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We'll check in with the Red Cross in San Diego to see what kind of an eye they are keeping on the disaster situation unfolding in the Gulf states.

August 29, 2012 1:14 p.m.


Andy McKellar, Disaster Services Director of the Red Cross in San Diego and Imperial Counties.

Related Story: Hurricane Isaac Pummels Louisiana Coast


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: We check in with the red cross in San Diego on local efforts to aid the disaster situation unfolding in the gulf states. As you heard on NPR, Isaac has just recently been downgraded to a tropical storm, but whatever you call it, it's pelted the gulf region for hours now with torrential rain, winds up to 75 miles an hour. All this is happening on the seventh anniversary of hurricane Katrina. My guest, Andy McKellar is disaster services director of the red cross in San Diego. Welcome to the show.

MCKELLAR: Hello, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: What are you doing here in San Diego to try and help victims of hurricane Isaac?

MCKELLAR: Well, we've got folks on standby to go into the area if they're required. We already have people on the ground, staff members, and they're waiting to see what's going to be required, and they'll help however they can.

CAVANAUGH: What kind of assistance do you think they'll be needing?

MCKELLAR: Sheltering, obviously. They are going to have some power issues, downed power line, a lot of the usual issues that come with high winds and heavy rain. And looking for safe places for those people to be and make sure they can get out of the weather.

CAVANAUGH: You make the point that the storm is different from hurricane Katrina. It's not as power, but as you say, it's slow-moving, it has a lot of rain in this system is what we've been hearing. What particular kinds of problems will that cause? I would imagine flooding of course but power outages?

MCKELLAR: Oh, certainly. You're going to have trees down across power lines, power poles going over. There's probably going to be an interruption in probably cellphone reception. We've seen that in the past. Towers go down in the high winds or get hit by other objects. Then you have the flooding issue. Some of those areas are very low-lying, some are at or below sea level. So you're going to see flooding issues there. And the -- I don't want to say the usual stuff, I don't want it to sound like it's a simple thing, but it's stuff that we've seen many, many times before so we know what's coming at us. It's just a matter of the magnitude that it comes at us. So it is going to be primarily flooding, power outages, those sorts of things.

CAVANAUGH: It seems this storm, Isaac, has such a wide area that's affected. How does the red cross know where to set up its disaster services, these places where people can go to escape floods?

MCKELLAR: Well, we looked at the historical record of disasters in the past. We know Baton Rouge is almost a go-to place for us because there's facility there that can handle large numbers of people, and it's usually far enough out of the way from the surge effect of these big storms. So we'll send people to those areas that we know, and we'll preplace people in and around what we believe is going to be the affected area. We will work in conjunction with state and federal partners to figure out what areas are most likely to be affected and try and put people in those areas, ahead of the storm, or put them around those areas so they can enter those affected areas quickly after the storm passes.

CAVANAUGH: Remind us, how did red cross and emergency services here in San Diego help out during Katrina?

MCKELLAR: The biggest thing we did, two things during Katrina. One was to send people into the affected area from here, the other was to receive evacuees from the area into San Diego. We took in approximately 1,200 people from that area, provided services to them and used our partnerships with other agencies to increase the level of services that we could provide. Those were the two big things we did during Katrina. We had some people there for up to four months at a time working at shelter managers, shelter worker, working logistics. And when those folks came here, we processed their paperwork, opened up a local center for them, helped them find places to stay, helped partner them with other agencies to help them find vehicles, or even to obtain bus tokens.

CAVANAUGH: And did you learn any lessons from Katrina either at the San Diego contingent or red cross? Are you doing things differently this time around?

MCKELLAR: Yes, we are doing things. Well, not too much differently than the last time. The some of of the things we're doing, we were a bit quicker to get people wrapped up prior to landfall, farther out in advance instead of looking at two days out. We were doing that four-days out instead. We prepositioned additional communication equipment in the hurricane-prone areas to try and get our preparedness level up. That's been a large part of what we've done and strengthening our partnerships as well.

CAVANAUGH: Now, we're hearing that some people have been trapped by tropical storm Isaac. They have been trapped in Louisiana because a levy was topped in one of the parishes there. But they were under mandatory orders to get out, they didn't evacuate. Does the red cross help people when evacuations are ordered to actually leave their homes and find somewhere to go?

MCKELLAR: Well, what we'll do if there's mandatory evacuation orders in place, we will set up shelters well away from the affected area as much as we can and give people a place to go to, give them some direction to go in. During catrin appeal were just basically told to leave, and there was nothing -- nowhere for them to go. So what we try and did is set these places up in advance in the direction we know people are going to be moving in, and we're there to receive them rather than they arrive and then we try to set up a shelter and be behind the curve.

CAVANAUGH: San Diegans will be seeing images was this hurricane and its aftermath. They may want to help out. What is the best way for people to help victims of this storm?

MCKELLAR: One of the best ways they can help these folks is obviously through donations. And we say that because there's initial cost of setting you want mass care, we got to feed these people as well as put a roof over their heads. So that takes up a lot of money. Plus we're able to spend that money with local providers of food product and other services, and that puts money back into the local economy. So what you give us goes to them and we put money back into their system, it keeps people employed, helps the local businesses stay afloat when their business is interrupted we a disaster. That's the best way that people can do that. Go to the red cross website. That's the best way to do it.

CAVANAUGH: Is there a specific donate to tropical storm Isaac?

MCKELLAR: They can do that or they can text in red cross to 90999 and that'll make a $10 donation to the hurricane relief, or they can go to They could also call 1-800-red-cross.

CAVANAUGH: Thanks very much for taking the time to speak with us.