Staying ahead of disaster
By Jan A. Igoe
MYRTLE BEACH In the aftermath of the devastating fire that destroyed more than 100 dwellings at Windsor Green Saturday night, the American Red Cross served almost 5,000 meals, snacks and beverages to displaced Carolina Forest residents and first responders.
But viewing the agency’s fully stocked warehouse during an ARC walking tour Thursday evening, you’d never guess the place has been on overdrive since the fire.
The Coastal South Carolina Chapter in Myrtle Beach simulated emergency shelter operations for the media Thursday and opened its Emergency Operation Center to demonstrate how the organization responds to disasters, such as last weekend’s fire.
Seventy volunteers have been working 10- to-12 hour shifts to help fire victims regain some sense of normalcy. Even as the operation scales down and emergency shelters close, the ARC won’t pull the plug until “everyone is resituated,” said Karen Anderson with Disaster Services.
“Fifteen volunteers were on scene within 30 minutes of the emergency call. We had 200 comfort kids out the door like that,” said executive director Nanci Conley, snapping her fingers. “We’re continually training and preparing.”
Comfort kits are petite sacks of deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, razors, soap, toothpaste and a toothbrush. Dozens are already packed and ready for the next disaster. Agency partners such as Dollar Tree donate many personal care items. The Salvation Army and Goodwill handle non-cash donations for victims, while Coke and BiLo already have replenished huge palettes of soft drinks and water for next time, whenever and wherever that will be.
The ARC Emergency Response Vehicle had just returned from several days on scene, dispensing food and beverages to residents and responders. Licensed mental health workers took the proactive approach, strolling through the devastated area to interact with people who were sifting through the charred rubble with rakes and shovels the agency supplied.
“We’re there to support the victims, but also the first responders who see things they aren’t ready for,” said Bob Hartman, a retired clinical psychologist and disaster/mental health specialist. “We don’t show our credentials. We just walk up and ask how they’re doing.”
The Palmetto SC Region has responded to 1,200 disasters, helping 3,971 adults and children since the beginning of its fiscal year. On average, that is one disaster every 6.5 hours, according to the ARC.
Fires claim the biggest chunk of the agency budget. Beyond disaster relief, the ARC provides blood collection, trains citizens in life-saving CPR/AED and first aid, and offers services to military families – with the help of more than 4,000 volunteers.
“We’re fortunate to have one of the state’s largest warehouses for all those things people need during disasters, said board member Mark MacDougal. “The community here is outstanding. When there’s a disaster, such as what we just had in Carolina Forest, they really do come together. They come out and remind us all that we’re not only here to take care of international disasters, we’re here for our family, friends and neighbors. When these folks need help, that’s why the Red Cross is here.”
After a near sleepless week, Conley is proud of her team, agency partners and supporters, saying they give new meaning to the word “local.”
“People say they want their donation to stay local,” said Nanci Conley, pointing out volunteers from Columbia, Charleston, Hilton Head and Wilmington, N.C. “We’re all local. The Red Cross is one big family.”