August 18 to 22, 2007
Parking lot, Wyndham Hotel, Little Rock, Arkansas
Interior, latest model ERV
The Red Cross set up a staging area in Little Rock Arkansas in anticipation of Hurricane Dean making landfall in one of the Gulf Coast states. Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs) from all over the midwest and eastern states were mobilized. ERV 2172-Washtenaw County-was a part of that operation, and I was assigned as a driver. The first part of the assignment was to deliver the ERV to Little Rock, which took most of two days. Hurricane Dean failed to swing northward and strike the United States, and the operation was stood down the day after we arrived. ERVs are not released until after they have been inspected for road-worthiness, which takes about half an hour to forty-five minutes. With fifty ERVs and two inspectors, getting cleared to return could take two days. We were cleared for home on the morning of the second day.
A reporter asked; "are you disappointed to make the trip for nothing?"
Not at all. The mission statement of the American Red Cross says, in part, that it exists to help people prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters. A staging operation is a part of that preparedness mission, whether the disaster materializes or not. Hurricanes are perhaps the only natural disaster with advanced warning. It would be irresponsible not to take advantage of that. It takes several days to mobilize the level of resources needed to begin responding to a major hurricane. If those resources are pre positioned near an anticipated disaster, that response time can be cut to as little as a few hours.
A staging operation is an opportunity to test every part of the system. It tests a chapter's ability to mobilize their ERV and fulfill their staffing obligations in an emergency. Most ERV operations are low mileage, local responses. A national-level deployment is an opportunity for some long-distance driving experience for the crews, and also serves as a shakedown of the vehicle. Maintenance issues that might not show themselves on short trips will often be discovered on a longer delivery run. Part of the check-in process at the staging area is a thorough inspection by experts on ERV operation and construction. The waiting time can be used to correct any flaws that turn up in the inspections.
A staging operation is also a chance for ERV drivers to get together and trade ideas, tips, and procedures. Every model year is a bit different-some are very different-and this is a chance to learn about ERVs we might be assigned to on another operation. Experienced drivers are eager to mentor others. Like any other group with a single objective, we tell war stories and socialize as well.
The entire process is perfect practice bringing together people from all over the country on short notice and turning them into an operating group overnight. All of this makes a staging operation worthwhile, even without a disaster.
Dale Austin 2007
All images and text Copyright Dale Austin, 1962-2008