Friday, 17 September 2010 00:00
Fortunately, Hurricane Earl veered away from our shores and his damage was contained mainly to Long Island’s fragile beaches. Yet when he passed, those of us working in emergency services all wiped our brows and collectively let out a sigh of relief—because if this storm had veered only a few degrees to the west, Long Island would have felt its fury.
Sadly, most Long Islanders would not have been prepared for a direct hit. Many don’t believe a hurricane will ever come and others have forgotten just how bad it can get when one does. At the American Red Cross though, we know better. During the summer of 2007, we, the Nassau and Suffolk County Red Cross Chapters, re-examined our sheltering plan and identified 50 locations that could serve as evacuation centers. Working with state and local officials, we then pre-positioned the cots, blankets and other supplies we would need at these locations—greatly reducing the time it would take to open shelters if ever needed. And we’ve drilled, constantly, to make sure the plan will work.
So, as the clock began ticking with Hurricane Earl, we called our volunteers and partners and placed them on alert. We sent representatives to the emergency operation centers that were opened by both Nassau and Suffolk County’s Offices of Emergency Management. Working with the other Red Cross chapters in Metropolitan New York, we identified our needs and gaps were filled. Our National Red Cross helped by sending in additional communication assets and volunteers—and had an army of equipment and volunteers ready to move in if necessary. We joined together and quickly setup operations in a centralized location. A shelter was opened in Montauk and then we watched and waited. Ultimately we weren’t needed—but we were definitely ready.
Besides ramping up for potentially large disasters, Long Islanders should be aware that their local Red Cross chapters respond to literally hundreds of local disasters every year. Now, these events are mostly single family house fires but for a family that has lost everything it is just as devastating. Red Cross volunteers and equipment respond anytime of the day or night, in any kind of weather, to offer safe shelter, food, clothing and emotional support to victims while providing canteen services to the first responders.
It is important that Long Islanders realize that unlike many other important community-based organizations, that often offer duplicate services, there is no other organization tasked with the mission of the American Red Cross—providing relief to victims of disasters and helping people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. Unlike any other nonprofit, we are chartered by Congress to perform these tasks, yet are not funded by them to do so. Rather, it is through the generosity of the American public that we are able to respond. So, whether it is down the street, across the nation or around the world—ultimately, the Red Cross response begins with you!
Chief Executive Officer
American Red Cross in Nassau County