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Blanco County Praised by Hurricane Response Managers
Wednesday, November 26, 2008 • Posted November 25, 2008

A panel of disaster managers from religious agencies, the American Red Cross, and the state and federal governments used the 2008 hurricane season to describe how their entities work, and to praise Blanco County for its support for hurricane survivors.

Government can't do everything in disaster response, said Jack Doebbler, Regional Liaison Officer for the Governor's Division of Emergency Management in Austin. That's why organizations like the Saturday meeting's host Blanco County Disaster Response Group, are so important.

"Texans help one another," Doebbler said, "and we do it better than anyone else. It's not because of government, but because of the people and volunteer organizations."

Sure, he added, government's going to be there with a lot of assistance...for a while...but then government goes home.

"When your home is wiped out, who's going to help you long-term? Blanco County's going to help you.

"The residents of southeast Texas were blessed by having people like you to take care of them. They, and the state of Texas, thank you."

Keith Berger, Volunteer Services chairman for the San Antonio Chapter of the American Red Cross, said local organizations like the disaster response group become critical partners when the area is impacted -- directly or indirectly -- by a disaster.

"At one point, when it looked like Hurricane Ike was going to hit the Corpus Christi area, we had a lot of people come to San Antonio seeking shelter. Then Ike shifted its target farther east, so all those people went home, but a new evacuee population began showing up from the coast east of Corpus, and finally from the Houston-Galveston area."

That meant San Antonio shelters opened early and stayed open as evacuees cycled through, putting a greater demand on facilities, supplies and volunteers.

"Helping support that demand is the job of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD)," explained Harvey Howell, who is president of the San Antonio VOAD in addition to serving as a national response team member for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

"The VOAD pulls together a variety of volunteer and religious entities so they know each other, understand who can provide which resources, and gets members trained in advance so they can step into a disaster response quickly and be effective immediately," Howell added.

Establishing a Blanco County VOAD to bring together more churches, clubs and associations is one of the Blanco County Disaster Response Group's goals for 2009.

That kind of organization is critical in a county, said Worth Haggerton, head of Partner Relations and Planning for the Central Texas Red Cross chapter in Austin.

"A lot of groups and individuals want to help in the heat of a disaster," he explained, "but they don't know how the system works, how they can fit into it, or how to connect to it. So they do what they can, and often aren't happy with the result."

If they're connected to other organizations which can support them, and to the main disaster response structure, they can get the assistance and guidance they need to be effective.

The Red Cross, he said, will help as much as it can, but we have to know what you're doing and what you need.

One question raised was how to speed up the flow of disaster aid to small communities. It is common for relief to go initially to the larger cities affected, with small rural towns getting help days or even weeks later.

"In Texas, that depends largely on the county judge," said Don Jacks, the Federal Emergency Management Agency's External Affairs Officer in the federal-state Joint Field Office in Austin, and soon to be a Blanco County resident with his wife, Pat, also a FEMA employee.

Texas law makes the county judge the top disaster response official and the point of contact with the state.

"He needs to get on the phone quickly," Jacks added, "making sure we know what his county needs. But the system requires that such requests come through him, not through a mayor or church or response organization."

The panel discussion at the Blanco United Methodist Church in Blanco Saturday also covered how the agencies work, interact with each other, and with local groups like Blanco County's.

How did the Blanco County Disaster Response Group earn praise from the speakers? During and after Hurricane Ike, it opened an evacuee shelter in Johnson City; filled and sent flood buckets to help survivors clean up flooded homes; filled and delivered a truck of food, ice, water and gasoline to survivors in Houston; aided a Galveston children's home which had evacuated to Hays County; and filled "laundry kits" for evacuees stuck in Austin and unable to go home. Between disasters, it provides training and education, such as Saturday's panel.

The BCDRG welcomes new members interested in disaster preparation and response. Call JoAnn Routh at 868-7414 or go to the group's website at http://www.blancocountydisasterresponsegroup.com.

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