Red Cross braces for terror

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — To serve growing needs in the Charlotte metro area, finding more space has been a priority for the Greater Carolinas Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Barring unexpected shocks, the chapter had hoped to ask the Charlotte Campaign Planning Board this spring to review and schedule plans for a capital campaign of roughly $15 million to pay for new and consolidated quarters for the chapter and the Carolinas Blood Services Region.

But the Sept. 11 attacks created more critical needs and delayed those expansion plans by two to three years, says Joe Becker, executive director.

So in May and June, the chapter will try to raise $1 million from corporations and foundations to prepare itself to handle an act of terrorism that kills, injures or displaces 50,000 people.

The chapter wants to be prepared to shelter 5,000 people, or one-tenth of those affected, and serve 50,000 to 100,000 meals a day for roughly a week.

Half of the campaign dollars would pay for cots, blankets, vehicles, trailers and other supplies, while the other half would convert a vacant restaurant in southwest Charlotte to a disaster command center equipped with phones, computers and a power system.

The building could double as classroom space when not needed for disasters.

“Major metropolitan areas have to be more prepared than we’ve been in the past, and need to have alternative facilities should the facilities currently in use become unavailable,” said Jack Szczepek, a consultant for Royal & SunAlliance and campaign chair. 

After the attacks, the Red Cross reviewed disaster-response plans revamped after the 1996 Oklahoma City bombing, which had triggered a review of natural-disaster response plans.

The new plan, affecting chapters in the 40 biggest U.S. communities, extends to roughly a week the length of time local chapters would provide shelter, food and clothing before receiving national Red Cross support.

The plan also increases the number of people whose emergency needs the chapters would serve, and calls for local chapters to team up with public and private groups to ensure that needed facilities, supplies and volunteers are available to cope with the impact of weapons of mass destruction.

Locally, for example, people would be housed at high schools and big facilities like the Charlotte Coliseum and Charlotte Convention Center, with food stored at commercial warehouses and meals prepared at the big facilities.

The chapter also is lining up medical and mental health professionals, trades workers and other volunteers to handle the types of needs New York City faced after Sept. 11.

Becker says the plan would help the Red Cross cope not only with a terrorist attack, but also with day-to-day emergencies such as fires and natural disasters such as floods and hurricanes.

“We might not need any of this capacity for 20 years, or we might need it right away,” he says. “But we’ve got to be prepared.”

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