By Diana Coulter
 
Long before Hurricane Irma hit Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Red Cross volunteers from these countries were trained and ready to help with a variety of new skills, systems, and equipment, thanks to a Canadian Red Cross project called CERA (Capacity Building for Emergency Response in the Americas).
 
How did CHaitian Red Cross volunteers warn residents prior to Hurricane IrmaERA prepare Red Cross Societies for powerful storms like Irma?
 
In Haiti, the CERA project made a difference even before the hurricane made landfall. CERA-trained teams were ready to be rapidly deployed to key regions to help alert vulnerable communities, assist with preparedness, and work with government authorities to organize evacuations.
 
“I have observed considerable improvement in the ability of the Haiti Red Cross Society) to coordinate the Red Cross Movement response to Hurricane Irma. The Haitian Red Cross is taking a leading role and doing very well,” says Anastase Jaribu, the CERA disaster risk management regional coordinator.
 
From teaching first responders how to use mobile data to make decisions more quickly, to training volunteers how to run play activities that reduce stress for children affected by disasters, the CERA project’s goal is to help strengthen the ability of other Red Cross societies to respond and serve their most vulnerable people during crises.
 
CERA is made possible through support from the Government of Canada. Since 2014, this program has been operating in Haiti, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Jamaica. In each country, CERA activities are based on the needs and priorities that are determined by their national Red Cross societies.

 Volunteers dressed in rain gear prepare for Hurricane IrmaIn Haiti, CERA training and support helped local branches of the Haitian Red Cross to better manage their emergency operation centres, which are organizing response operations across their country. Local first responders trained through CERA continue to lead and coordinate Haitian Red Cross volunteer teams, and train more volunteers. Emergency relief stock of non-food items, such as tarps, blankets, buckets, hygiene and kitchen kits were also contributed through CERA.
 
After receiving training through CERA, local Red Cross volunteers in the Dominican Republic were better prepared for Hurricane Irma. Before the storm they had received training through CERA on damage and needs assessment, as well as water, sanitation and hygiene initiatives. The CERA project “has given us better resources and capacities to address the needs of the community,” says Gaspar Sanchez, national coordinator of internal capacity building for the Dominican Red Cross.
 
A Red Cross volunteer warns residents about Hurricane IrmaBecause children, adolescents, pregnant women and people with disabilities are among the most vulnerable during emergencies, CERA also recently assisted with the training of volunteers in psychosocial support.  Since then, Dominican Republic Red Cross teams have been working in a shelter during the Hurricane Irma response, offering play activities and other initiatives to reduce people’s stress and encourage healthy community interaction.
 

“In this emergency ..., the CERA project has been of extraordinary value for us,” says Dr. Leonardo Arias, director of health for the Dominican Republic Red Cross.