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Far from the storm, Utah Red Cross prepares to help

Utah prepares to send local volunteers and resources to help with Hurricane Dorian relief efforts

Red Cross workers load a Red Cross vehicle with supplies.
Utah prepares to send local volunteers and resources to help with Hurricane Dorian relief efforts.
Michael Brandy, Deseret News Archives

SALT LAKE CITY — Hurricane Dorian may be thousands of miles from Utah, but its impact will be felt locally as the state’s Red Cross staff and volunteers prepare to support rescue and relief efforts in communities along the southeast coast this week.

“The Red Cross in Utah is always ready to help out wherever the need is, and right now, we are providing needed support for Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and other affected areas,” Heidi Ruster, Regional CEO for Utah and Nevada, said in a press release Sunday.

Utah will send both volunteers and resources to assist with disaster preparations and in the post-storm relief efforts.

Disaster response is difficult, as officials try to predict what a storm, hurricane or fire might do, and then try to adapt to unexpected developments. Sunday, Hurricane Dorian had grown to a Category 5 Hurricane, with expected winds of up to 185 mph and gusts reaching 220 mph. Questions about whether the storm would actually hit the U.S. or not, as well as where issues might arise, will remain until just hours before residents and rescue workers must respond to them.

Utah Red Cross officials said 19 million people live in areas that could be directly impacted by the hurricane, and as many as 50,000 people could be subject of evacuation orders. The Red Cross moves into disaster areas in coordination with other organizations, and their objective is to get relief to those suffering in the wake of disasters.

The unpredictability, however, is something those who work for and those who volunteer with the Red Cross are intimately familiar with, according to Rich Woodruff, Communications director for the organization in Utah and Nevada.

“We know the drill,” he said. “We’ve done this a lot, especially the past couple of years. It’s really tested our capacity.”

He said the organization’s philosophy is to “stand ready,” which means doing what they can in advance of a disaster and being “nimble” and capable of adjustments in a response.

The Utah Red Cross sent one of its Emergency Response Vehicles, which is normally based in Provo, to join the national fleet of more than 100 vehicles converging on the affected area.

“That’s about 1/3 of our fleet,” Woodruff said. “We’ve got 300 vehicles around the country, and we just move them all over the place as we need them, like chess pieces.”

They won’t know exactly what the needs are until Hurricane hits — or doesn’t.

“It kind of depends on what actually plays out,” he said. “There are evacuations in place, so we need to see how many people have to have shelter or need food. ... We have people on the ground, waiting and bracing for impact. We won’t know exactly what’s needed until we see the damage and displacement.”

He said the flooding is usually a much greater concern, and the last couple of years, that’s been a major part of the Red Cross effort. They’ve also had to respond to wildfires, which are also unpredictable and devastating.

“We’ve had (volunteers and supplies) heading in both directions,” he said, adding he’s been deployed 10 times to help with relief efforts around the country. “The past two years is the busiest disaster season we’ve seen in recent memory.”

For those not affected, it can feel unnerving to watch friends, families and even strangers struggle with disasters, but one way to help is to support Red Cross efforts, either specifically or in general. Those who want to help with a specific disaster, like Hurricane Dorian, can text the word Dorian to 90999.

Donations can also be given by visiting the group’s website or by calling 1-800-REDCROSS. Donations enable the Red Cross to provide food, shelter, relief supplies, emotional support and recovery planning, including helping people connect with government, private and non-profit assistance.