On the eve of Hurricane Katrina's one-year anniversary, more than 30 community leaders—invited by the Mississippi offices of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)—attended a comprehensive, one-day American Red Cross training to prepare them to serve as Red Cross shelter managers.
More than 30 community leaders gathered near Gulfport, Miss., on August 26 to attend an American Red Cross shelter management training.
(Photo Credit: Gene Dailey/American Red Cross)
The Biloxi, Miss., training was the first of nine similar sessions occurring throughout the Gulf Coast region. These trainings are a key component of a renewed partnership between the Red Cross and the NAACP. Between 500 and 600 NAACP members are now prepared to assist the Red Cross in a volunteer role.
“We’re very excited about these trainings… to see that the Red Cross is really trying to do something,” said Angela Long, a project manager for the NAACP who coordinates the Red Cross relationship.
“Both groups have long histories of providing quality services to their constituents so this partnership made sense,” said Smyther Fallen, a national liaison for response partner services for the American Red Cross.
From Paper to Practice
While an official Memorandum of Understanding was signed in 1981, both the NAACP and the Red Cross admit that their past partnership was symbolic in nature and didn’t involve a true, action-oriented plan. Hurricane Katrina, however, quickly moved this long-term relationship from paper to practice.
After the 2005 storm devastated the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and parts of Alabama, critics targeted the lack of relief in rural areas where large portions of the population were African Americans. While there are more than 800 Red Cross chapters, critics noted the gaps in service that occurred when chapters weren’t present in the community. Additionally, the Red Cross heard that its volunteer force didn’t adequately represent the population it was serving.
The Red Cross reacted to these concerns, in part, by seeking out community partners such as the NAACP who would effectively assist the organization in its disaster response.
“The NAACP recognized how profound it was that the Red Cross would say ‘come into my house and tell me what’s wrong’,” said Fallen, who originally worked with the NAACP and moved to the Red Cross to assist with their disaster response plans.
The resulting conversations between the NAACP and the Red Cross resulted in this action plan that involves both training of volunteers and education of both groups.
“After Katrina, many people in the African American community didn’t know what to expect from the Red Cross. How long would they be here? What would they provide?” said Fallen. “Education of what both groups provide was needed.”
Experienced Community Leaders Lend Their Support
Among the more than 30 individuals learning the ins and outs of shelter management were a nurse, a community organizer, a pastor with a military background and a retired teacher.
One of the community leaders, Eugene Bryant, expressed the need to involve local churches
as a point of information sharing. "Information is power," he said.
(Photo Credit: Gene Dailey/American Red Cross)
One of these volunteers, Eugene Bryant, saw firsthand the destructive force of Hurricane Katrina. He also had a front row seat to the resulting chaos as a part of the volunteer fire department in Monticello, Miss. As a professional with military experience, he was frustrated by the lack of systems and decided to become more involved in disaster response.
Bryant has taken advantage of the NAACP/Red Cross partnership already and has organized several potential Red Cross shelter sites in his community. As a local pastor, he sees the value of communicating disaster preparedness through the pulpit and he has encouraged pastors in the area to follow suit.
Addressing the issue of how churches can work effectively with the independent, non-partisan Red Cross, Bryant said, “When you’re reaching out to help, political affiliations, religion, all those things, don’t matter.”
Ida Caverly, a nurse with 12 years of experience, worked at her local hospital through Hurricane Katrina where they sheltered local residents along with patients. Caverly also saw the need firsthand for coordination among the groups.
“[Katrina] was very difficult without a Red Cross chapter near us,” said Caverly. “We’re ready to help them help the community next time.”
Event organizers hope that this training will be a launching pad for additional Red Cross training. Both Caverly and Bryant also share this hope and plan on continuing their training.
Tuesday, August 29, 2019, marks the one-year anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Katrina. For more information about the continued Red Cross response in the Gulf Coast, including details on its Hurricane Recovery Program, visit RedCross.org.
The American Red Cross has helped people mobilize to help their neighbors for 125 years. Last year, victims of a record 72,883 disasters, most of them fires, turned to the nearly 1 million volunteers and 35,000 employees of the Red Cross for help and hope. Through more than 800 locally supported chapters, more than 15 million people each year gain the skills they need to prepare for and respond to emergencies in their homes, communities and world. Almost 4 million people give blood—the gift of life—through the Red Cross, making it the largest supplier of blood and blood products in the United States. The Red Cross helps thousands of U.S. service members separated from their families by military duty stay connected. As part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, a global network of more than 180 national societies, the Red Cross helps restore hope and dignity to the world's most vulnerable people. An average of 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs. The Red Cross is not a government agency; it relies on donations of time, money, and blood to do its work.