Smaller Shelters To Be Utilized When Housing Storm Evacuees
By REGIS L. ROBERTS
Changes are in place to prepare for this hurricane season's potential impact on Tyler with the hope that problems from last year are not repeated.
The big change is that shelters are going small scale, said Deaun Stinecipher, emergency management assistant for Tyler.
This means the vacant Wal-Mart on Troup Highway that was used to house evacuees from the Beaumont area will not be used this year, she said.
"We came to the conclusion that small shelters run a lot easier than large shelters," she said.
Beaumont residents esca-ping Ike in mid-September 2008 described conditions at the Wal-Mart as a "madhouse" and "hellish."
Tyler officials had not expected evacuees from Ike as Beaumont had yet to issue an evacuation order, but 6,000 ended up seeking refuge here.
The Wal-Mart, which required cleaning from two years of dust accumulation, was only halfway ready for the roughly 1,600 Ike evacuees who were ultimately housed there in September.
Ms. Stinecipher said it not only lacked shower and restroom facilities, but having so many people under one roof made for tense situations.
Coordination with Bea-umont has since consisted of drills, summits and Depart-ment of Homeland Security conferences to ensure things go better, she said.
Furthermore, if evacuees need to come to Tyler, she said new electronic ordering proce-sses will guarantee that the people have everything they need.
"Before we did it by fax and it worked -- it always worked," she said, but added that ordering supplies such as cots, food, water and medical supplies electronically will work even better.
Ms. Stinecipher said plans are also in place to get better medical service to people with diabetes or on dialysis.
Whereas before patients needing such care would be placed without consideration for their condition, this year she said the city will group those people into one or two shelters together to best serve their medical needs.
The Smith County Red Cross, the East Texas Food Bank and Goodwill Industries are among the organizations in Tyler also gearing up to assist evacuees.
Linda Edwards, volunteer services director for the Smith County Red Cross, said it will meet with experienced volunteers June 16 to discuss last season and the lessons that can be applied now.
She is new to the Smith County Red Cross so she does not have insight into the major hurdles that cropped up in 2008, but the meeting will give the organization some perspective.
Emergency Service Director Lisa Hoover said Red Cross volunteers will also go over positions needed for this year.
Edwards said it is inevitable that volunteers spontaneously come out to help, but they are starting early with a June 27 volunteer fair so the organization can have trained volunteers when needed.
Booths will be set up to explain jobs the organization is recruiting for where people can speak with seasoned volunteers.
Both events will be at the Smith County Red Cross' central office at 320 E. Rieck Road.
The East Texas Food Bank, Communications Director Karolyn Davis said, gets an early jump on the season with National Hurricane Preparedness Week, which was May 24-30 this year.
A week before the event, health care company Abbott provided 2,600 food boxes that were distributed by the East Texas Food Bank to other banks around Texas and Louisiana, she said.
Davis said donations remain steady throughout the year at the bank.
One of four strategically placed banks for disaster response, she said it distributed 240,000 pounds of food (or 200,000 meals) during Gustav and Ike.
People interested in helping the Food Bank can visit their central location at 3201 Robertson or go to www.easttexasfoodbank.org
"We always need time, food and funds," Davis said.
Opportunities in Tyler, a division of Goodwill Industries, is working with Greensboro Industries of the Blind and FEMA to prepare tarps, Sales Manager Shannon Carter said.
Opportunities in Tyler gives work to people with barriers to employment, like mental and physical disabilities, she said, with this effort including folding, packaging and processing tarps.
They received 167,000 tarps Tuesday and will start production Monday, with an expected 400,000 tarps to be processed throughout the season, she said.
Because these tarps will go to places such as Georgia and Maryland, Opportunities in Tyler's impact is not confined to this city. "We're not just doing Tyler, we're helping the nation," Carter said.
Tyler Fire Department Capt. Jeff Akin, whom Ms. Stinecipher assists in emergency management, said that while a lot needs to be done, he thinks the city is making good progress.
"We're prepared for whatever comes our way but things are still up in the air," he said.