Responders, Red Cross volunteers adjust to pandemic challenges during disaster emergencies

Responders, Red Cross volunteers adjust to pandemic challenges during disaster emergencies

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - First responders and emergency volunteers are on the front lines helping families during a hurricane disaster, but the pandemic has changed how many of them will be assisting residents during a crisis.

Ninety percent of the American Red Cross workforce are volunteers. They’re trained and ready to respond in case Hurricane Isaias does come our way. But the way Red Cross volunteers are helping residents will look a bit different because of the current COVID environment.

Staff at the American Red Cross said one of the biggest changes for volunteers during the disaster response is how they assist residents inside of their shelters.

The volunteers will now have to screen all people before they come into a shelter and ensure everyone is wearing a mask. Volunteers will also have to take the residents’ temperatures.

The capacity of the shelters will now be reduced, and the workers will have to ensure everyone is able to keep the 6-feet distance rule in the shelter.

South Carolina American Red Cross Communications Director Benjamin Williamson said he’s proud of how hard volunteers are working to keep everyone safe during both the pandemic and the possible hurricane threat.

“This has been a very difficult five to six months [for volunteers],” Williamson said. “I talked to one volunteer, she says it’s been difficult but we’re servants and we want to help the community. With Hurricane Isaias out there, we have had months and months of preparation on how to respond in a COVID-19 environment. It will certainly look different but the mission of the Red Cross will stay the same.”

Williamson said because the Red Cross has a plan in place, it’s prepared to help families in need if the worst hurricane scenario becomes a reality.

“During Hurricane Dorian, we had a couple of volunteers that flew from the State of Washington to South Carolina to help with that response,” Williamson said. “Because of COVID-19, as an organization, we’re trying to limit deploying volunteers from outside their region. Because capacity of the shelters is going to be reduced, we’re going to have to open more shelters and with that, we need volunteers to work in these shelters.”

The pandemic is also impacting the way some of our first responders help families during emergencies.

Myrtle Beach Fire Department Capt. Jon Evans said his team is taking extra precautions when responding to any emergency, which includes wearing masks and having dispatchers screening the calls before arriving on the screen

“This job can be stressful at times without everything else going on,” Evans said. “We’re taking it in strides and we’re there for our community.”

He’s asking families to take the same safety precautions before fire officers arrive on the scene, to prevent anyone from being exposed to the virus.

“If we are exposed, our protocol is to quarantine ourselves and get tested,” Evans said. “Could be days before we get back into service and that has affected our department drastically with how we’ve had to staff. The best thing our community can do for us is give us as much information as they can before we walk into a scene, so we don’t have to worry about this pandemic any longer then we have to.”

Evans urges all residents to have a hurricane plan in place. And for families who visit a shelter, he said to bring a mask and hand sanitizer with you, to protect yourself from any possible exposure to the virus.

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