Paulsen said that the American Red Cross uses data (and the ACS) throughout the entire “disaster cycle”: preparedness for the event, response when it happens, recovery from the effects, and back to preparedness. Similar to the point Plyer made by showing the map of presidentially declared disaster incidences, Paulsen displayed statistics for American Red Cross disaster response in 2011: mobilizing about 28,000 disaster workers and 2.6 million relief items and opening just over 1,000 emergency shelters. The organization fielded responses costing at least $10,000 in nearly every state as well as Puerto Rico. Though the major, large-scale disasters—among them the 29 tornadoes, 27 floods, and 15 hurricanes American Red Cross responded to in 201114—are most prominent in media coverage, Paulsen noted that the organization responds to thousands of smaller disasters—on the order of 70,000 house fires alone.
That demographic information from a collection like the ACS can be useful in responding to a large-scale disaster is fairly clear and was made vivid by Plyer’s remarks. Granted, Paulsen continued, it might not be immediately obvious how that demographic information might be useful in responding to a house fire. But it is crucial for an organization like the Red Cross to have sound data on which to base its projections and its decisions on allocating resources and staff. The American Red Cross has developed formulas to project how many temporary shelters might be needed in an area when a disaster strikes, and this formula is based heavily on the demographics of the affected area. As Paulsen said, it is important that those demographic data be up-to-date for the model to work; projections based on 10-year-old data would not be terribly helpful. Similar projections and formulas are used in estimation and planning—predicting how many meals might need to be served during a disaster response, how many responders or vehicles are needed, and the potential cost of the response. In addition to these projections of the scope of the disaster and the requisite magnitude of response, data play a role in a variety of ad hoc reports while the response is in progress. The Red Cross is a broad national organization building on the work of individual chapters, so data from the disaster response stage inform the reports from local chapters and are used by the national headquarters to process local reports and to assess how resources are being allocated throughout the organization.
For a particular disaster—a fairly localized one, like a tornado—Paulsen sketched the basic way in which data like ACS estimates are used in disaster response. The first step harkens back to the beginnings of the frameworks described for using ACS data in health care and transportation planning (Sections 2–C and 2–D): quick assessment of the demographic profile of the affected area (say, a county), and at a more granular level as appropriate, to try to get a sense of where impacts are likely to be worst and where Red Cross ser-
14Per Paulsen’s slides, other major disasters covered by American Red Cross in 2011 were 45 multifamily fires, 10 wildfires, 4 blizzards, and the August 2011 Virginia earthquake.