FL volunteers keep eye on storm

While forecasters ponder track and intensity, voluntary organizations ready possible response

BY VICKI BARNES | SANFORD, FL | August 25, 2012

"We are treating this as a very active drill"

—Catherine Penrod, Switchboard Miami

While many in Florida are focused on the political storms brewing at the state and national level, a number of local disaster response organizations are preparing for the impact Tropical Storm Isaac could have on the Sunshine State.

The large, slow-moving storm has moved across the Caribbean and is already beginning to dump some rain on the Florida Keys and South Florida, though the storm is not expected to make landfall in the US until it reaches the northern Gulf of Mexico, in the Florida Panhandle or, perhaps, further west. The computer generated models show a westward trend, but disaster response preparations are being made in Florida just in case.

“We are treating this as a very active drill,” said Catherine Penrod, Chief Operating Officer of Switchboard Miami, which offers telephone crisis information in South Florida.

While Switchboard prepares to help storm victims find the assistance they need if Isaac brings wind and rain to the state, Fritz Wilson, State Director of the Florida Baptist Disaster Relief, says he has volunteers standing by to do what they can to clear a path if the storm makes landfall in Florida.

“We have clean up teams ready around the state,” he said. “They will move in if they’re needed. We also have childcare and shower trailers on stand by.”

As the storm approaches Florida it appears more likely that it will pass over the lower Keys and the southern tip of the state before moving out into the Gulf. Even where the storm does not hit directly, there will be a great deal of rain and wind. The storm could spawn severe thunderstorms and possibly tornadoes.

Wilson said the teams are prepared to go wherever they are needed.

Dan Hoeft, operations coordinator for Nechama Jewish Response, said his volunteers are prepared to work with volunteers from Americorps and other volunteers trained by Nechma. He said his group offers training to anyone who wants to help those in need and sends them to locations where natural disasters have affected people.

The storm is likely to first hit Florida on Sunday rather than Monday so residents there are battening down the hatches quickly. Kathy Fulton, operations manager of ALAN (the American Logistics Action Network), said volunteers are “standing by to help other organizations reach unmet needs” in whatever way they can. Her organization works with transportation and industry partners to bring supplies to relief organizations that are working on the ground in disaster areas.

Most of the relief organizations said they believe the storm will have little impact in Florida so they are keeping a close eye on the storm reports and coordinating with both the state Emergency Operations Center and local EOCs.

In addition to the denominational organizations, some large churches around the state are offering services as well. Northland, A Church Distributed, in Longwood north of Orlando has a small fleet of mobile kitchens ready to roll. Church volunteers have been put on alert so they can move out quickly when the storm hits.

Florida VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters) chair Kathy Broyard said volunteers have come together quickly in Florida because years of experience has taught them that hurricanes are unpredictable and it doesn’t matter what the charts show, everyone has to be ready for what happens.

“We’re just going to have to keep our fingers crossed that we don’t have to roll into action,” she said.

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