In addition to sending counselors into the state’s Haitian-American communities, DHS assisted our military partners by coordinating repatriation efforts by federal, state and nongovernmental agencies – efforts that began last week when counselors and staff were quickly deployed to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst to help almost 600 evacuees who survived the catastrophe.
“This is an impressive example of how government and nongovernmental agencies and volunteers can unite to provide the most efficient and compassionate response possible during a time of unimaginable turmoil,” Governor Chris Christie said today, referring to the multiagency efforts to help hundreds of American residents who stepped off the plane at McGuire with little more than the clothes on their backs and fear for those left behind.
"DHS has specific responsibilities during times of disaster such as providing shelter, mass care and mental health counseling,” said Commissioner Jennifer Velez, who helped triage evacuees at the base and arrange for transportation home. "In these horrible stories, we have seen strength, courage, endurance and hope," stated Velez, noting that many of the evacuees had seen countless loved ones killed in the earthquake.
As head of DHS’ Office of Emergency Management, the state’s repatriation efforts and the state’s Mass Care plan, William Schaffer coordinated the joint response between State and federal agencies, as well as with the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army to coordinate necessary supplies and services.
Schaffer, Velez, and Deputy Commissioner Kevin Martone joined nine counselors and several other DHS employees at the base during this past weekend – each volunteering for 12-20 hour shifts.
Medical attention, crisis counseling, food, clothes, and transportation were arranged, while cots were made available for those who could not immediately return home.
"The collaboration of all of these agencies is remarkable to witness," Velez said. “I want to thank everybody who gave of their hearts and time.”
“Our job is to help people make the transition from crisis, to safety, to recovery,” stated Martone. “This is unprecedented. Survivors have experienced the unthinkable,” stated Martone.
“The spirit of generosity and service was clearly evident as state government agencies, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army worked together to help those who had just gone through such a traumatic experience,” said Virginia Hogan, who heads the American Red Cross of Central New Jersey State Coordinating Chapter.
More than 30 trained counselors have been deployed during the past week by the Division of Mental Health Services’ Disaster and Terrorism Branch to help the evacuees at the Air Force Base as well as New Jersey residents living here and worrying about family living in Haiti.
The branch has provided disaster training for 900 mental health professionals since it was initiated after September 11, 2001. It also has provided services during the evacuation from Lebanon and several other disasters.
Gladys Padro, director of the branch, said her “state team and the counselors supporting them feel privileged to have a role in helping the survivors of the disaster.” Padro stressed how important it is to partner with faith-based organizations and be mindful of cultural preferences in seeking support systems.
While the response at McGuire focused on meeting the physical and psychological needs of evacuees who only hours before were fighting for survival, the disaster team also is sending counselors to churches and schools in New Jersey’s Haitian communities to inform them of the services and coping mechanisms available to deal with the post-traumatic stress that often follows a disaster.