Gold Country Volunteer Says Kilauea Volcano Disaster was Like No Other

By Denise Nordell

Disaster Volunteer and Case Work Supervisor Jan Campbell has been deployed to more than 15 disasters since joining the Red Cross with her husband, Mike, in 2010. But Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano presented a unique set of challenges to Campbell and her fellow volunteers.

Campbell, shown on the far right in the above photo, was deployed on May 25, one of handful of Gold Country volunteers sent to relieve the first wave of volunteers who arrived soon after the volcano erupted on May 3. At that time, the Red Cross was operating shelters at the Keeau Senior Center (later moved to the Armory), Sure Foundation Church, and—the largest, sheltering more than 200 people—at Pahoa Community Center. Jan and her fellow volunteers were housed at the University of Hawaii dormitories during their stay; Campbell returned home on June 9.

Campbell, who has worked disasters all over the U.S., from the Rim Fire (2013) to Superstorm Sandy (2012-13) and Hurricane Matthew (2016), observed several things that set the Kilauea Volcano apart. For one, “With a fire or flood, the rain eventually stops, or the fire is contained, and you wait until the water or flames subside so people can go back in and reclaim and rebuild their homes.” But with a disaster like Kilauea, where the volcano is still destroying land and homes the situation is still very much in flux the “land” in many cases is gone, and only lava beds remain. Campbell’s task as Case Work Supervisor was to work with clients to plan their next steps toward recovery.

Campbell, who understands that relief missions can be complicated, especially when they involve multiple agencies, felt that the partnership between The Red Cross, Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, county agencies and other organizations worked well. This depended on clearly defined roles for each organization. “There are always bumps in the road, of course,” said Campbell. “But everything fell into place within a short time. When we all work together and focus on our mission — relieving suffering — small differences fall away.” Campbell commented that the supervisory structure for this event was one of the best and most efficient she has experienced.

Another difference that presented some challenges was becoming accustomed to the Hawaiian lifestyle. For example, a “house” might mean something different to an Islander: it might have one fixed wall and screens or fencing. How do you go about replacing that? Many Hawaiians also prefer to live “off the grid,” said Campbell. “They are more laid back and feel less urgency about their day-to-day lives.” This meant that Campbell and her fellow relief workers needed to listen carefully to understand what each client’s idea of recovery meant to him or her. “People are amazingly resilient,” said Campbell.  “But this will be a long haul and that resiliency can understandably wear thin.” Nevertheless, Campbell found her clients to be patient, understanding, and grateful for the assistance they received.

When not deployed, Campbell’s “Steady State” job is working as Territorial Disaster Workforce Engagement Lead. In this role, she helps disaster responders find the assignment that they will enjoy within the Disaster Workforce, guiding them in seeking training classes to give them skills and knowledge through Red Cross classes.

Regardless of the unique challenges Kilauea presents, “Our mission is always the same,” said Campbell. “We are there to relieve human suffering and help [clients] recover and move on.”

 

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Gold Country Crosswords

The American Red Cross Gold Country Region serves the Sierra-Delta Chapter as well as the Northeastern California Chapter, a total of 24 Counties from Stanislaus to Siskiyou. We are happy to serve the 4.4 million residents in the state.

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