Red Cross Analyzes Response To Gustav

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Volunteers loaded boxes of comfort kits onto a Red Cross van Thursday morning.  The personal hygience products were on their way to dozens of hurricane evacuees at a shelter in Biloxi.

"We're doing it right this time," said Bill Brent.

Brent is the Director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chapter of the American Red Cross. He says the Red Cross worked well with other relief agencies, so the response to Gustav was more organized compared to what happened after Katrina.

"Just incredible coordination and support of each other," said Brent. "And that's the way it's supposed to work, and we didn't understand that. We didn't value that as much as we do now."

Even though preparations started months before the storm hit, some problems did pop up. In one case, a truck loaded with water shifted during a trip to Pearl River County. Volunteers had to restock 22,000 cans of water, causing a six hour delay.

"When the contra flow started out of New Orleans, we had a very difficult time getting the rest of our supplies to Pearl River County," said Brent. "That was a huge challenge for us. We know now that we need to move supplies sooner."

The huge response from all over the country was also unexpected. The Red Cross requested 12 Emergency Response Vehicles. Instead, 32 ERVs showed up, along with dozens of volunteers.

A team from Merrillville, Indiana, has been driving through neighborhoods, handing out snacks, water and supplies.  The volunteers have been in South Mississippi since last Thursday.

"When you have a disaster, there's a need. People need your help, and you have to be wiling and able to do this," said Red Cross volunteer Jesse Jones.

With volunteers who are eager to help, and truck loads of supplies already in place, the Red Cross is ready, should another disaster strike.

"Gearing up for the next one.  Already we've solved some of the problems we had this time, so we'll be even more ready and prepared," said Brent.

Several Red Cross volunteers have already been deployed to other disaster zones, like Natchez.  And some are waiting for requests to help storm victims in Louisiana.