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Choctaw Nation Helps Communities Affected by Hurricanes


- Durant, OK

 by Stacy Hutto & Charles D. Clark

 

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                                                                                                                                               by Deidre Elrod

The Choctaw Nation Emergency Management team of Rachel Nutter, Wendi Marcy, Debra Davis, Hillary Tripp, Carmina Magby and Steve McGee, pack up on Monday, Sept. 4, in Durant for deployment to the Florida Keys.  The team will be among the first to asses the damage and needs of the area in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
Last month, Hurricane Harvey hit southeast Texas with the worst flooding in the state's history. 
 
While clean-up from Hurricane Harvey was ongoing, Hurricane Irma reached the Florida Keys with the strongest winds ever recorded in the Atlantic.  The Choctaw Nation's Emergency Management department had already given assistance to Choctaw families who were victims of Hurricane Harvey.   Emergency Management was in the vanguard of assessing the damage and needs from Hurricane Irma.

"Emergency Management is the department coordinating and providing individual assistance to survivors," said Jeff Hansen, Director of Choctaw Nation Emergency Management.  Hansen said his office began to closely monitor Hurricane Harvey when, "We saw it strengthen from a Category 2 to a Category 4 overnight."    Once the path was pinpointed, they were able to identify 3,400 Choctaw members that live in the affected counties.  After Harvey hit southeast Texas, 31 families were helped, including 34 children, six of whom were "special needs children."  Several of those families who evacuated south Texas made their way to the Choctaw Nation where Emergency Management was able to offer direct assistance to them, including medical.   They also were instructed in filing insurance claims and completing FEMA applications. One family, originally from Idabel, decided to stay and has already found local housing. 

"I have coordinated the delivery of supplies for the Inter-Tribal Emergency Management Coalition," Hansen said.  "We currently have five Medical Reserve Corps staff members working from Durant with the possibility of activating up to 75 trained and credentialed MRC volunteers in the event that we would need them."   The Emergency Management Hotline also made numerous referrals to the proper agencies for help.   Hansen said, the Choctaw Nation also had "one staff member in Atlanta, Georgia at the Home Depot headquarters working on situational awareness on evacuations, power outages, and road closures." 
In addition, after country recording artist Jake Owen's performance at the Choctaw Resort Casino in Durant over the Labor Day Weekend, concert proceeds of $50,000 were combined with the vendors' donation of $20,000 to make a combined $70,000 gift to the Houston Food Bank.   That same weekend, Brent Oakes, Director of the Choctaw Nation's Veterans Advocacy program, was deployed with his National Guard unit to deal with the needs in Texas.

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(from left) Debra Davis, CNHSA; Dr. Dan Zieg, Mayor of Marathon, Florida; Steve McGee, CNHSA; and Marathon City Manager Chuck Lindsey worked together during the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

Plans began more than a week before the hurricane hit to go to Florida to aid those in the wake of Hurricane Irma.  Hansen said, two EM staff, two healthcare staff, and two volunteers went to the Florida Keys "to work with the local jurisdictions on situational awareness, public information, damage assessments, documentation, and general Emergency Operation Center operations."  They worked in two teams consisting of three people. One team was located in Marathon, Florida and the other team was located in the Florida Keys.  They made preparations, including packing a lot of equipment and provisions for the team to be on site in Florida for two-weeks.  Before they deployed to Florida in response to Irma, Hanson said, "They will be among the first to assess the damage and needs of the area."  The two teams provided Incident Management. Incident Management included situational awareness, public information, damage assessments, documentation, and general Emergency Operation Center operations.  While the two teams left Florida on Friday, Sept. 22, the recovery process continues.

For people who have loved ones living in an area hit by a natural disaster, whether it be a tornado, hurricane, or earthquake, one of the worst feelings is not knowing if their loved one is safe.   People in areas affected by natural disasters can let their family and friends know they are safe through the Red Cross website.   To list yourself as safe, when you are able to get an internet connection go to redcross.org and click on the Get Help tab.   Then, under Disaster Relief & Recovery Services click on Contact and Locate Loved Ones.   Under Related Links click on Reconnect with Family after an Emergency and under Family in the U.S., you can either List Yourself as Safe and Well, or Search for a Family Member.   The Biskinik online will have a direct link to the Red Cross Safe and Well page here.

Facebook also has a safe check in feature called Safety Check.  According to a Facebook press release, the Safety Check is activated when an incident occurs.  Once activated Safety Check determines if a person is in the area of the incident by looking at the city listed in your profile, your last location if you use Nearby Friends and the city you last used the internet.  If people in the area are talking about the incident, they will get a notification asking if they want to check in as safe.

The Choctaw Nation Emergency Management office remained open for business to deal with both ongoing disasters.  According to the Choctaw Nation Emergency Management Facebook page, the road to recovery after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma will be a long one.  For those who are interested in donating goods to the affected areas, Emergency Management urges people to please consider a monetary donation instead.  Reputable organizations such as American Red Cross, Samaritan's Purse, or Salvation Army can use these monetary donations to directly provide for the needs of the people affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

For further information on how to donate via these organizations, please visit: American Red Cross at www.redcross.org/donate/hurricane-harvey; Samaritan's Purse at www.samaritanspurse.org; and Salvation Army at www.salvationarmyusa.org.
During a natural disaster anyone needing assistance or information should phone the Emergency Management Hotline at (844) 709-6301.

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                            photos provided by Choctaw Nation Emergency Management
Steve McGee, Facility Manager Director, Choctaw Nation Health Service Authority, discussed how to set up a field hospital in Marathon, Florida with the Disaster Medical Assistant Team (DMAT).
 
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