SALT LAKE CITY — As residents, medical professionals and emergency responders waited for Hurricane Irma to make landfall along the west coast of Florida, Ally Okazaki took her position at a local hospital, ready to assist.
She and five other volunteers from Orem's Timpanogos Regional Hospital flew into Florida Friday to help local hospitals when the hurricane passes through. As a nurse, she is assigned to help at the Osceola Regional Hospital, which is out of the direct path of the hurricane but is prepared to take patients evacuated out of the path left by the hurricane.
Okazaki said she and the other volunteers were brought in as a relief force to help the hospital's regular staff keep a rotation and avoid fatigue.
"The people here, they could potentially have families, insurance claims they need to work on and family members they need to attend to," Okazaki said. "But us, we're here and our families are all safe and sound back home and we can just focus on the work."
She said the medical staff at her hospital is mostly preparing for the type of injuries typically seen in car crashes, as well as sicknesses from water contaminations.
"Right now it's kind of just a wait and see what really happens once the storm really hits," she said Saturday. "We're just all happy that we can help out down here, that we can use our skills."
Timpanogos Regional Hospital was able to send six of its employees as part of a personnel support group between Timpanogos Regional Hospital's parent company, the Hospital Corporation of America, and several north Florida hospitals.
Michael Graul, the communications director for Timpanogos Regional Hospital, said a total of 44 hospital employees have volunteered to go to Florida. While only the initial six had been requested, Graul said the remaining volunteers are prepared to go if needed.
"Being part of that network is really great. We are there to help if we need to," Graul said.
As many as 85 Utah members of the American Red Cross have also been sent to assist Florida's response to Hurricane Irma.
Richard Woodruff, a spokesman for the Utah chapter of the American Red Cross, said about the same number of volunteers was also sent to Houston as part of efforts to assist with the response to Hurricane Harvey, which hit only two weeks before. He said as many as 200 Utah volunteers may eventually be sent to assist in the response to Irma throughout Florida and the Carolinas.
"We've got sheltering set up for 130,000 people right now in Florida and we've got a total of about 5,000 volunteers nationally on the ground in that area," Woodruff said.
He said the Red Cross will act primarily as a shelter provider and then, as it is currently doing with Harvey, it will provide relief supplies once the storm has passed.
Woodruff said the Red Cross also provides mental health services during disasters, helps care for kids and feeds and supplies first responders working throughout disaster zones.
The Utah National Guard has sent two Spanish language interpreters to Puerto Rico as part of the initial response to Hurricane Irma.
Utah National Guard Lt. Col Steven Fairbourn said an additional six Utah Guard members have been sent with a satellite trailer to provide communications assistance while the Guard continues to coordinate its disaster response
There has not yet been a call for any large-scale deployment of Utah National Guard members, he said, but they remain ready should the need arise.
"We had 500 engineers that were prepared to go" in response to Hurricane Harvey, but the need for those engineers was never declared.
"We were certainly standing by and ready to go, and continue to do so, but it's all going to depend on what is specifically needed for those specific events," Fairbourn said.Comment on this story
Joe Dougherty, of the Utah Division of Emergency Response, said other state agencies are still waiting for requests for assistance.
Utah's ability to lend support, he said, depends on the readiness of its task forces and teams, some of which are just now returning from efforts to assist in Texas for Hurricane Harvey.
"Everyone is working to find the resources that they can and sometimes it can take a few days to figure out, 'OK, can these people drop everything from their regular jobs and just go,'" Dougherty said.