From the ground in Alabama

The following is written by Jim Prive, loyal Red Cross volunteer who deployed to Alabama to assist with relief efforts for victims of the recent tornadoes.

On Thursday, April 28, I was working in the garden separating my green onions when the call came. It was Pam Brynarsky, who oversees scheduling drivers for the local American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRVs). These vehicles are equipped with every gadget you can think of needed to act as a communications hub: satellite, generator, phone lines, modem, etc. There are only 13 of them in the entire country!

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Pam had received an urgent call from the Red Cross National Headquarters asking for an immediate deployment to Alabama. Twenty minutes after getting off the phone with Pam, I was on the road to the local Red Cross chapter. We arrived in Hoover, Ala., at 10 p.m. that evening.

The next day we started at 7 a.m. and worked til after midnight setting up needed equipment at the Hoover HQ that would be the hub for all Red Cross Alabama response efforts.  Most work days after that were 7 a.m. to 8 or 9 p.m.

Some observations from my trip:

  • Alabamians were extremely neighborly with each other and responders. Local, county, state and federal agencies were well coordinated and helpful to non-government responders.  Any time I reached out there was someone there with a solution.

  • While unloading copy paper with a UPS driver in a UPS truck I noted that he was delivering paper that was actually shipped by FedEX…they were working together!

  • Daily at the Tuscaloosa site, there were semi trucks that showed up from numerous national companies offering free services, food, etc.  Many companies have these self-contained trucks ready to deploy to disaster.  There were numerous pizza companies that gave people free slices or whole pizzas throughout the day.  Bausch & Lomb gave eye exams and issued free glasses. Every day there were new services!
  • We all read about the human fatalities.  After the dust settled there started to be a movement for pets.  There were hundreds of pet deaths, injuries and displacements.  One touching article showed dogs waiting on the former owner’s house slab assuming they would return…I hope they did.

  • At first there were few hotel rooms available, so I was sharing my 2 bed hotel room with 3 other guys.  We alternated nights in the bed with a night on the floor…not great, but still better than being in a shelter where you share 5-10 showers with 500 people and the lights are on all night and there is NO privacy.

During a disaster like this it causes us to look at what we DO have and take for granted every day.  Many of these people had homes and lives just like ours.  Now they are trying to restart their lives.  I can only hope I never find myself on the receiving end of disaster responders, but it is reassuring to know that if needed, it will be there.

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If you are inclined to part with some charitable dollar, please consider the American Red Cross on your list of charities.  I can attest to their great stewardship with the donated dollar!

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