FLORIDA – Steven Wheeler was deployed to northern Florida even before Hurricane Idalia hit.
“Shelter in place, hunker down, get through the storm safely, so that the minute the green flag went up we were able to get out into those communities,” Wheeler said, taking a few spare minutes to relay the latest information
Wheeler, who lives in New Braunfels, is the Mass Care Coordinator for the San Antonio and South Texas Red Cross, covering Bexar County and nine surrounding counties.
He is also a 27-year US Coast Guard veteran and a native Floridian who lost his Key West home during Hurricane Wilma in 2005.
Wheeler has been with the local Red Cross for just a year, but has already been deployed six times – including Hurricane Ian in Florida, mudslides and a fire in Seattle, and tornadoes in Houston.
The long list of qualifications allowed him to be assigned a highly important job in logistics.
“My first job was just counting what we had. Then, it was making sure that all the supplies that are coming in from around the country, they get received and warehoused and distributed to the operations in the communities that are providing sheltering, feeding, distributing emergency supplies like clean up kits,” Wheeler said.
There have been supply chain setbacks along the way.
“I-74, the major interstate that goes through this area, which we rely on to receive supplies, it was closed twice. I believe for some downed electrical lines and the second time for some flooding,” he said.
Wheeler said while some areas have now regained power, many are still in the dark, so those people are the current focus.
“For basic services like calling 911, if your phone isn’t charged, you can’t do that. So, now we’re transitioning to the phase where we’re going out to the communities with these mobile operation vans that are basically re-charging stations with up to 50 outlets on them,” Wheeler explained.
The Red Cross has also set up large shower trailers so people in shelters can finally get cleaned up.
“I’ve seen throughout my life, I’ve lost count, dozens of hurricanes,” Wheeler said.
He knows the pain and trauma they can cause, so although a typical Red Cross deployment is two-weeks long, he will stay as long as he’s needed.
He also wants the community to know help is always needed.
The Red Cross has a specific supply chain, so the best way to help is to donate money, give blood, or become a volunteer.
Volunteering locally helps ease the burden when members like Wheeler are deployed to other areas.
For more information, call 1-800-RED-CROSS or go to redcross.org.