ShelterBox program providing relief for earthquake victims
Many organizations have already started relief efforts to help those affected by the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan last Friday.
Tom Henderson, United Kingdom Rotarian and former Royal Navy search and rescue diver, founded ShelterBox in 1999 after he wanted to provide proper shelter after natural disasters occur. Since then it has become the largest Rotary Club International project.
ShelterBox Volunteer and Youth Program Manager Alan Monroe of Southwest Florida said an assessment team of four members — David Eby from the US, Mark Pearson from the United Kingdom, John Diksa from France and Lasse Peterson from Australia — were sent 24 hours after the earthquake hit Japan to assess the area and see how many boxes were needed in the worst affected area of Sendai.
The United States headquarters of ShelterBox is located in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., which is located between Sarasota and Bradenton.
Monroe explained that the members who were chosen for the response team have to go through rigorous training in the United Kingdom with the British Royal Navy and its emergency team, so they are equipped with the knowledge they need when entering a disaster area. He said the training continues when they are deployed to an area.
“These are highly trained individuals that are specialized in what they do,” Monroe said.
He said the response teams are kept small because they are highly mobile and they can make decisions quickly of what needs to be done.
“They have the ability to make things happen quickly,” Monroe said.
Late Sunday night, Monroe said the team “made the call” to ask for 200 boxes to be sent to Tokyo to begin helping families by putting them in shelters as quickly as they can.
“They have already identified the families that need it,” he said about the ShelterBox.
The box contains a 10-person tent, with a porch, cook stove, two pots, lids, spoons, stainless steel service ware, water purification system, blankets, insulated ground sheets, mosquito nets and a tool kit. The box also includes “a smile” for the children — items such as a slate, pad of paper, pens, chalk and crayons.
The cook stove can burn any kind of fuel including lint off of clothing. The new stainless steel plates and bowls have been added to the ShelterBox because they do not chip and last longer.
The water purification system, which produces 15,000 liters of water over two to three years, is another item packed in every ShelterBox. All an individual has to do is find a source of water and run it through the filter system to obtain clean drinking and cooking water.
“It is all designed to give dignity back to the family and give them a home again,” he said, adding that it is “for the families that have lost everything.”
Monroe said they also have a team working in Tokyo to assure the ShelterBoxes make it through customs OK.
Monroe said there are currently 200 boxes inbound, which should arrive in a few days, with an additional 5,000 ShelterBoxes on stand-by if additional emergency shelter is needed.
“The boxes can be there very quickly,” Monroe said, adding that in less than a couple of days people will begin taking shelter in the tents provided.
He explained that those boxes are enough to shelter 52,000 people.
“I’m sure as the disaster unfolds the emergency response will be adjusted,” he said.
The 130-pound stocked box that is sent to natural disaster areas costs $1,000 to equip with the essentials needed to survive. The costs also includes having response teams on the ground at the disaster area and shipping costs of the container.
Monroe explained that every box contains a unique number that corresponds to the individual who donated money. He explained that the number helps the individual track exactly where the box they donated has gone.
“Whenever a disaster takes place, volunteers all pack boxes together because they know the families will receive that aid,” he said, adding that “volunteers come out of the woodwork.”
Red Cross Communications Director Colin Downey said the Japanese Red Cross is extremely well-suited to handle a terrible disaster like this. He explained that so far the Japanese Red Cross has only asked Red Cross from around the world to raise funds for their country.
“We are doing our best to help raise funds,” Downey said.
Those who wish to donate money can do so by visiting redcross.org or by texting the word Red Cross to 90999. Downey said by texting that number a $10 donation is made, which will be charged to the individuals cell phone bill.
So far the Red Cross has raised more than $1 million since Friday.
Downey said the reality of the situation in Japan is that there is “not a lot we can do from here.”
“If you can’t afford to donate … what you can do is be prepared,” he said adding that “we have a responsibility as citizens of a community to be prepared in these types of situations.”
He explained that the natural disaster in Japan should be a real reminder that disasters happen unannounced. Downey shared that individuals should have an emergency preparedness plan in place that includes an evacuation plan for home and business.
“Going over a plan is critical,” he said.
An emergency kit should also be set aside that includes a gallon of water per person for each day, along with photo copies of critical personal information — drivers license, insurance paperwork and social security card.
Downey also suggests that individuals should become CPR certified because it is good to have those life saving skills when a disaster occurs.