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Emergency helpers sought

It's the largest health-care campus in Western New York, with 130 acres.

But the during the "October Surprise" storm, the not-for-profit Amherst Weinberg Campus also turned into an emergency shelter, or "warming center," as Amherst police and suburban hospital security brought the needy whose homes had no power.

"We built a fortress that stayed strong," reports Weinberg Chairman of the Board John Greenberger. "But it wasn't enough."

In case of another crisis, an Emergency Volunteer Reserve Corps has just been started at Weinberg that could be a pro-active model for other organizations.

"We learned that our society is ill prepared to handle the complex needs of the vast numbers of old people in our community, especially in a crisis," Greenberger explained.

While caring for its own 650 residents and tenants, Weinberg Campus also became one of few emergency shelters in Amherst and housed "shockingly frail community visitors," Greenberger noted.

"The people delivered to our doors by police cruisers were the frailest of the frail, those with few resources and a fragile system of supports -- surprising everyone, that they could be living at home by themselves prior to this electricity crisis," he said.

"While our experience in Buffalo was neither a Hurricane Katrina, nor a tsunami, we got a glimpse of the fragile physical and coordinating systems available in a crisis, even such a small one as our 'October Surprise.' "

After providing some support the first weekend of the storm, one agency called nightly to see if Weinberg needed cots or blankets.

"We didn't," Greenberger said. "What we really needed was staff, more sets of hands to care for these profoundly frail and medically compromised individuals who had shown up at our door, without their medications, without phone numbers of their loved ones."

And there were the government assessment staff members who came "to check and see if we really needed a nurse and an aide," he said. . . . "At no time did any actual help arrive."

He describes the new Emergency Volunteer Reserve Corps, in an appeal to the public in a letter, as a "group of people in the community who could help during a crisis. Those who could come to Weinberg Campus and be ready to address whatever needs arise."

Almost immediately after his entreaty, calls came in from people volunteering for the emergency corps, which will be loosely structured around an annual meeting, a day for the volunteers to come together for training and talk about what it'll take to be better prepared for the next disaster. (For more information, call 639-3311, Ext. 2125).

Have an idea about a local person whose life would make a good profile or a neighborhood issue worth exploring? Write to: Louise Continelli, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or e-mail

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