Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hurricane Ike After Action Report to CERT

Here are some excerpts from my after-action report to the CERT president regarding my observations while working in the hurricane shelter:


September 11th was rather chaotic, somewhat reminiscent of the events we commemorate that day from 2001. I was contacted late that morning by Mary and Martha requesting as many people as could be at the Fair Grounds at 2pm. There was a little confusion which was cleared up later that only some needed to be at the 2pm meeting. Considering the last-minute rush of finding out people were coming and when, this is understandable. Mary and Martha did a great job of sorting things out and getting information to me about what was needed later that day. I quickly got my assignments worked out and was ready to go.

I arrived at the shelter at 6pm September 11. I met Lee at the back of the building, and he started to show me around. I spent some time trying to find the sign-in sheet I was told to make sure I documented my time on. While working that out, a bus with new arrivals pulled up at the front of the building and I spent the next hour or so assisting people (mostly carrying their luggage) off the bus and into the reception area of the shelter. Things were a bit chaotic, which, again, was completely understandable. However, the chaos had an organized flow to it and I don't believe it hampered getting people into the building and settled into a spot inside after inprocessing. Staff and volunteers were thinking on their feet and adapting to the situation quite well.

I ran into Michael after helping with the ingress of the bus passengers. He had already been there for a time and knew where the sign-in was in the clinic area Memorial Hospital (MH) had set up and whom to speak with to get further instructions. Once inside Michael and I made ourselves available and told those who were dealing with the medical screening we were there to help. They were willing to accept our assistance and quickly found things for us to do to assist the patients and get them settled in. We were kept very busy until about 9pm when things started to settle down. It was nice we were included in the meetings among the MH staff to update everyone on the status of the overall situation from the EOC as that helped give us a good picture of how the shelter fit into the larger scheme and how we could better help the patients staying at the shelter.

Upon my arrival on September 12 I found things had, for the most part, settled into a routine. Patients were still arriving who needed screening and settling in, but there were not nearly as many as the day before. I assisted the doctors, nurses and social workers from MH as they took care of the needs of patients. One particular gentleman arrived that evening who appeared to have been homeless. He had been stuck on buses for hours and had wet himself, but refused to shower. One of the social workers convinced him to clean up. Two of the firefighters on duty and I assisted in getting him cleaned up and settled in.

Many of the patients were glued to storm coverage on one of the TVs which had been set up in the two recreation rooms. My heart really went out to them as they watched what was going on. I'm sure it added a lot to their stress levels, which were already high just from being uprooted from their homes and sent to an unfamiliar place. Still, most of the patients were in good spirits, all things considered. I only noted one or two who were on bad temper and/or uncooperative

The routine was firmly settled in and things were running very smoothly upon my arrival at 11pm on September 13th. I spent the night assisting the nurses to conduct rounds and assist people who needed assistance to the rest rooms. We jokingly called making rounds "Oxygen Bottle Patrols" as one of our duties was to make sure everyone on O2 had a serviceable bottle. The time went by very quickly as we were kept busy for the most part.

My next shift on September 19 was fairly easy. By this time many of the patients had been moved out of the shelter and there were only a few who needed attention. I helped assist on trips to the bathroom and making rounds to make sure everyone was doing well. The only real incident during this time was that someone was smoking in the rest room. We didn't catch the person, but it did remind me of a funny story about a nun always on the patrol for smokers in my high school.

September 20 was rather slow. There were very few special needs patients still in residence and they were eager for the scheduled departure the next day. There were a few trips to the rest room and one person (who was not listed as a special needs patient) who was sent to MH ED with chest pain. Otherwise, my time there passed without incident.


I was very impressed with the clinic the staff from MH set up. On Thursday, I asked how long they had been working on the area set aside for them to use. When they told me they rolled in just the day before and got it ready, I was astounded. Although it was not to be compared to the hospital itself, they were well-supplied, had phone and data networks installed and plenty of people to take care of the tasks at hand. One nurse commented there had been talk of setting up a semi-permanent presence in the building for just such events in future. I think this is a great idea.

The folks from the city did a great job, too. Again, it wasn't the best of situations, yet they managed to make the place quite livable and rather comfortable from my point of view. The staff from the city kept the place very clean and sanitary. The recreation rooms were well-stocked and set up. I'm not sure if the food was donated or purchased, but it was a very good idea to have the local restaurants prepare the meals. Good food can make an otherwise difficult experience quite a bit nicer.

One thing I would suggest: If this building is to be used as a shelter again, more handicap-accessible restroom facilities would be very good. The one major problem I saw was the difficulty for mobility-challenged people was getting into and out of the rest rooms. Another set of more permanent shower facilities (also handicap-accessible) would also be a huge plus.

I heard very few complaints from any of the patients I had contact with. Quite the opposite, many were very complimentary of the care and attention they received. Considering the circumstances, I would not have been surprised to hear more complaints. I heard many, many "thank you's" and compliments. It was very gratifying to know the hard work and effort put into the shelter was appreciated.

Lastly, the amount of volunteer time put in at the shelter was astounding to me. At first, I thought those from MH were "on the clock" for their time at the shelter. My admiration for them all greatly increased when I found they were volunteering their time, too. It really does show what a great community we live in.

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