Our Nation is Better Prepared for Major Disasters Five Years After Hurricane Katrina, but More Needs to be Done

By Dawn Miller, American Red Cross Volunteer

The epic hurricane season of 2005 was a defining chapter in American Red Cross history. Five years ago, Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma changed the lives of millions of people across the United States, and prompted a response by the Red Cross that was unprecedented in size and scope.

Even before media images of destruction and despair jolted the nation, trained Red Cross responders were already in action. Generous donors from across the country and around the world made it possible to mount one of the largest disaster responses in American history – a response that tested the limits of the Red Cross.

Approximately 350,000 residences were destroyed or severely damaged – ranging from southeastern Texas across the Gulf of Mexico to the Florida Keys. The demand for help was enormous. Donors gave the Red Cross a total of $2.2 billion for people affected by the storms, and with the help of 245,000 Red Cross disaster workers, many of them volunteers, the Red Cross assisted millions of people by providing shelter, food and other basic needs.

The Red Cross had more than 3.8 million overnight stays in shelters across 31 states and the District of Columbia – seven times any previous record. Nearly 68 million meals and snacks were served, four times more than what the Red Cross had ever provided during past relief efforts. Emergency financial assistance was provided to 1.4 million families – about four million people.

Local Efforts: The Lakeland Chapter of Northeast Wisconsin was there to help with relief efforts. From August to December in 2005, the chapter deployed 52 volunteers to assist in the recovery of affected areas. For many of these volunteers it was their first deployment. And though they worked 10-12+ hour shifts only to find the sleeping accommodations to be minimal, many have said they would do it again when needed.  “It was truly a life changing experience for me,” said Jeanne Harris, Lakeland Chapter Volunteer.

 

Operation Broadcast Hope - Northeast Wisconsin Media Joint Fundraiser

Much was also done right here in Northeast Wisconsin to help in relief efforts. The Lakeland Chapter and volunteers assisted over 180 individuals who relocated to be with friends and family to our area. Area blood donors came forward to ensure a safe supply was available for our region and more, so blood could be directed to the affected regions and hospitals where people were evacuated. Fundraising efforts and donors within our area raised more than 1.226 million dollars, which were directed to the gulf coast region.

What we learned: Relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina were larger than anything the Red Cross had handled before. Since then, the Red Cross has reset the bar on responses to large-scale disasters, improved the capacity for response, and increased the availability of resources.

The number of trained volunteers has increased from 25,000 to nearly 95,000, with 50,000 of them available to travel to help with disasters around the country.  Relief supplies are pre-positioned in areas of the country prone to disasters – enough resources to respond to devastation twice the size of Katrina. Ongoing planning occurs at the local, state and national level to respond to large-scale disasters.

To serve the area, a dedicated team of Lakeland Chapter volunteers is trained to assist individuals who have been affected by disaster. The Lakeland Chapter serves an eight county area: Brown, Door, Kewaunee, Marinette, Menominee (WI), Oconto, Shawano and Menominee (MI). There are over 450,000 people living within this jurisdiction that covers 5,746 square miles. The volunteers take on-call shifts and are ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Partnerships are established with national and local organizations who lend the Red Cross their specific expertise and human resources. The use of technology has expanded – the National Shelter System is easily accessible online and the Safe and Well site has improved in ways that will help families better connect during and after disasters.

Perhaps the biggest lesson learned from five years ago is that the government and the Red Cross will never be big enough to do it all in every disaster. Everyone must play a role. The nation needs communities that are better prepared, with every person, business, school and house of worship ready to take care of themselves and their neighbors.

Preparedness is Key:

Families need to plan how to deal with disasters. They need to know what emergencies are most likely to happen where they live, learn, work and play. It’s important to plan what should happen if family members are separated. They need a way to keep informed before, during and after a disaster. And a family member should be trained in Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and first aid.

Businesses, schools and organizations need to have proper safety and emergency supplies on hand, as well as staff trained in CPR and first aid. They need to plan on how they will continue to operate in a disaster, and work to ensure their employees are prepared at home so they can return to work soon after an emergency.

Volunteers are vital to the many services the Red Cross provides including preparation for local and national disaster. There are a variety of volunteer roles that can fit any schedule and the Red Cross provides training based on the volunteer interests of the volunteer. The only requirement is a commitment to helping neighbors. Those interested in more information about the many volunteer opportunities at the Lakeland Chapter can contact Jody Weyers at 920-227-4287 or weyersj@arclakeland.org.

Large disasters will strike this country again. The fifth anniversary of the hurricanes of 2005 should be a reminder that the unthinkable can happen and that everyone must do their part to prepare. The investments made in preparedness today can save lives and livelihoods tomorrow.

Contact the Lakeland Chapter or visit http://www.arclakeland.org– and learn what steps you should take to Be Red Cross Ready!

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