Thursday, January 18 , 2018, 10:26 am | Fair 62º

 
 
 

Red Cross, Direct Relief Play Crucial Role in Local Emergency Planning and Response

Santa Barbara County relies on both nonprofits to help with evacuation shelters and medical supplies

Volunteers with American Red Cross of Central California-Pacific Coast Chapter responded to the Chimney Fire near Lake Nacimiento in San Luis Obispo County in September 2016. Click to view larger
Volunteers with American Red Cross of Central California-Pacific Coast Chapter responded to the Chimney Fire near Lake Nacimiento in San Luis Obispo County in September 2016. (Ryan Cullom file photo)

In the response to a major disaster, the Santa Barbara County government can’t do it alone.

Its collaboration with health-care facilities, nonprofit organizations and volunteer groups creates a network of highly skilled responders, each with a role to play.

        |  Emergency Preparedness 2017  |  Complete Series Index  |

While the American Red Cross and Goleta-based Direct Relief are known for deploying volunteers and supplies all over the world, they are deeply connected to local emergency planning and response.

The American Red Cross of Central California-Pacific Coast Chapter has teams of volunteers who set up and staff evacuation shelters as needed. Direct Relief, the only local wholesale distributor of pharmaceuticals, has a specialized role to store and distribute medicine — including county Emergency Medical Services caches.

The Red Cross can be activated by the county Emergency Operations Center or a direct call from fire department battalion chiefs, which is what often happens for the disaster action teams, known as DAT, that are on-call to respond to families displaced by a house fire, for example.

“The minute they’re in our hands they’re clients, and the recovery process begins,” said disaster program manager Kurt Russell, who works out of the Red Cross’ Santa Barbara office.

In February, the Pacific Coast chapter, which includes Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, had 20 calls just for DAT — mostly for single-family house fires, Russell said.

The DAT typically responds if there are fewer than 10 people who need shelter. The Red Cross is mandated to respond within two hours and usually does it more quickly than that. The agency doesn’t want to leave anyone standing outside with nowhere to go, Russell said.

For evacuation shelters, the Red Cross will get a call to activate and volunteers go to work.

The logistics team decides which shelter to go to, and then the mass care team assembles and staffs the shelter.

American Red Cross of Central California-Pacific Coast Chapter volunteers unload supplies for evacuees during last year’s Chimney Fire near Lake Nacimiento. Click to view larger
American Red Cross of Central California-Pacific Coast Chapter volunteers unload supplies for evacuees during last year’s Chimney Fire near Lake Nacimiento. (Ryan Cullom file photo)

There are trailers with cots and supplies stationed throughout the county, since there are areas that can be cut off, Russell said.

Behind all the disaster response at the Red Cross is a lot of “blue-skies planning” that nails down logistics for evacuation shelters, CPR and first-aid classes, volunteer recruitment and trainings, and educational campaigns, such as home fire prevention efforts.

Logistics leaders conduct shelter surveys to find appropriate venues and draw up contracts to use them during emergencies. Red Cross staff always walk through shelter facilities before and after a sheltering so any damage is found and repaired, Russell said.

Shelters can be any large building with enough restroom facilities, such as school gyms, churches, temples, community centers and veteran’s halls.

The Red Cross’ Pacific Coast chapter is recruiting more volunteers. The organization has lost many recently because there haven’t been any major disasters in the last couple of years, except last summer’s Sherpa Fire, Russell said.

A meeting for new and existing volunteers to learn about volunteer opportunities — with pizza — will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Santa Barbara headquarters, 2707 State St. Those interested can drop in or RSVP to [email protected] or call 805.687.1331.

Direct Relief

Direct Relief, headquartered at 27 S. La Patera Lane near the Santa Barbara Airport, is the only nationally-accredited wholesale distributor of medicine in the county, making its specialized role to store and distribute medicine, including the county’s emergency caches, communications director Tony Morain said.

“One of the things we are focused on is support to our local community in emergencies and on an ongoing basis,” he said.

“It falls well within our mission to serve as an important partner for the county.”

Direct Relief packages and distributes personal care kits, participates in county emergency drills, and works alongside local health-care providers like the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, which it supports with funding and medication, Morain said.

Direct Relief’s Goleta warehouse stores medications for Santa Barbara County’s Emergency Medical Services and the nonprofit organization’s own distribution all over the world. Click to view larger
Direct Relief’s Goleta warehouse stores medications for Santa Barbara County’s Emergency Medical Services and the nonprofit organization’s own distribution all over the world. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

In medical emergencies, it can provide drugs. Direct Relief provided the vaccines and medication during the response to UC Santa Barbara’s meningitis B outbreak in 2013.

Direct Relief is also the fiscal agent for the county’s Aware & Prepare initiative, serving as a nonprofit intermediary since people cannot directly donate to government agencies.

Katie Lewis, U.S. program officer, said the organization saw the need for personal care items and chronic care medications, especially after Hurricane Katrina. People thought they would be evacuated for just three days and only had that much medication, but now it’s suggested that preparations include at least a five-day supply, she said.

It’s crucial to have extra medications in case of emergency or evacuation, and many people who don’t can end up in emergency rooms, Morain said.

Direct Relief responded to Butte County during the massive evacuation in February when Oroville Dam’s emergency spillways failed, leading to a major threat of flooding.

“For some people, the evacuation kind of was the emergency,” Morain said.

Direct Relief is improving its own emergency preparedness with a new building under construction on Santa Barbara Airport land. The new headquarters will have larger warehouses, triple-redundant power sources and be earthquake-safe, built to the safety standards of a school.

Click here for more information about Direct Relief. Click here to make an online donation.

        |  Emergency Preparedness 2017  |  Complete Series Index  |

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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