Advocate Editorial Board opinion: Prepare now so response can be immediate

By the Advocate Editorial Board
May 14, 2013 at 12:14 a.m.

Disasters are not things people like to think about. Most people acknowledge the need to plan, but few ever consider the truly overwhelming impact a disaster could have.

The explosion in West was an eye-opening experience for our nation. In a matter of minutes, a small town was devastated. The sudden, harsh nature of that incident makes us wonder what would happen if a similar situation unfolded in our own community.

One of the agencies that responded was the American Red Cross. Our editorial board sat down with Linda May, emergency services director of the American Red Cross Crossroads Chapter, and John Johnston, board chairman, to discuss how the Red Cross would handle a disaster.

According to May, there are three things that can be expected in the event of any disaster: victims, volunteers and donations. What the Red Cross and any other organization needs to be able to do is organize these three elements to maximize available aid or risk losing resources in the chaos of a disaster response scenario.

In 2005, the year Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the Gulf Coast, many evacuees came to the Crossroads and needed assistance. Johnston organized the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, which helped coordinate available aid and direct victims to the correct agencies to get the assistance they needed. About 970 families were given aid because of this coordinated effort.

Every time there is a disaster, volunteers come to help in the response, May said. But volunteers need to be trained on how to fill out certain forms and perform other tasks. That means a disaster response effort often has to take time to train new volunteers before getting to work. Volunteers with the Red Cross must be at least 16 years old or 15 with parent's permission.

The need for competent, trained volunteers during a disaster is huge. We realize no one wants to think about the possibility of something catastrophic happening in their community, but the potential is always there. Once again, hurricane season is approaching, and every year brings another chance that the Crossroads will be struck or be forced to accept evacuees from other affected areas. The urge to volunteer usually strikes when a disaster comes and emotions are high, but if there is even a hint of a desire to volunteer now, we encourage residents to take time and get disaster training through the Red Cross. That way, residents will be ready to respond without having to take several hours to train when disaster is already here.

We encourage area residents to consider taking a disaster preparedness training course. The Red Cross offers the courses for free, and residents can learn how to use the skills they have to best meet the needs of disaster response. Volunteering can cover anything from answering phone, logistics, helping victims fill out forms requesting aid or even driving vehicles through disaster areas. Whatever your interests and abilities, there is always something you can do to help.

It's better to prepare now than to wait until disaster has struck.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.



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