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Harvey victims receive help from midstate Red Cross warehouse

Cumberland County houses one of five disaster field supply centers in U.S.

Daren Couples manages the American Red Cross Disaster Field Supply Center in North Middleton Township, Cumberland County. This is one of five facilities nationwide that houses the organization's relief supplies. - (Photo / Amy Spangler)

American Red Cross offices across the country have combined forces to send necessities like food, water and toiletries to victims of Tropical Storm Harvey. Many of those supplies started their journey at a warehouse in Cumberland County.

The Central Pennsylvania branch of the American Red Cross has sent 12 trailers to stock shelters, as well as 25 local volunteers, to the relief efforts in Texas and Louisiana as of Wednesday, said Kim Maiolo, regional director of marketing and communications for the Red Cross’s Central Pennsylvania region.

These resources are in high demand as flooding and winds of near-unprecedented proportions continue to pummel several major cities. The storm devastated parts of Texas, including the highly populated Houston area, earlier this week, and made a second landfall Wednesday on the Louisiana-Texas border.

The best way to help locally is through monetary donations to the Red Cross, Maiolo said. Donated supplies take too much time to sort, clean and ship, she said, especially during a disaster of this magnitude.

More information about how to donate is available on the Red Cross’s website. You can also text also text HARVEY to 90999 to donate $10.

Below is a story the Central Penn Business Journal published last November detailing the operations at the Red Cross’s North Middleton warehouse, which also went into high gear after disasters like Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

A disaster readiness hub

A lone volunteer on a forklift rolled through the American Red Cross’s North Middleton Township warehouse on a Monday afternoon in late October. 

Boxes upon boxes sat in neatly wrapped rows, not a single package out of place.  

The spotless floors shined.  

The sporadic chunks of empty shelves were the only indication that this 120,000-square-foot warehouse near Carlisle was, just a few weeks ago, helping lead the Red Cross’s relief efforts in one of the biggest disasters the organization has seen since Hurricane Katrina.  

The warehouse is one of just five disaster field supply centers for the Red Cross in the U.S. Although it is mostly quiet for much of the year — the warehouse’s manager is the only employee — it transforms into an efficient machine of moving boxes and tractor-trailers when disaster strikes. 

Wide impact

Disaster field supply centers are a relatively new concept that arose from lessons the Red Cross learned during Hurricane Katrina.

The storm, which devastated the southeast in 2005, brought to light a need for a system that could send supplies to as many as tens of thousands of people within hours of a natural or man-made emergency, said Jeri Sims, regional CEO for the Red Cross’s central Pennsylvania region.

The Red Cross warehouse in North Middleton Township emerged from that need. Constructed about three-and-a-half years ago, it houses thousands of pre-packaged kits to meet survivors’ basic needs: cots and blankets for shelters, gloves and dust masks for cleanup crews, nonperishable lasagna and pretzels for victims, among many other supplies.

Amy Spangler

The center — along with counterparts in Missouri, Georgia, Nevada and Texas — can help people in disasters throughout the United States. The Carlisle-area warehouse has sent supplies as far as Louisiana and Florida in the past six months.

Before this hurricane season, the warehouse went 18 months without a major emergency.

Then a string of natural disasters hit, culminating in Hurricane Matthew.

The storm was the most widespread event to hit the country since the supply center opened, said disaster warehouse manager Daren Couples.

While other storms have caused more casualties or wreaked worse damage, Matthew hammered a string of East Coast states, from Florida to Virginia.

The disaster showed the warehouse’s full abilities. With the help of volunteers and trucking companies, the Red Cross sent 26 tractor-trailers full of supplies to the affected areas, Couples said.

Matthew happened to strike during what has been an unusually busy summer for the Red Cross. The organization has also had to contend with flash floods in West Virginia and Louisiana.

But even after all that, many of the warehouse’s shelves are still full, ready to respond to whatever happens next.

The logistics of disaster

Amy Spangler

The Red Cross supply center ended up in North Middleton Township for the same reason as other warehouses in the area: the location is close to major highways.

Situated off Allen Road, it sits just minutes from the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Interstate 81. About 50 percent of the U.S. population is within a 10-hour truck commute from this logistics hub, according to an advertisement for a nearby Prologis industrial park.

For these reasons, the Carlisle area has attracted Amazon, Pepsi and an under-construction 2-million-square-foot Goodman Birtcher warehouse, among other industrial sites.

Cumberland County, in fact, had nearly 48 million square feet of space dedicated to warehouse and distribution sites as of early 2016, more than any other county in the midstate, according to CBRE Group Inc.

The Carlisle area has been a prime destination for distribution centers ­— so much so, in fact, that Jonathan Bowser, CEO of the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corp., told the Central Penn Business Journal in June that the area around Allen Road “is pretty much saturated.”

The warehouses there also have to contend with the fact that affordable housing and public transportation are difficult to come by in rural areas of the county, which can make attracting employees a challenge.

Luckily for the Red Cross, the nonprofit’s warehouse doesn’t have to deal with any of these issues.

Unlike a company like Amazon, which is constantly shipping out single packages to different destinations, the Red Cross deals with sporadic, but massive, shipments, Couples said.

That means it does not need a huge workforce or massive amounts of space.

Couples spends much of his non-disaster time maximizing the efficiency of the warehouse’s layout, rethinking the best places to put each of the thousands of boxes.
He also makes sure every item is accounted for and expired supplies are swapped out for new ones.

“It’s almost like being a fireman,” Couples explained. Just like firefighters would want to have their boots ready and coat hanging on a hook before a fire alarm goes off, Couples wants to make sure he’s ready to go when something like Matthew hits.

He handles the job more or less on his own. The warehouse, he said, is “his baby,” and with 28 years of experience working for the Red Cross, he knows how to keep it running smoothly.

When the storms do come, the Red Cross has a list of volunteers it can call to help Couples load supplies onto trucks and get them to the people who need them.

That might mean working 16 hours a day, seven days a week until the job is done.

And when it is?

“She’ll get restocked, and we’ll do it all again,” Couples said.

Jennifer Wentz
Jennifer Wentz covers Lancaster County, York County, financial services, taxation and legal services. Have a tip or question for her? Email her at [email protected].

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