Red Cross restructures local chapter

Published 6:00 pm Sunday, July 4, 2010

A Red Cross reorganization has caused any dreams ofreestablishing a chapter in Brookhaven to go up in smoke, but thecity may be in a better position to handle hurricaneevacuees.

Mississippi’s 13 chapters are consolidating down to five in arestructuring arrangement meant to streamline operations and savemoney after two consecutive years of falling donations. Thearrangement will detach the Brookhaven- and McComb-headquarteredMid-South Service Delivery Area from the former Hattiesburg-basedSouth Central Mississippi Chapter – which survived the purges butwill change names – and bring it under the control of the new17-county Capitol River Chapter, based in Jackson.

“The idea behind it is each chapter will be a little bit moreequal,” said Robin Ebert Mays, community programs director forSouth Central and Brookhaven’s overseer. “We want to make sure wehave consistent service delivery and programming across the state,to make sure everything is fair and equal.”

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Mays said Lincoln County residents would not notice thechapter-level changes, as service delivery for fires, storms andother dangers would continue. No local staff will be eliminated,she said.

In fact, Brookhaven should see an improved Red Cross response inthe event of a hurricane, Mays said.

“One thing they looked at was the contraflow,” she said. “Whenthere is a hurricane and contraflow comes through, there will beone chapter in control, one chapter working with emergency servicesand the highway patrol.”

The last time contraflow brought evacuees north from Louisiana onall four lanes of Interstate 55 was during Hurricane Gustav inSeptember 2008, when Brookhaven’s Mid-South chapter was still inexistence. Contraflow under the current arrangement would put theHattiesburg chapter in charge of counties along Interstate 55 andInterstate 59, the two primary routes for evacuation traffic.

“Now, I-59 will have one chapter and I-55 will have one chapter,”Mays said. “In the Hattiesburg area, there were previously fourchapters along the route.”

Even so, the Red Cross restructuring will not take place untilafter the 2010 hurricane season, Mays said.

“We want to keep our partnerships intact for hurricane season,” shesaid. “All my shelters know me and my staff, and we already haveagreements in place. We’re not making any changes during hurricaneseason.”