Elite EMS officials got word Sunday evening to prepare for possible deployment to Texas. As of Monday afternoon, personnel were still on standby in case they were asked to provide assistance to relief efforts in the wake of the post-storm flooding, Elite Director of Services Glenn Miller said.
“We have not received an activation order, but we are at the ready to send a couple units and a handful of people,” Miller said.
The system is organized by the Federal Emergency Response Agency, which requests assistance through American Medical Response Co., a national company that specializes in emergency medical transport and services. When AMR sends out the call, strike teams of ambulances like those from Elite EMS will be on the road within two hours and, in Elite EMS’ case, to Dallas within 18 hours, he said.
From Dallas, Elite EMS personnel would be dispatched to the affected areas.
However, the crews cannot go until they are called.
“We’re in a hurry up and wait situation,” Miller said.
If they do receive the order, two ambulances and eight people will be sent to Dallas. Depending on the situation, the strike teams are always prepared to be self-sufficient for 72 hours, bringing food, snacks, toiletries and even a tent, he said.
Once they arrive, it is uncertain what kinds of duties the ambulance crews could be performing. They might assist in ambulance search and rescue, the evacuation of the elderly from nursing homes and hospitals or sheltering activities, Miller said.
“When we went to Katrina, we did all of the above. It was different every day,” he said.
His wife, paramedic and deputy director Courtney Ivan, participated in ambulance strike teams sent to both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy. She described the experiences as “almost surreal.”
“Katrina was like you weren’t even in a part of our own country. We were using roads as boat ramps,” Ivan said. “In Hurricane Sandy, there were power outages, and even though they still had the manpower, a lot of the ambulances had been flooded.”
Even if the crew is called down they might not deal with the actual effects of the storm.
They might be answering the 911 calls that local emergency responders cannot get to because they are occupied with so many storm rescues, Ivan said.
It could be an especially important task in a heavily populated area like Houston.
“There’s so many calls they’re backing up. We’re still on standby for relief efforts, but if we do get called, it will probably be to relieve ambulances already there or to serve as additional resources,” Ivan said.
One of the reasons Texas has been particularly hard hit, Miller said, is that the ground is not soaking up the water, which is intensifying the flooding.
“The fact is this is a water event more than a storm event, which was the same kind of problem with Katrina,” Miller said. “Except Houston is the fourth-largest city in the U.S.”
Ivan said she will post updates on Elite’s Facebook page as personnel wait for word on their next step.
In addition to Elite EMS:
• The Red Cross in western Pennsylvania reported 32 of its people are en route to Houston, including a Hermitage resident.
Red Cross spokesman Dan Tobin said, “They are trained for helping people get to shelters, along with seeing they get meals. We also have people trained in mental health issues.
“This is a stressful time for those hurricane individuals and they need to talk it through with someone.’’
Once the rain stops and the water recedes, the Red Cross will be sending caseworkers to the area to deal with such issues as helping people find long-term housing if needed.