After Record Floods, Red Cross Makes Readjustments

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(Host) Volunteer organizations and emergency management officials say this spring’s flooding was unprecedented in terms of the number of events, and because Lake Champlain levels remained high for so long.

As a result, they say they’ve found a number of ways to improve their response to future disasters.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) For the Red Cross, the floods, combined with a major fire in Brattleboro made for a busy spring.

At one point the organization was operating four emergency shelters simultaneously and coordinating the efforts of hundreds of volunteers, some from as far away as California.

Larry Crist is regional executive of the Vermont and New Hampshire Valley Region of the American Red Cross.

Crist says even though the Red Cross had held disaster training drills at the Barre Auditorium, when it came time to use the facility as a shelter last May, it was clear a drill and an actual emergency are two different things.

(Crist) "Once you actually open that facility as a shelter required almost three times as many staff in real life as we thought it required in the drills. So the lesson learned there is we really need more volunteers and we need to provide better training for them."

(Zind) There were also lessons for Vermont Emergency Management. Deputy Director Peter Coffey says the office was unprepared for the flooding damage cause by winds on Lake Champlain, even after lake levels had begun to recede. And Coffey says the clean-up has posed problems not encountered in other emergencies.

(Coffey) "I think the biggest amount of work that we have to do is debris management. In the past the most debris we’ve had to deal with is woody debris from wind storms and ice storms. And now we’ve got furniture, we’ve got carpet, we’ve got drywall, refrigerators that were in basements, freezers that need to be taken care of and that has been a real issue for us."

(Zind) Coffey says there’s still much work to be done. After clean up is finished, repairs will be needed.

He says Federal officials are currently meeting with Vermonters whose property was damaged by Lake Champlain flooding to determine how much government assistance there is to help with those repairs.

For VPR news, I’m Steve Zind.

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