Rescuers get disaster prep

It takes more than CPR classes and first-aid kits to respond to Haiti earthquake victims.

Though both are useful, they don't prepare relief workers for the death and destruction that comes with large-scale natural disasters. It takes well-trained responders to build a multimillion dollar relief operation quickly.

American Red Cross volunteers on the ground in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, have been trained extensively on how to help those in need while keeping it together themselves by participating in psychological first aid classes as well as other disaster relief preparation.

"We don't want to place someone in that environment, and then they become part of the disaster rather than part of the relief," said Scott Emerson, director of service delivery for the Southern Nevada Chapter. "A lot of folks just aren't equipped to handle those kinds of environments."

Emerson has been with the Red Cross for 23 years. His first 12 years were spent as a volunteer before he became a paid staffer. He ran a respite center for 9/11 emergency workers at ground zero and was deployed to Houston during Hurricane Katrina as well as several other tornado and flood-related relief efforts throughout the country.

There are no immediate plans for the local chapter to deploy anyone to Haiti, Emerson said.

Volunteers in Haiti are sleeping on camping cots for multiple days in tropical heat and high humidity and have very limited access to shower facilities. They're also faced with logistical difficulties in getting supplies to the hungry and injured.

"The earthquake that struck obviously caused huge devastation and loss of life," Emerson said. "It also demolished the infrastructure, almost every piece has to be imported."

Despite the challenges, help is arriving. The port near the capital city has reopened, although the waters are shallow. That means larger ships cannot make it to dock so supplies must be transported to smaller boats before they are unloaded on shore.

Emerson said there is very limited road access because of traffic jammed with relief supplies. At its worst, it took one full day to drive goods to their final destination in the capital city.

"Think if you were in your own car driving somewhere for 24 hours, how long does a tank of gas last?" Emerson said. "There are no gas stations on the street corner. If you run out of gas, then you're blocking the road so other trucks can't get through. It seems like a very simple thing but a very complicated situation is created."

Red Cross officials are suggesting people start locally in their volunteer efforts in understanding how the process works and the planning involved.

Cash is the most flexible form of relief because it allows workers to purchase products from vendors in Haiti, which helps the local economy rebound as well.

Loose donations, such as clothing and canned goods, create problems for relief workers looking to help others quickly, Emerson added.

The organization works with vendors whose products have been tested and are packaged in a way that allow for efficiency and repetition.

"It's easier if everything in boxes is the same," he said. "Although it is very well intended, (donations) take much effort to sort and clean and may not meet the needs of the people there. Go have a neighborhood garage sale, turn it into cash and then donate it."

Contact Kristi Jourdan at or 702-383-0279.


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