Empact Northwest: Delivering “Empathy in Action” Amidst a Pandemic

Empact Northwest is an all-volunteer disaster response team based in Washington State that has been providing immediate urban search and rescue and critical medical care to underserved communities affected by disasters for ten years. Perhaps not by coincidence, we first met Empact in Haiti in the immediate aftermath of the 2010 earthquake and have gotten to know them quite well over the years. And while Empact is always ready to drop into any disaster-affected area with little notice to provide immediate relief, like so many other relief organizations like them, COVID-19 changed the definition of what “immediate relief” means virtually overnight.

Since late March, Empact Northwest has been utilizing our Beacon dispatch platform to alert and coordinate a growing pool of volunteers to deliver groceries, prescriptions and essential supplies, and provide wellness checks to housebound residents and others in need around Kitsap County, just across the bay from Seattle, Washington. To date their pool of 60 volunteers has coordinated close to 400 deliveries, running the entire operation like they’ve been doing it for years. It’s hard to tell which is more impressive about Empact’s relief operations: How quickly and professionally they pulled it together, or how expansive and consistent their impact has been. Whichever one you choose, there’s no doubt they’re living their mission of putting empathy into action every single day.

Empact Northwest COVID-19 response

Neighbors Living Worlds Apart

Unlike their neighbors in Seattle and surrounding King County, the residents of Kitsap County are not overwhelmingly employed by the tech giants like Boeing, Amazon, Expedia and Microsoft. Instead, they earn their living through service, labour and healthcare jobs, making it much more difficult for them to start working from home when social distancing guidelines were put into place. Not only has the Covid-19 outbreak put the working class residents at much higher risk for exposure to coronavirus, but nearly 40% of beneficiaries report that their employment status has been directly impacted by Covid-19.

James Millard, an Empact volunteer who has been managing the volunteer delivery network, described the challenges faced in Kitsap County:  “These folks are not as easily transferred to a shelter-at-home existence,” he explained.  “Most of them are anxious to get back to work and get back to their livelihoods.”

As nearby Kirkland, WA, earned the unenviable designation of being the site of the first Covid-related fatality in the US, Empact quickly realized that the pandemic was already in their communities and that it was going to be an all-hands-on-deck affair. After consulting with local authorities and assessing immediate needs, Empact activated their roster and organized themselves into an Incident Command System (ICS) structure complete with a Safety Officer, Operations Unit, Planning Unit, and a Logistics Unit to manage Covid-19 operations in the region. The Logistics Unit rapidly developed and implemented an intake process for volunteers and “assistance requests” for residents through the Empact Northwest website, allowing them to onboard and train new volunteers, rapidly triage the needs of community members, and dispatch new volunteers to provide assistance.

Poulsbo launches initiative with Empact Northwest to help at-risk residents during the COVID-19 outbreak

Door-to-Door Samaritans

Empact Northwest’s role in the local response began with deploying some of their team to the City of Poulsbo, Washington, to provide training to the city’s volunteers on how to safely conduct critical Covid-19 wellness checks for vulnerable members of the community. The initial goal of the wellness checks was to reduce the strain on the local 9-1-1 system, with volunteers knocking on doors to check on residents, deliver essential supplies and food, and request emergency medical support as needed.

As the community volunteers began to reach out to their neighbors, it soon became evident that demand for their services was going to be higher than expected. When Trek Medics learned of Empact’s expanding efforts, we knew right away that taking more requests for help would require a better way to coordinate the response, so we reached out to Empact to see if we could lend a hand. Having supported them previously during their deployments to Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Dorian, we knew they’d be open for the help if they needed it. Shortly after reaching out, Empact agreed Beacon could be of use and they began training their team to use it to dispatch, coordinate and track the community volunteers.

The impact of their operations cannot be understated. After sharing their latest data with us, there’s little doubt that Empact Northwest is putting empathy into action by meeting the unmet needs of the most vulnerable in their communities:

  • 8% of respondents are veterans
  • 48% are living with a disability
  • 60% were experiencing poverty before COVID-19
  • 20% identify as victims or survivors of domestic violence
  • 4% consider themselves part of a religious minority
  • 20% are convicted felons
  • 28% are experiencing a mental illness
  • 4% are experiencing homelessness
  • 44% are caring for children
  • 18% are caring for elderly adults

To learn more about Empact Northwest’s work, please visit their website at www.empactnorthwest.org and consider making a donation today!

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