Essential Red Cross Work: Disaster Services Technology

Story and photos by Jonathan Yoon/American Red Cross

Disaster Services Technology (DST) plays an important role in American Red Cross relief operations. This past June, I had the opportunity to spend time with Red Cross volunteers who were training as DST responders.

During the three-day training in Minneapolis, volunteers were given the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with experienced DST responders. From novice to expert, every member had an essential role in order to ensure a continuous, successful relief effort. They learned how to use satellite technology to stand-up communications. After a computer network is built, other relief workers, mostly volunteers, can use electronics, like laptops and radios, for various means of communication while responding to a disaster. Additionally, DST training focuses on volunteers learning how to work together as an early response team to catastrophic events.

American Red Cross trainees, Debbie Johnson and Phyllis Wiggins, checking supplies for disaster services technology operations during a practice run
Red Cross volunteers Debbie Johnson and Phyllis Wiggins checking supplies for disaster services technology operations.

The DST team is the forefront of Red Cross communications. By setting up satellite connectivity, these volunteers make sure the Red Cross will be ready to help a community and its people when they’re affected by a major disaster. One of the instructors commented, “Imagine all communications are down. You can’t call or text. We can setup a network for laptops and cell phones, and make a response headquarters.” Without the DST team, there would be no way for the Red Cross to stand-up a relief operation from its core. Their essential work builds the foundation for response efforts.

Red Cross DST volunteers learning how to fix a disaster relief vehicle antenna.

Another volunteer, Jane Lazarevic, who has four years of experience on a DST team, was back for a review session. “I was deployed to St. Louis this past January for two weeks during a disaster response, working for DST and staff.” I was fortunate enough to hear about her experience responding to the flooding relief effort earlier this year. It was incredible to hear her testimony about how she was able to help others as a DST volunteer in addition to her regular life routine back home.

So what’s next for these trainees? While summer brings sun and fun, these volunteers are ready to respond to hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and tornadoes. The next time you see or hear about the Red Cross, think about what’s happening behind-the-scenes to make the response happen. You might even feel the urge to become a DST volunteer. Click here to learn more about the Red Cross and volunteer opportunities.

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