Friday, April 25, 2014

Search & Rescue

Emergency vehiclesRecently, there was a devastating landslide in Washington State that wiped out an entire community.

So far, the search and rescue teams have discovered 41 victims who died. There are still members of the community who are missing. Even though a month has passed since the landslide, the search and recovery effort continues. And it will continue for a long time to come.

When something like this happens, lots of people want to jump in and help in some way. That’s understandable, and it’s admirable that so many folks want to volunteer to lend a hand to relieve the suffering of people who have gone through a disaster.

But timing is everything.

At the moment of the disaster, if you’re a survivor and you can help other people get out alive, that’s great. But when the search and rescue teams arrive, or when the situation evolves into a search and recovery effort, that’s when things change insofar as your ability to help.

And this is what I want to talk about today. What is actually helpful, and what just gets in the way of the search teams?

One of the local officials went on the radio recently to talk about how people who are not part of the official search and recovery effort can help. And while he was thankful for all the volunteers, he also mentioned some things that people do that are not helpful.

Let’s go there first.

An event like this one, a natural disaster that wipes out a large area, is going to take a long time to recover from. Not only was the town wiped out, but the slide closed off a mile of state highway under mud and rocks and trees to a depth of up to 25 feet. The reason they can’t just bulldoze the rubble off the highway is because there might still be victims who are missing buried in that rubble. Clearing the area is going to take time. And until every missing person is found or the search is terminated, and the highway is cleared, the area will remain cordoned off so search teams can do their work.

This tragedy has been all over the news, and there are people who just want to drive up and look at it in person. The local official I mentioned earlier made a plea for people to stay away and let the workers do their jobs. “This isn’t a tourist spot,” he said.

For those who want to volunteer to help out in the wake of a disaster (not only this one, but any disaster), the best advice is to call the Red Cross or the local disaster relief organization and tell them you would like to volunteer to help. They’ll put your name on a list, and they’ll call you when the scene has been secured enough to allow volunteers to come in and help.

It’s nice of people to want to send things to help comfort survivors, but even that can become overwhelming for the relief agencies. The best thing to donate or contribute is money. Give it to the Red Cross or to your church, if they’re organizing a humanitarian relief effort.

Doing things in an organized way helps avoid more chaos in an already chaotic situation.

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