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Wednesday, Dec 12 2012 11:00 PM

GREG GALLION: Lessons for Kern in wake of Superstorm Sandy

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    Greg Gallion

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When Superstorm Sandy smashed into the New Jersey-New York coast on Oct. 29, it wrecked thousands of homes, knocked out power to businesses and residences, and was declared the largest Atlantic hurricane on record.

But what few people knew is that Sandy endangered thousands of lives, beyond the actual impact of its brutal force. The storm disrupted the collection and distribution of blood supplies in a 14-state region.

The American Red Cross reported that nearly 400 blood drives were canceled in the Northeast, resulting in the depletion of blood supplies. Staff normally used to distribute blood were, in many cases, redeployed to provide emergency care to storm victims. And the distribution network, such as roads and airports, was damaged.

Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood. An average of 44,000 blood donations are needed every day across the country to help treat accident victims, cancer patients and children with blood disorders. Platelets are critical for cancer patients and others who require bone marrow and stem cell transplants.

In good weather and bad, people need blood and blood products. Blood banks from across the nation, including Houchin Community Blood Bank in Kern County, responded with help when the blood supplies on the East Coast were interrupted.

Back at home, Houchin is taking steps to ensure that lifesaving blood is available when Kern County residents need it. It is also ensuring that Houchin will be able to help when neighboring communities are hit by disasters.

Work will soon be completed on a consolidated complex that is being built on Buena Vista Road, south of White Lane on Bolthouse Drive.

The $10 million, 42,000-square-foot complex brings together several of Houchin's services that are currently housed in multiple locations. These services include: laboratory, quality assurance, manufacturing, distribution, information technology, community development, telerecruiting and transportation. The complex will include a full blood-drawing site, with Houchin's existing Truxtun Avenue location remaining as a blood-drawing center as well.

Why is this important? The everyday, growing need for blood supplies in Kern County requires the efficiencies that more closely aligned departments and a state-of-the-art facility can provide.

But beyond the everyday needs, in times of emergencies, such as earthquakes, wildfires and national security disasters, the need for an efficient, dependable network to collect and distribute blood supplies is heightened.

Houchin's new complex has been designed to provide these efficiencies. Included in the complex is a communication system created to utilize ham radio operations and a new 20-foot-tall radio tower. This will assist first responders and ensure the public's need for blood is met in times of crisis when electricity and cellphone service are disrupted.

The new complex also includes a large backup generator that allows the blood bank to be self-sufficient for at least six days. The California Blood Bank Society recognizes Houchin as being one of the state's three Emergency Operations Centers.

Houchin's consolidated complex was made possible through a generous 5-acre donation of land in the new Seven Oaks Business Park by Bolthouse Properties LLC. Other donors, including large corporations and individuals, also have opened their wallets to help finance construction.

Ongoing naming opportunities exist for people to contribute to the construction of this much needed complex. Go to www.HCBB.com to learn how you can help.

Houchin was started in 1951 by a group of community leaders and doctors who envisioned supplying blood for the emergency needs of local hospitals. At that time, there was no blood bank in Kern County. The blood deliveries that came from Los Angeles and San Francisco took many days.

That was more than 60 years ago. Today, Houchin and its "army" of dedicated, generous donors supply lifesaving blood to all corners of Kern County, particularly to metropolitan Bakersfield, where the population has exploded to more than 500,000 and expected to grow even more in the next few years. Advanced medical procedures have also increased the demand for blood products.

With this increased demand comes the need for Houchin to continually improve its blood collection and delivery systems.

While this means an increasing number of people are needed to donate their lifesaving blood, it also means they are needed to help Houchin consolidate and upgrade its facilities.

Greg Gallion is Houchin Community Blood Bank's president and chief executive officer. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.

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