Lawrence Dehart not only runs Terrebonne Churches United, but he works alongside Parish-wide leaders in the Terrebonne Parish Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in EFS six which is part of mass care. The EOC contains Parish leaders from across the area who come together to take care of the Parish’s needs in times disasters hit.
The food bank provides services for first responders during and after a storm. They also provide food for shelters. The process of the EOC contains unsung heroes and a united front that many people are not aware of. Dehart said Executive Director Earl Eues is truly the right man for the job. Although tough, he brings people together beautifully. Dehart said the center has different departments and contains people who are used to working apart who then come to work together.
How do so many people come together to help our community during a crisis? The large room contains different groups who come together to solve problems during a disaster. One group contains representatives from local law enforcement such as the Sheriff’s Office, Houma Police Department, Houma Fire Department, and volunteer fire departments. Dehart’s group contains partners such as Acadian Ambulance, transportation services, and the Louisiana Health Department. Another example of a group is the energy providers such as Entergy, SLECA, and the City of Houma. Even the National Guard, Coast Guard, and Corps of Engineers are involved. Dehart gave an example to explain how the process works. For example, if the food bank needs a utility trailer for supply transportation, he approaches certain people with resources that may be able to help, has a conversation with them, and he said needs were always met. If the person didn’t immediately have an answer, he said they would always find a way to get back with him for those needs. And this process worked like a well-oiled machine for Hurricane Ida Relief decisions, even for the decisions that needed to be made quickly.
Dehart said these efforts are not for any type of money exchange, but rather it’s a service to the Parish and for its people. Typically someone who works with the EOC would get their family and personals in order, then report to the facility. Most times, like in Dehart’s case, they don’t know what damage their own homes have had before they jump into action to help those in need because not only are they doing their jobs for their families, but the thousands of residents in the parish.
The facility does contain a safe room, a conference room, and lodging options for anyone needing to ride out a storm. For Ida, they would report to the facility early where breakfast, lunch, and dinner would be offered and they would have two sessions per day with updates. The main room contains screens for updates, a call center that would alert who’s on a call and records the information, and a mic system that allows a person to press a button when needing to respond. “It’s serious,” he said,” you walk in, and the first time it might seem like organized chaos, but it’s not.” He said there’s no dictatorship but rather a team environment. If someone mentions a plan or idea, someone else may offer a different solution or some resources that might help the problem be solved. They work together for the greater good.
“I’m impressed with the professionality over there,” he said, “it’s a situation where everyone digs in. One of the things that really struck me is when you’re there you try to think of everything that can possibly go wrong.” On the contrary, he said you can coordinate, but can never be prepared 100 percent. “You can prepare, you can drill, you can protocol all you want, but storms are gonna throw things at you that you did not expect, or that you haven’t experienced before.” and he said Ida threw a lot their way that they have never experienced before.
At 8:00 Saturday night, the winds were roaring, and Dehart said he got a call from Kelly Cunningham about a dire situation. There were residents whose shelters were damaged and they were literally on the road awaiting help. Dehart and an associate/friend jumped into action where he said they were running over lines they were praying weren’t charged, dodged wood with nails, and hoping they wouldn’t get flat tires. The food bank was able to get blankets, pillows, and day-boxes to help the residents. They were brought to the civic center, which already had damage, but it was the only option they had. He said he thinks Eues made the right call when it came to shelters not being offered to the mass public. The civic center had no electricity. He said what happens in these situations is the cooling system gets knocked out because of the lack of electricity. He said there are so many other factors that went wrong that could have been detrimental if a mass amount of people were staying in those shelters.
Working with the EOC brings training and trials. For example, Mother Nature threw multiple storms to the Gulf Coasts last year where the EOC had “dry runs.” Thankfully, our area did not see any major damages from these storms, but they were well prepared for Ida. Dehart recalled seeing slides during training that depicts the type of damages that are typically seen for each category of storm. The slides did not compare to what Ida left behind. Dehart said the hardest times were the ten days following the storm because you knew the damage, you knew the needs, and there were only so many assets versus the needs. “It’s stressful, it’s intense, but somebody has to do it,” he said.
There were certain situations that Dehart described that aren’t well known. Parish board members were sleeping in a building with holes in the roofs, and walls, and they were sleeping in cots. They even had to put tarps over their cots so they didn’t have to sleep in the rain. They had foremen that their fire stations were leveled from the storm, they requested to be transferred to a station that was still standing, and still went out to serve. It’s these people’s stories that need to be told so that people can know their officials and leaders are in fact here. And they won’t stop until we build back stronger.
Dehart concluded with a story on why they do what they do. There was a beach that reached low tide and thousands of starfish were pushed up on shore. There was a nine-year-old boy, going through the starfish, and picks up one by one to bring them to the water as far as he can. He continues to grab one by one and saves them in the water. Then there’s an elderly gentleman who comes and tells the boy, “Son, there are thousands of starfish. They are going to die before you get to them all. What difference is it going to make?” The boy picked up another starfish, flung it into the water, and said, “it made a difference to that one.”