. First Baptist Church in the capable hands of my replacement, a young man from Meriden, Connecticut, and caught a shuttle bus to Jackson, one hour to the north. Stayed there Wednesday night and then flew to Boston via Chicago on Thursday.

Now I'm back at home for half a day before Helen and I head out to my mom's house in Grainfield, Kansas for a visit featuring a 25th-anniversary party for my aunt and uncle Carol and Jim Hartman.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Love Bugs and an Update from Brookhaven

Helen came down to Mississippi for a short visit to Vicksburg over the weekend. "What is the deal with all these bugs?" was one of her first questions. The one-hour drive south from the Jackson, Miss. airport to Brookhaven had left her windshield completely covered with the remains of thousands of love bugs.

The Mississippi love bug (Plecia nearctica) is currently in its two-week fall heyday, spattering windshields and fouling radiators from Natchez to Meridian. These insects pair up for some good airborne lovin' during which they hover drowsily around at ear- and windshield- level. The locals say that this year's crop is especially populous.

My stay here in Brookhaven at the Red Cross shelter at the First Baptist Church is winding up in a couple of days. The next wave of Red Cross volunteers is arriving, and over the next couple of days I'll be training my replacement.

Overall, my experience here has been a good one. The magnitude of the disaster has stretched the Red Cross very thin and the fact that most of us here in Brookhaven are first-time volunteers has been challenging. In addition, the Red Cross decided to forego the damage-verification procedures that it normally follows before distributing monetary assistance. This led to long lines and accusations of double-dipping and fraudulent damage claims at our local service center here in Brookhaven. After some improvisation and trial and error, the Red Cross came up with a dated ticket system that alleviated the long lines and uncertainty.

Local columnist Bill Jacobs does an excellent job of describing the situation of last week. Here's his piece in full from the Brookhaven Daily Leader:

We received a call Monday morning that the Lincoln County Multi-Purpose Building on Belt Line Road was being overwhelmed with people seeking Red Cross assistance. Grabbing a camera to lend a hand to our news staff, I headed out to shoot a photo, never expecting what I saw - thousands of people standing in the mid-morning heat - waiting.

Cars and people were everywhere.

A line, three to four people wide, snaked twice the length of the facility's parking lot. At the door of the building, armed National Guardsmen stood guard holding the crowds back as another guardsman pleaded with people to back away from the door and requested that only one member per family enter the facility.

While everyone was orderly and tempers seemed in check Monday morning, as the week wore on the situation became more intense as an estimated 6,000 people at one point waited. In the wee hours of Wednesday, the situation became more intense and additional National Guardsmen were ordered onto the facility grounds.

Rumors began flying, and the calls into our newsroom became intense. The calls varied in theme and frustration. Some wanted to know how to avoid the long lines; others were about rumors of "free money" being given out. And still others were frustrated that national volunteers had replaced local Red Cross officials. The most chilling were a few frustrated comments about never again donating money to the American Red Cross!

As a reservation system was put into place the pressure was relieved significantly by Thursday and a potentially volatile situation was avoided.

At a meeting with the Red Cross late Thursday afternoon, many of the rumors were addressed and explanations given for the events of the week. The bottom line, according to Tim Connolly, Red Cross relief coordinator, is that size and scope of Hurricane Katrina completely overwhelmed the Red Cross system and that despite usual efforts to prevent abuse, their focus became to get money to as many families as possible as quickly as possible.

Connolly admitted that the policy opened the system for abuse and admitted abuse was going on. However, he said systems were in place to later identify that abuse and suspect names would be turned over to local law enforcement authorities.

National volunteers replaced local Red Cross officials, Connolly said, as a matter of policy to assure the credibility of the system. He said that having volunteers without local ties registering and handing out checks would assure everyone that no favoritism could be shown. "We do not care who you are related to or what connections you have; we want to treat everyone fairly," he said.

The "free money" he said was a matter of personal moral attitude and hoped people would let those who have lost everything get what they need first. He chided those who maybe lost a freezer full of food but were standing in front of people who only had the clothes on their back.

To those who expressed reluctance to donate to the Red Cross, he just responded, "What good will that do? The purpose of the Red Cross is to help."

To avoid the long wait, Connolly suggested people use the national toll-free line, 1-800-975-7585. Unfortunately, that line also produces a long wait, as most attempts result in a busy signal. Connolly said the Red Cross was trying to solve the problem but added that sitting by a phone was more comfortable than standing in a long line in the dust and heat.

All in all, by Friday morning, more than 5,000 individuals had been processed and 15,000 more had appointments reaching into mid-October. The Red Cross estimates that at current levels more $20 million will be distributed by the Lincoln County relief center.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Now with Giggleastic Waistband!

Well, the 6 ERVs that were operating around here left for Gulfport and Biloxi last night, so No ERV for you! this time. No problem. Today I went and worked by myself in the warehouse and it was awesome. I had been going a bit stir crazy at the shelter now that the excitement of the getting things set up during that first week had died down. Although I have become more extroverted lately, at the end of the day I really do prefer working with inanimate and/or abstract objects so a day out of the shelter was just what the doctor ordered.

For my boonwork in the warehouse I spent about 9 hours going through the mountains of boxes of STUFF that people from all over the world have sent down here. In particular, I focused on diapers. I can now tell you everything you ever wanted to know about diapers from newborn on up to end-of-life. It seems that there are six basic sizes and then you get into "pull-ups"or training pants, some of which have little pictures that disappear once they get wet -- apparently the message to little Bobby or Sally is: "Go potty correctly or your favorite cartoon characters will desert you!" I like it. Kids...need...consequences.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Hotter Than A Pepper Sprout

Chris reports he is doing well. Supply shipments and relative stability seem finally to be coming to the Brookhaven shelter.

Since there are other places still in need of urgent help, Chris is hoping he'll soon be able to go out in of the Red Cross's "ERV"s (Emergency Response Vehicles) into wider Lincoln County. He'd most likely be serving food to the hundreds of people who have to wait all day in a rodeo barn north of town to get assistance checks from the Red Cross. No FEMA presence as of yet.

The best news from my point of view is that Chris gets a 24-hour pass this weekend, so I'm going to Jackson (a la Johnny Cash) to visit him on Saturday. We're going to stay in Vicksburg, home of the world-famous civil war battlefield and "hand-patted" hamburgers.

If you've gone to Google maps recently, and looked up an address in New Orleans, you'll notice they have a new button that allows you to see satellite pictures of Katrina's effects. Chris says that people in the shelter were using it to check on the damage and were showing him where their houses were and pointing out the 17th St. Canal breach, the levee system, etc.

Posted by Helen

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Makin' Progress

Good day today. The supply pipeline is finally filling up; national contracts with private suppliers are kicking in, and the Red Cross is now taking the logistics load off of these local churches that have been housing evacuees / huricanees across the Gulf Coast. It is difficult to tell exactly what caused the supply delays; the most likely reason is the sheer scope of the disaster. I will leave the critiques of the government response to others for now. It's difficult to judge I think because the scope is unprecedented, and last year I believe FEMA got high marks for its response in Florida.

Here's a calendar of my day today:

7:00 am: Shelter staff meeting to report on the previous night's 5-county meeting at the warehouse and to flag issues that will come up today.

8:00 am: Time to "redeploy" the cardboard boxes that the emergency cots came in. They had been piled in the hallway near the makeshift health clinic and the nurse wanted them outta there since this was also the waiting area for the clinic. Found a church volunteer to help me with that moving task and found out she was an unemployed kindergarten teacher who had recently moved to Brookhaven from Western Massachusetts.

9:00 am: I talk with the Sysco Food Service representative, to work out a way to drop-ship food directly to this shelter while billing the national Red Cross.

9:30 am: I tell N., a shelter resident from the Gulf Coast who has background in recreation and who has been leading children's activities on his own initiative, that the kindergarten teacher from Western Mass. was interested in coming in to work with the children as well.

10:30 am: A quick run to Wal-Mart to pick up items that are too specific or too timely to be supplied by the local Red Cross logistics base ("log base" for short, sounds cooler than "warehouse," which is what it is.) Tops on the shopping list today is disinfectant hand gel. We have some kids with colds and some with flu symptoms and so need to encourage hand cleanliness now to try to forestall a big problem later. I set up 5 "Clean Hands Stations" around the shelter, each one with a big pump bottle of Germ-X.

11:45 am: Since I have the keys to an SUV, sometimes I am pressed into taxi service. I take an older diabetic man with elevated blood sugar and bad eyesight from the shelter to the emergency room. He and his family are just passing through town and were concerned, so they stopped in at the shelter. The family follows in their car since they don't know the route. Most of them came in contact with flood water at their home in Louisiana, so they will all be getting tetanus shots at the ER as well. Wonderful family; the matriarch and patriarch bickered affectionately throughout.

1:15 pm: A call comes into the shelter from a local barber shop: "I have a relative who lives here in Brookhaven. He's a truck driver, stranded in Illinois by the fuel shortage, and he's going crazy hearing about the shortage of supplies back home. He has arranged to drive a truckload of diapers, infant formula, Neosporin, water, and clothes down to the Gulf and he wants to bring it to Brookhaven if he can." It's important to pounce on these offers because if a local log base doesn't respond right away, the truck driver will call another one, and keep calling until he finds a warehouse ready to receive his truck. So I call the local log base and give them the scoop.

3:30 pm: Meet with the food service manager here at the church to coordinate the supply of food with the menus that she is planning. One free item I can offer her is something called "Chicken Fritters," which we think are probably similar to chicken tenders. They have been donated in a frozen format by a local poultry processor and are sitting in a freezer trailer at the log base.

4:30 pm: The staff desperately needs MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) and water to give to random folks needing food who stop by the shelter on their way to somewhere else. I hear through the grapevine that some government entity is handing out MREs and water at the local softball diamond, so I send one of the dozens of church volunteers who are always on hand after them. The MREs are designed to somehow heat themselves up when you add a bit of water. I haven't tried one yet but I intend to.

5:30 pm: My first shipment from the local Red Cross log base arrives: toilet paper, two car seats, a wheelchair, blankets, crayons, trash bags, cleaning supplies, liquid hand soap, deodorant, a cube refrigerator to store drugs in the clinic, and other assorted odds and ends. Not everything I asked for but a good part of it. The log base doesn't do back orders, which is good, actually, because sometimes something I ordered from them will show up in the meantime from some other source. If I still need an item, I can just re-order it tonight.

6:00 pm: Quick check-in with the Red Cross health services guy who is traveling around from shelter to shelter supplying specialized medical supplies. He brought a bunch of stuff today: inhalers, insulin, lancets, syringes, disposable otoscope covers, Pedialite, sharps box, etc. The "clinic," which is in a room normally used for meetings of the church's Budget Committee, is now finally starting to look like a clinic.

6:30 pm: Dinner: Chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, corn, green beans, and cake.

7:00 pm: Begin preparing for the 5-county meeting tonight at the warehouse. I need to put together another order from the local Red Cross log base and also prepare a memo outlining the drop-ship arrangement I've made with Sysco.

8:00 pm: Five-county Red Cross meeting at the warehouse. This is where the Red Cross workers from the 5 county region we're in assemble to share information and ask questions of the log base staff. I give my logistics contact my order for today; we go over it and he tells me which things I should procure myself at retail, and which ones he can get to me from the warehouse or other wholesale sources. I take a walk around the warehouse to see what they have on hand, so I can inform the staff back at the shelter and see if they want any of it. There's quite a lot of food now, which I can pass along to the kitchen manager at the shelter. Even though we have this new drop-ship arrangement with Sysco, if we can get non-perishable food from the local log base, we should take advantage of it. I also find out that the Red Cross is turning away used clothing, at least in our area. The same thing has happened at the shelter -- local residents who want to donate clothes are now redirected to another local charity. As we leave, I'm happy to see that one of the two inbound trucks scheduled on the warehouse board is the truck from Illinois that I had handed off to the warehouse staff earlier today.

10:30: Back to the shelter at First Baptist and a chance to use the shower there.

11:00-12:00 Meaningless puttering around and some tomfoolery.

Logistics 101

I've been placed in charge of logistics for the shelter I'm at in Brookhaven. That means making sure there is enough food, water, medical supplies, clothing, and bedding for the 200 people staying here for what is now an indefinite period of time.

The church members here at the First Baptist Church are just incredible. They carried most of the logistical load for the 200 shelter residents during the first week after Katrina hit while the Red Cross geared up to supply this area. Now, slowly, I am able to take over more and more of the supply function, working directly with Sysco, the food distributor, and the local ad hoc Red Cross warehouse (or "log base") which is finally filling up with supplies. The head Red Cross guy at the log base is on leave from his permanent job with the United Nations. He has been all over the world doing logistics for relief operations: Sudan, SE Asia after the Tsunami, Bosnia, etc.

Needless to say, I'm learning a lot!

Monday, September 05, 2005


I'm just now finishing up my first 24 hours at a Red Cross shelter in Brookhaven, MS, about 130 miles north of New Orleans on Interstate 55. Most if not all of the 200 people here are from New Orleans.

The shelter is housed by the First Baptist Church and is large and well-equipped. The congregation here is fully involved in preparing and serving food; in fact it is the congregation that has made this shelter work so far. They are experienced with sheltering during and after hurricanes and the kitchen here can produce 250 meals in one go.

The Red Cross is currently getting up to speed on logisitics, and today here at the shelter we, the Red Cross shelter staff, began making arrangements with a food distributor to get food delivered here for the foreseeable future. Until now, the congregation had been feeding the 200 "hurricanees" out of their own food supply, locally donated food, and by ordering food on their own.

The good news is that Brookhaven is dry and relatively up to speed as far as communications goes, although my cell phone service is only spotty and intermittent. It looks like I will be here for several days at least.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Waiting for Deployment

Report from the Gulf Coast:

Chris arrived in Montgomery, Alabama yesterday afternoon. He and 30 other volunteers on his flight were all picked up by the Red Cross and transported to a Holiday Inn Express, where they had a good dinner and a good night's sleep.

He has found a Virginian and two South Carolinians with whom he works well, and they are hoping to be kept together as a team. He was originally assigned a Nissan Sentra but acquired a more appropriate Jeep Grand Cherokee through a savvy trade with an SUV-hating volunteer.

He is now in the Red Cross headquarters (an abandoned K-Mart) waiting for deployment instructions which will most likely take him somewhere along the Mississippi or Alabama coast.

"Are you an experienced Red Cross volunteer?"
"No, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night."

Posted by Helen

UPDATE: Chris just found out he will be deployed to a 200-person shelter in Brookhaven, Mississippi.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Lotso Leadville Photos...

...Have been posted to Ball of Dirt: Page 1 | Page 2

These are shots of the Leadville 100 Bike Race taken by me, Helen, and my cousin Raelene.

You can order prints of these photos by first clicking on the thumbnail of the photo, and then clicking on the "Add to Basket" button next to the photo you want to order.

Alabama Bound

In the next day or so I will be headed to Montgomery, Alabama with the Red Cross to help with the Hurricane Katrina relief effort. It's possible that I could be on the scene there until Sept. 22. After that I'll be in Kansas visiting my mom for a week.

I joined the Red Cross as a disaster volunteer back on August 8, 2005, intending to be on-call one day a week to respond to house and apartment fires. As it turned out, Hurricane Katrina will be my first assignment. Since Tuesday of this week I've been getting some additional training and filling out a good deal of paperwork.

Helen has been aware of my preparations during the last few days but I wanted to wait until I got a definite assignment before I told anyone else. Having no experience in this area, I'm not sure I will have the time or facilities to do much emailing or blogging while I'm in Alabama, but if it works out I may post some updates to this blog.

War Profiteers

Need a break from Katrina coverage? Check out this new CEO pay study from my old friends at the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy. As the International Herald Tribune reports, picking up a Boston Globe story:

"The chief executives of the U.S. defense industry's largest companies are taking home paychecks that have more than doubled in the past four years - far greater than the average 7 percent growth for all corporate CEOs, according to an independent study based on documents from the Securities and Exchange Commission."
Related Posts with Thumbnails