September 20, 2005
San Antonio Katrina Relief Update
An Alert Reader emails the following about her recent experiences working with evacuees in San Antonio:
Anyway, I went out to building 1536 and put in my first 12 hour shift on Friday 9/9 and was back out there on Sat, Sun, Mon, Tues. I took my husband out there on Saturday and he painted with some of the little kids. IWell, no wonder they aren't letting the press in there. This does not surprise me I hate to say. When I went down to volunteer it was chaos. I don't think I would let Mrs. C go back by herself either.
guess that I should have mentioned that they put me in the daycare/play area the first day and I worked there every day after that. Very difficult and trying conditions. Horrible problems with the older kids completely unsupervised and beating the crap out of the little ones, parents taking off and leaving the children for 12 hours or more and stumbling in drunk at 1am and us still sitting there with the poor little things, child protective services
taking away another two children from a Mom who was really messed up and then her coming after the volunteers and threatening us-one way to lose good volunteers! We were unable to get security on many occasions, even when I was really scared and begging, violent children going through withdrawals (can you believe it?) volunteers who only stayed an hour before leaving in horror, hungry, dirty children that no-one bathed or fed or pottied
unless we did it, no hand-washing facilities or clean-up area and lots of these children had really bad diarrea and vomiting. Pee and poo everywhere! Absolutely no help from the powers that be, except inane rules like "we
would really like it if you would wear a white t-shirt tomorrow so that we can all be uniform in appearance"
And we would pick up these poor little kids and they would just hang onto us, they had to be peeled off our necks. Lots of love and affection and they really wanted our protection. But the big kids made life hell, so I tossed them out one night and they went over to the bed area and started pegging us with rocks. I was the last one out on Monday night and was told that no-one could walk me to my car, that security couldn't leave their posts; this was
after the admin people had told me that one of the mothers was looking for me to beat me up (the one who had her kids removed by CPS) I kid you not, I was scared to death and it sure was a long walk to my car at midnight. Tuesday was worse, if you can imagine and every day we were so short handed, 30 kids or more and only 2 or 3 volunteers, then if we had to take a child to the porta-potties outside then we were a man down until the person
came back. Crazy. My husband said no more, that if the Red Cross can't provide secure parking and an escort to the cars and keep us from being threatened by the "clients" then he says I can't go back.
Perhaps all of this has some relevance to a request by a reader to discuss the private vs. the public sector and civil-military relations. Things would of course be much more organized if the military ran such facilities, but I think people know that. I don't think that's a great idea though, because the military needs to be focused on fighting abroad, not inwardly focused here in the US. Also, I'm just not a big fan of active duty military activity (aside from training of course) domestically. I think posse comitatus was a good idea.
In the end, a clear hierarchy and chain of command, as offered by the military, would alleviate a number of these friction-type problems in relief efforts. But I'm not sure that's possible because of the multitude of agencies involved. I have little faith in the average bureaucrat to be Johnny-on-the-Spot in getting anything done. It's not always their faults either. Institutions breed complacency and risk-aversion. These two traits lead to problems in chaotic and rapidly changing environments.
September 3, 2005
San Antonio Katrina Relief Report
I've been processing evacuees at the former Kelly AFB for the Red Cross. Mrs. Chester, a medical student, was treating those with injuries as part of the medical response. Some observations:
-I observed county police, city police, Red Cross, City of San Antonio, US Air Force and a handful of medical organizations all there. Things seemed to be moving along, but I'm not sure if anyone was in charge of the effort as a whole. A couple of coordination meetings seem like a good idea.
-It was filling up fast and they need more Red Cross volunteers. I went to drop off Mrs. C and we both ended up staying for four hours. If you've got a facility in your town and can space the time, get down there. Most of what I did was on the spot problem-solving, but every little bit helps. There were huge bottlenecks in processing evacuees. They need more people.
-These facilities are going to need a good scrubbing immediately or disease is going to spread. Trash was already being strewn throughout the building and they are not designed to hold that many people in such tight quarters for long periods. They will need some janitorial services of some kind.
-Many evacuees are traveling in little groups of friends from their neighborhood and do not wish to be separated from their neighbors.
-Mrs C. reports that medications are an issue. The pharmacy had to close for the night around 11 pm and won't be back til the morning. They're going to need a lot more medications. Mrs. C says that if you have any medical background at all, they need your help: EMT, RN, PA, MD, whatever. If there's an evac center in your city, get down there.
-Food is going to be a huge issue. They ran our while I was there.
-Clothing will be huge too. Most people had nothing more than what they were wearing. Many had no shoes. A few had fashioned clothing out of trash bags.
-If you are a volunteer, when speaking to evacuees, be prepared to answer the following questions: when can we eat? where's the bathroom? can I get a shower? are there phones? how do I apply for disaster relief? how do I find someone here? if someone can pick me up, can I leave?
-If you are a volunteer, and don't know the answer to questions that evacuees are asking, don't say I don't know. Say, follow me and we'll find out. Have them sit down while you investigate. Just simple little problem solving is greatly appreciated: "There's a man here with a heart condition." "How do I get assigned a bed?"
If anyone else out there is volunteering, I hope that helps.
If it was me, I would not want to stay in some kind of camp for very long -- maybe long enough to get medically screened. I think that anyone who can offer to house some evacuees until they get on their feet will be doing a great service. These mass evac facilities are going to be some very crowded, dirty, and probably depressing places to stay no matter how well they are planned and coordinated -- and from the perspective of this Marine, do you really want them to be that comfortable? We don't want people to homestead at government camps for the long term, we want them to get back on their feet as quickly as possible. That's probably a thought for the longer term, but it's worth remembering over the next couple of weeks.
Hope that helps.
UPDATE: One more thing, I forgot: I saw no media of any kind there, which was surprising to me. I figured I'd see some TV cameras at least.