Emergency Sheltering Under One Roof

When a devastating EF-5 tornado slammed into Joplin, Missouri on May 22, 2011, St. John’s Mercy Regional Medical Center stood directly in its path. Over 180 patients – including some in operating rooms, intensive care, or the emergency room – were being treated. Dennis Manley, Director of Quality and Risk Management, returned to the hospital to help lead the evacuation of patients and staff that afternoon.

“Because of the dirt and debris blown by 200 mile per hour winds, we had difficulty identifying some of the people we treated. One doctor, in fact, treated his assistant – but didn’t realize it until much later,” Manley says.

The complete destruction of the hospital and surrounding buildings required evacuation of everyone in the facility. It took over 90 minutes, because virtually every window was shattered, corridors were blocked with debris, and doors were jammed. Fortunately, Manley observed, previous emergency drills had helped to prepare the hospital staff for many of the situations they faced that day. Advance preparation and close working partnerships with a wide variety of governmental and non-governmental organizations helped deal with the need for swift and effective emergency response.

Attending the conference were (L-R) Glen Olson, Minnesota Department of Public Health, Carlos Garcia-Valez, Red Cross Northland Chapter volunteer and keynote speaker, Ruth Talford, Red Cross Readiness Manager, and Eric Nikolai, Red Cross St. Croix Valley Chapter volunteer.

Building partnerships continued when more than 275 representatives from local, state and national government public health, human services, health care, and emergency response organizations, along with community volunteer emergency responders, shared updates, networked, and heard experts at the second annual “Emergency Sheltering: Under One Roof “ Conference. Participants came from five states and Canada.

“We are focusing on mass care events such as major wildfires, tornadoes, floods, or winter storms that could displace hundreds of people,” says Tony Guerra, a Red Cross Readiness Manager based in Duluth, Minnesota.  “The goal is to strengthen and create local, regional, and national networks which help people increase collaboration.”

The American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region and the Community Health Information Collaborative (CHIC) hosted the conference, which was held January 31-February 2 at the Black Bear Otter Creek Convention Center in Carlton, MN, and was funded by the Fred C. and Katherine B. Andersen Foundation in Bayport, MN.

During 2011 the Red Cross responded to hundreds of disasters, including the May 22 tornado that swept through north Minneapolis and left hundreds homeless. Photo credit: Jason Viana/American Red Cross

Janice Springer of St. Cloud, Red Cross Disaster Health Services Advisor for Minnesota, discussed meeting the access and functional needs of people in shelters.

”In 2011, the Red Cross opened 978 shelters in the U.S., serving more than 41,000 people with over 125,000 overnight stays,” says Springer.

Red Cross volunteer Carlos Garcia-Velez was among those who responded to disasters last year. Garcia-Velez has served as an American Red Cross volunteer in multiple roles since 1992, including leading the Partner Services and Government Operations activities through many disaster relief operations. Most recently Garcia-Velez responded in North Carolina following Hurricane Irene. Garcia-Velez challenged the sheltering conference participants to work more closely together and collaborate on all levels.

“We have to approach disasters as a whole community,” says Garcia-Velez. “Experience has taught us that we must do a better job of providing services for the entire community, regardless of their background, demographics, or challenges,” says Garcia-Velez. “This means planning for the actual makeup of a community, making sure we meet the needs of every disaster survivor regardless of age, economics, or accessibility requirements.”

Story by David Schoeneck, Red Cross Volunteer

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