Colette Whelan participates in disaster response in the Horn of Africa
Colette Whelan, HSPR public health liaison, volunteered on the Kenya/Somali border from Aug. 9-27, where she worked as the nurse in a four-member team with Medical Teams International, which, in concert with World Concern, is providing medical clinics for residents.
With the world focus and almost all of the international aid and rescue efforts being directed to Somali refugees, little attention has been paid to the 15,000 long-term resident families and their clans who have received little or no medical care for years and are in equal need. In addition, these communities assist the fragile refugees as best they can, utilizing their already scarce resources and thus making their own fragile situations even more tentative. The needs of these communities are just as fundamental as those of the refugees and it is towards these groups that MTI and World Concern have turned their attention. The goal of the volunteers in Somalia is to provide the first medical attention that the resident population has received in years. Clinics have been set up in Somalia’s Dhobley, as well as in two villages on the Kenyan side.
MTI strives to not only assuage temporary problems, but also to develop the infrastructures that will be able to sustain the communities after all outside aid has gone. This means training local staff to be able to run basic clinics, to establish links that can serve as reliable communication, and to transport sick patients. This is not to imply that no facilities currently exist. Some facilities exist but are poorly coordinated and dysfunctional. The challenge is to tap into existing systems and leave a system that can continue to work. The hope of the volunteer teams is that the basics of development and capacity building lead to far more dividends in the long run. In this crisis, MTI bears an unglamorous but critical role of bringing services and hope to the forgotten and forsaken.
Carey Palm deployed to Warm Springs wildfire response
On Aug. 24, lightning struck the Warm Springs Reservation and sparked a series of High Cascades Complex wildfires — namely the Badger Butte, Trout Lake, Powerline, Razorback, West Hills and Seekseequa fires — that surrounded the Warm Springs community. Tribal Preparedness Liaison Carey Palm was requested by the Warm Springs Fire and Safety Department chief to deploy on Aug. 28 and remained in Warm Springs through Sept. 1. Total area burned was approximately 108,000 acres, with full fire containment completed by Sept. 16.
This incident was managed by the Warm Springs Agency Type III Team, two Type II Incident Management Teams, ORCA (Oregon/California) & Blue Mountain, and the Office of the State Fire Marshall’s Structure Protection Team with a total of 530 personnel responding to the event. The complexity of the response was reflected in the number and size of wildfires surrounding the community, in addition to issues of multiple jurisdictions and authorities. Coordination and cooperation was required among a variety of entities that included the Warm Springs Tribal Council, the governing tribal body and ultimate authority for events on the reservation, Warm Springs Fire Management (structural fires), Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Warm Springs Agency (wildland fires), Indian Health Service (IHS), which manages the operations at the clinic, while all other health and medical programs were managed by Warm Springs tribal services.
It took the efforts of the tribe, federal agencies (BIA, IHS, BLM), state agencies (OSFM, ODOT), the High Cascades Complex Incident Management Teams, and more than 500 firefighters to provide an efficient response. The physical geography of the fire spanned three counties, including Jefferson, Wasco and Sherman counties. The incident illustrated an incredible amount of cooperation and collaboration among all involved as well as the excellent working relationship between the tribe and the counties. Community impact was extensive with two subdivisions, containing approximately 100 residents, evacuated for approximately five days (important to note that there were several families who chose not to evacuate). A Red Cross shelter was erected at the Community Center in Warm Springs on Aug. 27 and was open to Sept. 1 and a special needs shelter (for smoke-related difficulties), managed by Warm Springs, stood at the church across the street from the hospital in Madras from Aug. 30-31 (open two nights), but remained on standby through mid-September. Cultural and community activities, such as banning huckleberry picking; responding to funeral arrangement timelines; and hosting the annual Back-to-School barbeque in Warm Springs created coordination challenges as well.
Michael Kubler Deployed in Hurricane Irene Response
Last August, as Irene approached the East Coast, the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) — a means for local and state level jurisdictions to provide assistance to their peers across the nation — received several requests for assistance from states in the projected path of the storm. Michael Kubler, HSPR planner with state government and military logistics experience, was the first EMAC deployment for the Oregon Public Health Division. His experience was screened against the received requests and his packet was forwarded to Delaware as a possible match in their need for a logistics section chief. Once submitted as a volunteer, in less than 24 hours, he was on his way to Washington, D.C., just before the storm hit. Arriving in Delaware soon after, he went right to work in the state EOC as the logistics chief for the next three days.
Some lessons learned from this high-speed process:
- Be ready to go when you volunteer — there are several hurdles to jump and they come by quickly.
- Use your government ID at the airport. Flights east were being cancelled the morning of Kubler's departure; by using his government ID and EMAC orders, he was able to receive priority rescheduling.
Be prepared to be flexible in your travel arrangements. Washington, D.C., became Kubler's arrival point, instead of his original destination of Philadelphia, due to the weather.
Special thanks to Kelly Jo Craigmiles, of Oregon Emergency Management, who led Michael through each phase of the deployment process from the initial orientation briefing to demobilization. EMAC, launched in 1996, outlines the legal basis for the deployment of staff to other jurisdictions. The agreement solves the problems of liability and sets the responsibilities of cost, credentials, etc., between agencies. This sharing of personnel leverages the federal investment made in training and program development in emergency management over the last decade.