Disaster relief efforts amid COVID-19 pandemic

Hurricane season may come every year, but this time around, the response is going to look a little different. It’s because disaster relief workers now have to account for COVID-19 as well.

“Pre-COVID, we would just deploy volunteers, we would send equipment, we would just respond to the disaster. In the COVID environment we have to stop, pause, make sure our volunteers are gonna be safe and make sure that we’re not infecting the clients,” explained American Red Cross Senior Disaster Program Manager Paul Carden.

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Carden said the American Red Cross will still have some of their workforce in the field, helping people while wearing masks and staying socially distant, but they’ll also have volunteers working remotely and communicating with families in need over the phone.

“Since the beginning of this COVID outbreak we have been at our national headquarters every day looking at it, looking at what we’ve done, looking at the results of what we’ve done, and constantly change our guidance,” Carden added. “So this is a continual improvement process for us.”

Shari Rudolph of Alexandria-based nonprofit Good360 said her organization has had to adapt as well.

“The world has completely changed in the last 90 days and that has certainly been the case in the philanthropy space overall and in disaster recovery specifically,” she said.

For example, Good360 may need more shelter space than in the past because you can’t have the same density of people, Rudolph explained. She said they’ll need personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies, and potentially even plexiglass dividers between cots. Also, hurricane preparedness kits will now have to include masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer.

“What we’re going to see this year for hurricane season is an extra layer of complexity that is presented by COVID,” Rudolph said. “I think we all have to expect that we’re going to be in a position where we have to face the response to a natural disaster while we’re still trying to contain and prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

“Core services remain the same, the caring compassion remains the same. It’s how we execute that has changed in this environment. So we’re adapting to it,” Carden added.

If you’d like to help with the effort, here’s where you can learn more about American Red Cross and Good360.