LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - A Nacogdoches pastor is finding a way for the community's church leaders to voice concerns about their role in helping Hurricane Harvey evacuees
What they have to say could influence their service during future disasters.
First Christian Church of Nacogdoches was one of many Texas churches to be the first safe havens for Hurricane Harvey refugees.
"Because every community has churches and churches have boots on the ground already," said Charlie Colgan, the pastor of the First Christian Church of Nacogdoches.
Governor Greg Abbott's Rebuild Texas initiative states, "Volunteers and faith-based organizations are the backbone of disaster recovery in Texas."
In Nacogdoches, there's an evident strain upon providing that service.
"The largest concern we had with this particular hurricane was organization, and we even had Red Cross volunteers apologize to us for the disorganization we had to experiences," Colgan said.
The American Red Cross disaster program manager for the Deep East territory, Scott Brawley was excluded from an after-action review called by emergency management departments last week.
On Monday, Brawley released a media letter, writing, "I strongly disagree with anyone at this AAR that commented the Red Cross was not prepared.' Brawley cited pre-planning and logistical action were taken.
Colgan said he wants and welcomes Brawley to a pastor review meeting on Nov. 27.
"It's certainly going to be a conversation, so everyone will have a chance to speak into it," Colgan said. "This is not a chance to bash anybody. We just want to find a better way to do this for the next time it happens."
State Representative Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches) will also be invited to the discussion.
"I think we tweak what we've done," Clardy said. "I really do think we have a fantastic model to build from and we can improve on it."
The goal will be establishing a balance of faithful service with agency and state policies.
The disaster review among pastors, American Red Cross, political leaders and the public is scheduled for Monday, November 27th at 10 a.m. at First Christian Church of Nacogdoches on Mound Street.
A Deep East Texas American Red Cross official has released a letter which addresses criticism voiced by emergency management officials last week.
Brawley released the following statement after some officials said Red Cross was ill-prepared for Hurricane Harvey, and they did not believe communication went well. The officials had been meeting to talk through reactions to the hurricane.
Below is the statement in full:
My name is Scott Brawley. I am the American Red Cross Disaster Program Manager for the Deep East Territory which covers Angelina, Nacogdoches, Trinity, Houston, San Augustine, Shelby and Sabine Counties. Up front, I'd like to thank Haley [Squiers] from KTRE News and Steve Knight from The Lufkin News for their reports on last week's Emergency Management After Action Review for Hurricane Harvey. Had it not been for their reporting and a couple calls to my office by a few concerned Lufkin residents and Red Cross Volunteers, I would not have known this event took place. It's a sad oversight, and it's human nature to feel a little disappointed when your friends have a party and you are not invited but I will get over it. Actually, I should say we will get over it because the counties represented in this AAR overlap into three Red Cross Territories, including mine. The Disaster Program Managers for those Territories were also not notified this event was happening. I can't speak to what occurred in the other Red Cross Territories but I will speak to what happened in the Deep East Territory.
I strongly disagree with anyone at this AAR that commented the Red Cross was not prepared. Well before we were called upon to shelter in this area, the Red Cross hosted meetings for the public, our shelter partners, and local Red Cross Volunteers at both the Pitser Garrison Convention Center in Lufkin and at the Expo Center in Nacogdoches. The intent was to discuss sheltering, identify "non-Red Cross Volunteers" in the community that are willing to work in a shelter if the need arises, and to explain to the public the state's and counties' process for opening shelters and the Red Cross' role in supporting that process. Those events generated an additional 200 Volunteers willing to work in Angelina and Nacogdoches Counties. In terms of logistics; also prior to being called upon to shelter, cots, blankets, snacks and water were delivered with the help of the Marine Corps League in
Lufkin from the Red Cross Warehouse in Lufkin to 5 shelters on stand-by in Nacogdoches and 5 of the 6 shelters on stand-by in Angelina County. Stand-by means shelters have agreed to open if needed. That gave this area the capacity to shelter 1,755 people. I cannot emphasize enough how critical the Red Cross Warehouse in Lufkin was to logistically supporting shelters in 8 counties during Hurricane Harvey. The Red Cross is currently in jeopardy of losing this warehouse. If we lose this warehouse, the surrounding counties will lose the capacity to respond to a major event. That would have been a big AAR takeaway that still needs to be addressed and should be a major concern of our local government officials and concerned citizens as well as the Red Cross.
The very first shelter opened in the Deep East Territory was not in Nacogdoches or Angelina County, it was the VFW in Trinity County. A neighborhood flooded. An open shelter means cots are set up, personnel are on site, and the shelter is ready to begin in-processing arrivals. That shelter was opened for 3 days. When I received word from Steve Floyd, the Lufkin Emergency Manager, that he needed a sheltering plan to house 600 people in Lufkin, he had the info within 30 minutes. I believe the response time for the Nacogdoches Emergency Management team which also required a plan to shelter 600 was about the same. Three shelters in Lufkin were opened. One of those shelters was our friends with the Salvation Army. Four shelters were opened in Nacogdoches. When it was clear that only 21% of the projected 1200 evacuees was all that was coming, 3 shelters were closed. Eventually, all evacuees were consolidated at the Expo Center in Nacogdoches. I'm at a loss for why Emergency Managers in any county were having problems tracking which shelters were open and which shelters were closed since they were the ones directing shelter openings and closures.
I've been a Disaster Program Manager for 3 1/2 years. I don't claim to know everything that entails being an Emergency Manager but my 20 years in the Army has given me a lot of insight on leadership, running an operation, and AARs. I can tell you that in the military, if you are in charge of an operation, you take ownership and are held accountable for everything that happens. If you have an issue with a supporting unit, you work it off line. Usually, we don't criticize our supporting units publicly because as the leader of the operation you are admitting your failure as a leader. Emergency Managers are the leaders for disaster relief operations in their counties and cities. The Red Cross supports Emergency Managers as their Mass Care Team. As I said before, I was not at this AAR but I'm under the impression that a lot of the Emergency Managers criticizing the Red Cross for failing them are not taking ownership of their role in that alleged failure. Leaders can't have it both ways. Leaders don't have the luxury of taking credit for the good and blaming others for the bad. Great leaders give credit to others for the good and take responsibility for the bad even if they had no control of the situation.
There has been a lot of negative things in general said about the Red Cross during Hurricane Harvey. I think that is a very sad thing. Both in this Territory and across the state of Texas, thousands of Volunteers working for the Red Cross, Red Cross Partners and their Volunteers, and local and national businesses supporting the Red Cross did some awesome things to shelter, feed, care for, and help thousands of people in need begin to move forward with their lives. I am extremely grateful for all they accomplished and the inspiration they provided me with. It's disheartening to see all the criticism overshadowing all of the good they have done. As of 9 October, the Red Cross distributed $190 million to 477,000 Hurricane Harvey victims in Texas. I don't have statistics on feeding and the distribution of items like brooms, shovels, rakes, water, etc. for the state, but I do know that the bill for feeding the evacuees bussed to Nacogdoches was approximately $33,000. The city and county do not pay for that, the Red Cross does. All of the amazing Volunteers that selflessly gave their time and talents in shelters were not organized and trained by city or county Emergency Managers nor were the supplies needed to run those shelters provided by the city or county. That was the Red Cross' and our sheltering partners" role. None of the awesome churches that have signed up as Red Cross shelter partners were recruited by city or county Emergency Managers. That was also the Red Cross' role. I am by no means saying the Red Cross or I are anywhere near perfect or implying we single-handedly do everything meaningful during a disaster response. Nothing is perfect and disaster response is a giant team effort. It is also not my intention to downplay the role of Emergency Managers. I will say this. Before everyone gets into too much of a frenzy bashing the Red Cross, maybe everyone, including the Emergency Managers that were so quick to criticize the Red Cross at this event, should consider how things would have been with no Red Cross.
I and all Red Cross employees and Volunteers sincerely welcome discussion from Emergency Managers and anyone else that has ideas on how to make things run better the next time we have to respond to any disaster in Texas. After all, that is what an AAR is all about and that is why the Red Cross would have participated if we would have been invited.