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July/August Issue

red star bulletThe Veteran Departments : Featured Stories / President's Message / Letters / VVAF Report / Government Relations / Ask The Parliamentarian / Public Affairs Committee Report / Region 9 Report / From The National Secretary / PTSD/Substance Abbuse Report / Disaster Relief Committee Report / SHAD/Project 112 Task Force Report / AVVA Report / TAPS / Veterans Initiative Task Force Report / Arts of War / Book Review / Membership Notes / Locator / Reunions /

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DISASTER RELIEF COMMITTEE REPORT


BY CRAIG TONJES, CHAIR

When I got up this morning, it was just about like any other day: the sun’s shining, birds are singing, puffy clouds waft through the sky. But splashed across the paper and on every news outlet blared the warning that hurricane season starts today. It is projected to be another wild ride, with 17 named storms anticipated.

VVA has demonstrated a desire to help those stricken and has actually come through with that pledge. Those of us in the Gulf States and on the Southeastern Seaboard have been peppered over the past few months with questions about hurricane preparedness. We have been getting tracking maps, preparing our hurricane kits, and attending seminars throughout the region. If we, as an organization, want to continue to help, what can VVA members do?

We hope that the first responders are getting their acts together. FEMA, the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and affected states and communities will benefit from lessons learned in the last two years. We, too, should benefit from lessons learned. Despite their best intentions, the first responders will be slow to get into some areas. There also are some tasks we can perform that others just can’t. State councils and chapters across the country can meet at least some of these needs.

Those of us in the “strike zone” need to prepare by assembling phone lists to be able to contact our members and respond to their needs. At the state level, assemble multiple contacts at the chapter level to reach out to those chapters in need. At the CSCP level, keep your Presidents’ roster handy, and assemble a secondary contact list of representatives in at-risk states. Nothing is more frustrating than the inability to reach someone in an impacted area. The more contacts, the better the chance of success.

What else can we do? Certainly, sending supplies into impacted areas is a good thing. The key, however, is to send appropriate supplies. The TV and press accounts will tout the need for water, but FEMA, the Red Cross, and the states have gotten much better at getting water and MREs into most areas quickly. It is discouraging to arrive at a little burg in the middle of nowhere with a load of water, only to add your supply to the pallets already on the ground.

Unless you are ready to go into a stricken area within a day or two of the strike, you are better suited to assemble secondary items that often are missed. These include diapers and paper goods (such as paper towels and toilet paper), canned goods requiring little preparation, and cleaning supplies, especially waterless antibacterial soaps.

Another task the first responders do not address that we can help with is assembling work crews. Don’t plan on coming down to clear roads and provide access. State and utility crews jump right on those tasks. There will be some need to clear drives and remove trees from homes, but a very real need that extends for weeks after the storm is installing tarps.

On a trek into post-Katrina Louisiana, a FEMA rep approached me with a request about a week and a half after the storm. He had pallets of blue tarps, and a stream of people collecting them for their homes. But he also had a significant number of those people begging for help to install them. Seniors, single parents, and others had the supplies they needed, but a neatly folded tarp doesn’t do much to keep out the weather.

Chapters across the country could assemble teams. A few pickup trucks with ladders, nails, wood slats, roofing tar, and camping supplies could be kept busy for quite a while, meeting a need not supplied by others.

Hurricanes are not the only disaster we can address. I know them best because I live in an area that seems to have a bull’s-eye on it, having endured Charley in 2004 and Wilma last fall. Hurricanes tend to hit the greatest number of people, since they are vast storms that cut swathes hundreds of miles wide. We need, however, to be prepared to respond to those hundreds or thousands hit by tornados, floods, and wild fires.

Last year, many state councils appointed disaster relief chairs. Have you been working on a disaster relief plan? It’s time. It’s best to know how you will respond before a storm hits than to try to figure out what you can do after the fact. Those most at-risk this season are Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. To people in those states: Are you ready to respond? To the rest of you: Are you ready to help in a manner that appropriately meets the needs?

The Disaster Relief Committee is here to help. But we can only react. It’s time for you to act.

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