Preparedness

Convoy of Hope Begins Deployments to Help with Hurricane Response

The group will set up distribution sites in conjunction with local needs as Florence hits.

by Jim McKay / September 12, 2018
Volunteer Madison Spickler, center, helps to create 5,000 bags of food prior to the start of an event organized by the Convoy of Hope, Saturday, May 6, 2017, in the parking area in front of the Gaston Gazette offices in Gastonia, N.C. The humanitarian organization brought free food, shoes, services and more to those in need. AP/Mike Hensdill

As Hurricane Florence threatens the Carolina coast, groups of responders are poised to offer relief in many different forms.

One such group is the Convoy of Hope, which today sent an initial team to North Carolina ahead of Florence. The team hopes to set up by tomorrow morning and have a distribution site ready with supplies and equipment to aid the response.

From there, teams will splinter off in the affected areas to offer relief in the form of water, food, other supplies and later, cleanup after Florence has left its mark.

“We don’t have a destination yet,” said Jeff Nene, national spokesperson for Convoy of Hope. “We’re trying to see what direction Florence is going to take, but we’ll get somewhere in that western Carolina area and be prepared to move from there.”

Another team member is heading to Raleigh, N.C., to embed in its EOC and coordinate with emergency management officials there, including FEMA.

That coordination is an important part of any deployment, to make the best use of resources and not get in the way and it’s something Nene and the group learned during Hurricane Katrina.

“We set up in Mississippi, and we really pride ourselves on getting there quickly, but we got all set up and realized we set up right across the street from where FEMA already had a predetermined site,” Nene said. “So, you have two big distribution sites right across the street from each other. We’re clogging the street and not helping the community because it’s all in one spot instead of spread over two.”

He said that since then, FEMA and many local emergency managers are comfortable partnering with Convoy of Hope and sharing resources or personnel to benefit a community.

Tomorrow, another, larger group of 12 or 13 vehicles and four or five tractor trailers with supplies will deploy somewhere. The organization is self-supporting — relying on donations from businesses, churches and individuals — and self-contained. Its deployment will include a bunk trailer that sleeps 19 and a cook trailer.

The organization has about 18 full-time people, and once on the ground enlists volunteers, who don’t have to be supported. The full-timers include retired personnel who volunteer, including the cook. The group arrives with two or three forklifts, a box truck or two and a couple of generators.

“We’ll have anywhere from 100 or more, sometimes a few less, depending on the size of the event, on the ground working on the distribution side of it,” Nene said. “Normally, on a big one like this, we’ll set up one main site and then we’ll do little splinter sites off that.”

The distribution sites will distribute supplies, usually food, water, ice and buckets, depending on what’s needed.  There ware two methods of distribution. Often, the group will set up in a church parking lot with four or six stations running four or six cars through at a time.

Each station is the same as the rest, containing the same supplies, like food, water and ice. “Somebody ahead of time has already opened their trunk and the volunteers at each station will distribute the supplies,” Nene said. “Then the next group pulls in.”

The second option for distribution is to assign vans or pick-up trucks to drive through a district with products and deliver to whoever is in need.

“After that, we’ll start cleanup as well,” Nene said. “We’ll train volunteers. In this case, there’s likely to be a lot of flooding so we’ll go in and pull out carpet and drywall and insulation and get it out to the curbs.”

That’s another area where coordination with FEMA is critical. They don’t want to get in the way of somebody receiving benefits from the federal government because they’ve already had the work done.

For now, the key is staying out of harm’s way while getting to a spot where people will be in need of help. The forecast indicates there will be plenty of need.