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The Unsung Heroes of Rescue & Recovery

It was a September from hell! Hurricane Harvey dumped a massive amount of water in Texas as August was coming to an end, causing flooding like never seen before. And just as the recovery operations got underway, on September 10 Hurricane Irma brought deadly storm surges to Florida. As the winds from Irma calmed down and the country started dividing its first responders between Texas and Florida, Maria, a category 5 storm, hit Puerto Rico on September 20. A few thousand miles away around the same time a magnitude 7 Richter scale earthquake wreaked havoc in Mexico City. It was like we could not catch a tiny little break. September came to an end but not the destruction. For the first time since 2005, United States experienced a fourth landfall in one hurricane season, thanks to Hurricane Nate that made landfall just this past weekend in Louisiana.

Four major storms in less than six weeks meant a burden like never before on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the local Offices of Emergency Management (OEM), that this country proudly proclaims as some of the best disaster management services in the world. It is during disasters like these that local task forces get deployed for urban search and rescue operations.

Task forces are generally comprised of Police, Fire, EMS and civilians trained specifically to respond to natural and man-made disasters. These people don’t always get paid for doing this work. Several task forces are made solely of volunteers. Yes, people who give their time and energy to rescue people in disaster zones and help with recovery for no personal gains.

Some task forces have members that volunteer their time for training but get paid by the government when deployed for urban search and rescue. One such Task Force is Massachusetts Task Force 1 or MA-TF1. MA-TF 1 is one of the nation’s 28 FEMA Urban Search and Rescue teams. Sponsored by the city of Beverly, MA, the team comprises of volunteers from all six of the New England states. 

             Giving Day October 13th 2017

As hard as it is to do, if one had to pick the biggest of the catastrophes amongst the four hurricanes that made landfall this past month, it is quite certain Maria will be it. The fact that an island was hit makes the rescue and recovery effort that much more difficult. With infrastructure compromised and airports shut down, getting first responders and supplies in is not as simple as driving a truck to the disaster area. Weak infrastructure and lack of proper building codes caused a bigger destruction than what could otherwise have been. The island of Puerto Rico is in a humanitarian crisis. Recovery has to start and the sooner the better.

In the wake of Hurricane Maria, first responders are focusing their efforts on life, personal safety and access to safe shelters for the survivors. MA-TF 1 is one of the six FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces deployed in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Some of the men and women on this task force has already spent weeks in Texas and Florida before being shipped off to Puerto Rico. The 27-member team and two rescue dogs have a long and hard task to now accomplish.

The work there is just getting started. Rescue and recovery is expensive. Less than 15% of the MA-TF 1’s yearly expenses come from state or federal (FEMA) sources. All members of the task force train as volunteers and the search dogs are personal property of the volunteers. The work these individuals do requires intensive training and often times these dedicated members pay out of their own pocket for their travel to different parts of the country for training. The task force is always in need of money for training and equipment. It is not difficult to imagine the burden of expense these agencies must be facing in the face of a multitude of natural disasters in such a short time.

Health Products For You has dedicated October 13, Friday, as a Giving Day to benefit MA-TF 1. The timing could not have been better. A percentage of the total sales that day will be dedicated to the Massachusetts Task Force to help them help the millions in need of rescue and recovery.

 

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