Foremost, most members of these volunteer organizations are over 60 years old, putting them into the high-risk category for COVID-19. According to the American Red Cross, of their 21,000 trained disaster responders, 42 percent are over the age of 65, 43 percent are between 40-64; and just 13 percent are between 18 and 39. This means the people we need most in a disaster are also among the most vulnerable. The Red Cross says that it has procured PPE for its disaster workers, but we found that other volunteer organizations, given the already nationwide shortage, might not have enough. Everywhere we looked we found data indicating if we failed to flatten the curve, we would be risking the volunteer infrastructure so vital to hurricane response and recovery. It gets worse.
If volunteers aren’t available or if they get sick, the hard work of disaster response would fall on to the only other available pool of manpower: the military. This is problematic in its own way. If a COVICANE response stretches a state National Guard to the breaking point, active duty forces could be deployed to help. The Army only keeps a few active units on standby for what is known as the Defense Support to Civil Authorities mission. In a pinch, untrained active-duty forces could fill the gap and do their best. But the real problems would come after their exposure to the virus in the disaster zone.
There are only a finite number of military medical personnel to go around, and many of them from places like Fort Carson, Colorado, are already deployed for COVID-19. And even if medical units were available, there is a good chance they would be exposed to the virus and bring it back home to find the doctors who normally work in the clinics and hospitals are gone.