Pictured: Volunteers working the American Red Cross Emergency Operation Center (EOC) in Oklahoma City
When the meteorologists and the National Weather Service began predicting serious ice storms and winter weather for most of Oklahoma last week, the Red Cross, Emergency Managers and other community partners got to work.
Supplies, water, vehicles and generators were shipped out to all parts of the state. Potential shelter and warming center locations were identified. Volunteers were trained and mobilized, ready to jump in and help at a moment’s notice, some even going to the shelter locations before the ice hit and sleeping there, ready to open as soon as necessary. Communications between local fire departments, community centers and churches, the Red Cross, state emergency management, corporate donors and many others were executed to make sure all were working together seamlessly for one united goal – to ensure that wherever the storm hit, safe sheltering would be available to anyone who needed it.
Division Disaster Director Lenard Leibe shared these thoughts yesterday on the response to the 2017 winter storm relief operation in Oklahoma:
“I continue to be impressed with on-going work in the affected areas in Northwest Oklahoma. Ten days ago the AOK [Arkansas and Oklahoma] region began planning for a significant ice storm event across Oklahoma, and in typical fashion, readiness activities ensued with a focus on West Central and Northwest Oklahoma. Your readiness and planning paid off – I believe you were in the right place at the right time.
“Ten days later the work continues. As you wake up, drink your coffee (or tea) and turn on the news, ten people woke up in our shelters and countless others are waking up in a friend’s or family member’s house. Just a little under 10,000 customers are still without power and many have minor damage to their homes because of downed trees and limbs.
“To date you have served over 5,000 meals/snacks and many bottles of water. You have been on scene and present to provide warmth, information and, most importantly power, so those displaced from their homes can charge their phones and have access to the news, the latest updates and connectivity with their families. Kudos to those who tirelessly lead the efforts in Northwest Oklahoma and West Central Oklahoma. We know that their success is based on the support of many VOLUNTEERS who worked an overnight shift in a shelter even when no one sought refuge that night or delivered meals to a warming center for a few of individuals seeking a warm place to stay. We also can’t forget the sacrifice of the volunteers who pre-deployed and staged for a night or two in anticipation for an event that didn’t occur in that area – but YOU WERE THERE JUST IN CASE!
“I am also proud of the work of the DRO [Disaster Relief Operation] leadership team who have demonstrated professionalism throughout this response. They are also encouraging the workforce to take care of themselves and treat one another with respect and friendliness and can only be effective with this message by practicing that approach. The work is hard, the work is tough, but we see the culture of kindness prevailing in AOK, and it is refreshing to hear laughter and the occasional quip on the many daily conference calls.
“The work continues even as we see the number of outages decrease. The current outages reflect the hardest areas to restore and some individuals won’t be able to turn the lights on at home for another week or so. Please stay focused on the needs in Northwest Oklahoma. We will need supplies delivered, we will need additional responders to support and relieve those who have been working for ten days, we will need to stay connected with the local, county and state officials. Please be ready and able to support the Northwest Oklahoma crew when/if they need you because we ‘ain’t done yet.’ I can’t thank you enough and am humbled.”
This is the heart of the Red Cross mission; this is the power of volunteers and community collaboration. When we all work together, incredible feats can be achieved. The days of an operation like this can be long and people get tired, but the positive attitudes and willing cooperation of everyone who came together, from all the different agencies and organizations and walks of life, made this operation a (continuing) success. There are still areas operating without power, and in those areas shelters and warming centers are still open. Thankfully, many parts of Oklahoma were not hit as hard as predicted, but for those that were, food and a warm place to sleep are and have been available, thanks to everyone who came together as one compassionate OK community.