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Hurricanes, volunteers, evacuations, and art with Evacuteer.org

Written by  LaTesha Charbonnet Gonzales
Hurricanes, volunteers, evacuations, and art with Evacuteer.org William Widmer for The New York Times

There are only two seasons in New Orleans: hot or cold. When the cold comes (or what us New Orleanians call “cold”), all you hear is us saying we can’t wait ‘til the hot comes. And when that hot comes…lawd have mercy…it’s half the time too damn hot to do anything. But we all know that the hotter it gets, the more nervous we become and rightfully so with hurricane season lasting from hot (June) to hotter (July) to everything’s-melting-it’s-so-hot (August) to it’s-hot-but-we-can-deal-with-it (September, October, and November). Six months of uncertainty and fear, false alarms and close calls…but hey, us InthekNOwlians are well versed in this area.

 

However, what many InthekNOwlians are not aware of during hurricane season is the availability of free, public evacuation called the City-Assisted Evacuation Plan (CAEP) available to residents of Orleans parish who meet certain criteria in the event of a mandatory hurricane evacuation. The CAEP provides New Orleanians with designated facilities to get their families out safely, comfortably, and as humanly possible during an inevitably stressful time.

Aiding in the CAEP is a great organization by the name of Evacuteer.org founded by Robert Fogarty (who also happens to be one of our InthekNOwla alumni with his Local Entrepreneur Spotlight last year).

 

Sayde Finkel, Committee Chair for Special Project for Evacuteer.org, explained, “In the event of a Category 3 hurricane or higher, Evacuteer will work together with the CAEP to ensure that those citizens of New Orleans without reliable transportation will be able to get out of the city safely and smoothly. What we do is provide the manpower and people to do the grunt work, such as handling luggage, handing out water, directing people to certain buses, etc. In addition, it is a round trip ticket, meaning that once the city, state and all corresponding agencies are up and running, Evacuteer assists with the trip back home. Evacuteer trains close to 500 volunteers in New Orleans, most of them of young professionals in the community, and it’s a really great way to supplement EMS, NOPD, NOFD, and other organizations.”

 

Although the CAEP program was tested for the first time during Hurricane Gustav in 2008, Evacuteer has yet to deploy their volunteers for a mandatory evacuation (knock on wood…HARD!).  However, that doesn’t stop them from recruiting and training volunteers. “Evacuteer trains volunteers every year. In fact, we’re about to have our annual Hello Hurricane Season Summit before the start of hurricane season where we gather and train more volunteers,” Sayde said. “This is a team of hardworking people. Part of the word Evacuteer is inherently volunteer, so these are all people that care about the city, care about the people in it, and are willing to donate their time in a stressful situation to be sure that people get out safely and that some of the mistakes that were made in years past will be avoided at all costs.”

Should an evacuation be made mandatory, there are 17 pick-up sites throughout the city. Sayde explained, “These pick-up sites are all over the city, geographically spread out so that they are close to as many neighborhoods as possible. Right now, there are signs at each of the pick-up points. Unfortunately, they are no larger than a 2-hour Parking Zone sign, which would make it difficult for people to find the site in the event of a mandatory evacuation. In order to make these pick-up points more visible, the Arts Council of New Orleans did a nationwide search to find an artist to design the markers for each of the sites.”

 

She continued, “The artist that was selected is Douglas Kornfeld from Cambridge, MA who does really interesting public art pieces. One of the cool things he said was, ‘Public art has to be more than decorative embellishment. It must have poetry.’ That encapsulates this project pretty well because clearly the art serves a utilitarian function: It helps people know where they are and acts as a landmark and it'is also a beautiful way of addressing and expanding the definition of public art. We are really hoping that people love them, recognize them, and get to know them as part of their community. If that helps to alleviate some of the burden, stress, and confusion in a creative cultural way as New Orleans is certainly known to do, then we are very happy to be a part of that culture of preparedness.”

 

The art at the 17 pick-up points will vary in size depending on the physical location. Sayde added, “The installation of the pieces will be a gradual process with hopes of having them in place by Sept. 1. We’re really fortunate to have the Arts Council and the architectural firm Eskew, Dumez, and Ripple as financial partners, but I would be remiss to leave out the citizens of New Orleans because grassroots support has really filled up a big percentage of our budget. The citizens of New Orleans are invested in this financially and emotionally.”

 

She concluded, “The good thing about Evacuteer is that its New Orleans natives, transplants like myself, City Hall members, teachers, EMS workers, entrepreneurs, just everyone! It’s a great diverse group of people. Hopefully it will be a productive and underutilized 2012. We hope we’re never needed, but in the event that we are, we’re ready.”

 

For more information about Evacuteer.org, please visit their website, Facebook, and Twitter pages.

Last modified on Friday, 16 March 2012
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