The Faces of a Disaster Response Operation
By Catie Ballenger, American Red Cross Public Affairs
Trained American Red Cross volunteers are working around the clock in California to help people impacted by the massive wildfires which have forced whole communities from their homes. Red Cross workers are on the ground providing shelter, food and comfort. Behind the scenes, Red Cross staff coordinate logistics, conduct disaster assessments and assist in recovery.
Who are these incredible people who generously give of their time and talent in the face of disaster? In this series, we will introduce you to many of them.
Name: Sean Grady
Region: Greater Carolinas
Deployment Focus: Shelter support
Length of Deployment: 12 days
Sean Grady, a Red Cross volunteer who calls the North Carolina Smoky Mountains home, recently gave his time and talent to provide not only a shelter but a temporary home to wildfire evacuees in Chester, Calif.
As soon as Sean arrived at the shelter, he got right to work. He was asked to work a few night shifts and agreed with a smile! “The nurse working at the shelter asked me if I would work overnight, 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. She needed a man who would work with male clients who had health issues and might need help during the night. So, of course, I told her I would be glad to,” Sean said.
The first night, Sean and fellow volunteer Holly Ebdon cleaned and organized everything. The following morning, one of the evacuees came to Sean and said, “What you did is amazing! This was a shelter. Now, it’s a home!”
Sean has been with the Red Cross since early 2014. He spends much of his volunteer time responding to house fires with the local Disaster Action Team, helping families with immediate needs following a fire. “I receive so much gratitude from the people I help. That is why I volunteer,” said Sean.
Sean encourages any volunteer who is considering deployment to do it at least once. “It is hard work and long hours, but especially, if you are on the front lines, you get to see the effects of our work right in front of you and you will receive the deepest gratitude.”
Name: Bill Dorman
Home Region: Central and South Texas
Deployment Focus: Mass Care Lead (Shelter support)
Length of Deployment: 15 Days
Bill Dorman is not a stranger to rushing from his home to stay out of a wildfire’s devastating path, making him an excellent mass care volunteer. He lives in Austin, Texas, but he and his wife spend summers in Sonoma County, Calif. “Last summer, my wife, my brother-in-law who uses a wheelchair and I had to evacuate due to wildfires,” Bill said.
Most of Bill’s deployment was spent at operation headquarters, planning, organizing and leading the mass care team. However, he did get a chance to work directly with evacuees at the Local Assistance Center in Doyle, Calif.
In the 16 years Bill has been with the Red Cross, he has deployed 40 times. (Yes, you read that right, 40 deployments in 16 years!) He contributes his tenure to the camaraderie between Red Crossers. “My best Red Cross memories come from working with dedicated volunteers from all over the county,” said Bill.
As a deployment veteran, the advice he gives to first timers is, “Be ready for a seemingly chaotic experience. Be patient. Be flexible. And most importantly, remember that it is not about you.”
Name: Elizabeth Alvarez
Home Region: Arizona New Mexico El Paso
Deployment focus: Logistics
Length of Deployment: 18 days
Elizabeth Alvarez, a Red Cross volunteer of 4 years, was one of the many responders who deployed to the Campfire disaster response in California’s Gold Country in the fall of 2018. This summer, she returned to Gold County to work logistics for the 2021 California wildfires. “My Campfire deployment memories are still very powerful in my mind, so I empathize strongly with my colleagues and the people in this region. I was very motivated to do my part to support them,” said Elizabeth.
During this summer’s wildfire response, Elizabeth supervised several first timers. She said, “I was so excited to see how committed they were to support our mission, how eager they were to learn and how quickly they came up to speed. They showed the best of the Red Cross spirit. They were flexible, as they were pushed beyond their comfort levels and rose to the challenges. They were here for the right reasons and demonstrated how lucky we are to have such a talented, skilled and dedicated workforce.”
As a seasoned disaster responder, Elizabeth’s team was in good hands. She has deployed 11 times to different parts of the country, helping those impacted by wildfires and floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes.
For Elizabeth, trust is essential in a disaster response operation. “If you’re willing to trust your colleagues to support you and you support them back, you will receive more than you originally asked for,” she said.
Volunteers like Sean, Elizabeth and Bill make up 90% of the Red Cross workforce, responding to more than 60,000 disasters every year. Large disasters like the California wildfires, hurricanes, floods and tornadoes are increasing in frequency and intensity. It’s critical to have a trained, ready volunteer workforce to make sure we can provide comfort and support to anyone who needs aid after a disaster. Join us to make a difference in our community and help someone in need after a disaster. Learn more at redcross.org/volunteer