Steve McHenry, Director of the Susquehanna and Wyoming Counties (PA) Chapter of the American Red Cross chapter, discussed his role in responding to the catastrophic flood beginning on August 28, 2011 as a result of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee over a several week period. Although the storms created damage throughout the East Coast of the United States, the interview focused on the impact of the disaster on the small Pennsylvania town of Tunkhannock (population 1,764) and the surrounding area. McHenry also made some observations about the Red Cross chapter’s neutral role on the well-water contamination controversy in Dimock, PA saying that the topic is “now just down to the legal system”.
McHenry described the traditional government-centric command and control response to the area’s flooding crisis. Emergency responders and the Red Cross faced significant challenges to get to flood victims with roads, in some cases, being washed away. He described an incident where Red Cross volunteers finally got through to a community only to find that the local volunteer fire department was already feeding up to 900 meals. He called the resiliency of the people “phenomenal” saying he could describe hundreds of examples of everyday citizens stepping up to help others. He partly attributed this response to the rural character of the victims who exhibit these qualities of everyday through self-reliance and occasional neighborly reciprocal assistance. In times of local disasters, these individuals spontaneously work together to address immediate threats to life followed by stability, recovery and restoration. McHenry believes that the community has “only gotten stronger” because of the disaster and expressed optimism that on-going planning efforts will improve community resiliency in the future.
Even though he believed that not many people accessed Twitter during the disaster, Facebook was used extensively by the local Red Cross and United Way to provide information and request donations. McHenry posted on Facebook their need to have dozens of blankets from the shelters washed to be re-used later that evening. He was stunned by the response when several individuals showed up in less than ten minutes to take the blankets home to wash and dry. However, the nature of this disaster necessitated that electricity outages inhibited social media communications until the power was restored.
The American Red Cross always recommends that residents have emergency preparedness kits available in the event of disaster. Given the importance of communications through social media today, do you think they should recommend the inclusion of an extra phone, tablet, and laptop batteries in the event of a power outage?