Wednesday was the first night the American Red Cross East Texas chapter offered public training for volunteers in light of now Tropical Storm Isaac, which first made landfall Tuesday evening as a Category 1 hurricane.
“Even though there are four, four is good,” training instructor Brenda Jones said. “To us, even a small number is a big number.”
The potential for Isaac to wreak havoc on the Gulf Coast means organizations such as the Red Cross, East Texas Food Bank and even the U.S. Marshals have been preparing for action in Tyler over the past week.
Shelters opened to hold volunteers; disaster supplies from Feeding America were staged and the Marshals opened their mobile command center to be ready if Louisianans were forced to flee their state and cross into Texas.
While Isaac's worst is expected to stay to the east of Texas, the National Weather Service predictions for rainfall as a result of the storm have increased recently.
As of Wednesday evening, predictions for rain peaked at 60 percent Thursday and only dropped to 40 percent by Friday. Saturday, only a 20 percent chance of rain is in the forecast. Temperatures through the weekend range from the uppers 80s Thursday to the upper 90s over the weekend, according to the National Weather Service.
Despite the lack of immediate danger to East Texas, Ms. Jones said the work of relief organizations in the region is really just beginning, because they come in “when the water recedes.”
That's also the thinking behind the U.S. Marshals, who moved their $1 million mobile command unit from Oklahoma City to Tyler just in case.
“If the power has been lost and there are no communications we can bring everyone together so they can talk to each other. We can also take a 911 dispatcher from the area and have them sit at our desk and they can talk to everyone they do on a regular basis,” said Marc Crawford, senior inspector with the U.S. Marshals' Service Office of Emergency Management.
East Texas Food Bank spokeswoman Karolyn Davis said pallets of emergency food and supplies from Feeding America, which provides food for food banks and organizations such as the Red Cross, arrived and were staged in case they were needed.
All of the efforts, including those of the trainees at the Wednesday meeting, are a means of anticipating the worst, Ms. Jones said.
“We focus on not the right now, but what could be happening later on,” she said.
For Paulette Bergerson, Wednesday's meeting was not her first training to be a Red Cross volunteer.
The retired insurance claims adjuster said that for years she waited to get involved with the organization because she was preoccupied with a career and raising children.
“I'm retired now, my kids are grown,” she said. “I can go and do things now and help.”
Volunteers make up more than 90 percent of the Red Cross emergency responders, Ms. Jones said, and while others are currently dispatched out, locals interested in helping are all the more important. It's the people who know the area and the resources who come in handy when crises strike, she said.
Ms. Jones said she hopes more people in the area will attend training sessions held today and Saturday, but even if it's only the four from Wednesday's meeting, it's headway in help. Like preparations immediately before a disaster, volunteers are all about being ready for the call, whenever it may come.
“We're capacity building,” she said. “We want volunteers for the future.”
For more information on volunteering, visit northtexas.redcross.org.
Staff writer Kenneth Dean contributed to this report.