Training in ICS, Incident Action Plan helps volunteers deliver hurricane relief services

10/19/2017 12:00 AM

When Hurricanes Harvey and Irma struck, St. Vincent de Paul – USA Disaster Services Corporation was one of the faith-based organizations that deployed to help people in the impacted areas. They set up Parish Recovery Assistance Centers (P-RACs) in the disaster zones and staffed them with volunteers.

“We have deployed volunteers from all over the United States, called Rapid Response Teams, to provide support to our St. Vincent de Paul Councils in Texas and in parts of Florida that are in disaster zones,” said Elizabeth Disco-Shearer, CEO of St. Vincent de Paul – USA Disaster Services Corporation.

”training“Because of the size and magnitude of Harvey and Irma, we needed training on an industrial-scale process, tools and consistent methodology,” she said. She knew about the expertise of the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) in training on incident command, disaster preparation and disaster response, so she contacted Dan Buchanan with the ESTI Preparedness Program at TEEX for some just-in-time, customized training.

In just a few days, Buchanan tailored a training program for volunteers who would be staffing the P-RACS across Texas. The goal was to help the groups get organized and build an incident action plan specific for the Texas deployment, and then to train the volunteers on how to use and apply the plan, Buchanan said.

Within two weeks of Harvey’s landfall in Houston, 30 to 40 volunteers had been trained and deployed throughout the areas in Texas impacted by storm, from the Corpus Christi area to the Houston-Galveston area and over to the Beaumont area.

“We used the Incident Command model and structure and standardized forms,” Disco-Shearer said. “Each night, the P-RAC leader sent a situation report (SIT REP), including data from the day, so I could assess the needs and issues.”

”volunteersLess than two weeks later, the group was moving to Florida after Hurricane Irma made landfall. Disco-Shearer called on Buchanan again to offer the training for 60 – 70 volunteers in Fort Myers, Fla., as teams arrived and fanned out to P-RACS in the hardest hit areas.

“They had a need and we were able to step up and help out,” Buchanan said.

“I’m very excited about this partnership,” said Disco-Shearer. “TEEX has the expertise, and we have the volunteers, so together we are better able to deliver services to survivors across the U.S.

“I’m so grateful to TEEX. We couldn’t have effectively delivered services on this magnitude without the training. We will continue to partner with TEEX in the future when we set up these assistance centers.”

“Our goal is to bring ICS tools into areas where they can be useful,” Buchanan said. The ESTI-Preparedness Program had previously conducted emergency preparedness training and a hurricane tabletop exercise for The Archdiocese in Galveston-Houston, which covers 10 counties. “There are many faith-based organizations that respond to disasters, and we can help them with their emergency preparedness and response efforts,” he added.

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