By Jason Viana
“There’s a house fire in St. Paul and media are on the scene, can you go?”
“Can who go?”
“You! You should go, you should totally go!”
This brief conversation with the media relations manager at the Twin Cities Area Chapter began my first ever on-the-scene response as a Public Affairs Volunteer for the American Red Cross. This was the moment I had been preparing for! Right? Then why did I suddenly feel so unprepared!
Gathering my things I kept trying to remember what I was going to say, trying to imagine what the scene would look like, trying to think of everything I had been taught during my training classes….my brain kept responding, “file not found.”
The pressure of the situation was definitely affecting my ability to process thoughts, but I got it together and headed over to St. Paul.
Arriving at the scene my thoughts and concerns quickly changed course. The sight of a smoldering house surrounding by fire trucks has a way of sobering your thoughts and calming your mind.
The conversation in my head became a lot less about me and a lot more about this family who has just lost everything. Seeing this fire first hand reminded me of why I had become a Red Cross volunteer in the first place: to help people when they need it most.
When I arrived I must admit I was a bit timid and concerned that my presence would be intrusive. But the truth of it was that the family seemed grateful for our presence, not only for the assistance we were providing, but also for the companionship. The financial assistance the Disaster Action Team volunteers were providing was vital, but I think the greatest value they offered the victims was their presence and their willingness to listen and help them make sense of what has happening.
In retrospect I can’t say that I added a great deal to the relief effort. I followed up with the media, snapped a few pictures, and took a few notes, but I really just observed and tried to comfort the members of this family who were sitting there watching their home go up in flames.
The gravity of the situation was sinking in for me, and the importance of the work we do as volunteers became evident. We tell the story of these people, their despair, and the hope that is offered by the Red Cross. These six people never imagined that they would need help on this day. And thanks to the work of the Red Cross they didn’t even have to ask.
So when your first call comes don’t panic. Trust your training, trust yourself, and know that whatever the situation calls for you will be able to respond effectively.
Editor’s Note: Jason Viana recently became a Disaster Public Affairs Volunteer with the American Red Cross Twin Cities Area Chapter. You can see an album of Jason’s pictures taken at this fire on our flickr photo stream. http://bit.ly/7OtnaQ
“Oh the wonderful, productive chaos of a Red Cross deployment!”
By Kris Posey, Red Cross Twin Cities Area Chapter Disaster Services Volunteer
The first day: one plane trip, one rental car shared with two Red Cross volunteers from Connecticut, and no “room at the inn” because they’d been rented long ago for a Georgia Tech football game. After much effort by Staff Services Lodging volunteers, thirty-four of us were able to drive about twenty miles to a motel for the night. My roommate was from Tennessee. After we determined that I was older–much older–she decided to call me Mom for the remainder of our time together. I loved that!
My second day in Georgia meant a new assignment, a new motel, and a new roommate from Long Island.
The new assignment was working as Staff Support at a satellite Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) kitchen in a church in Mableton, Georgia, that would be closer to the mobile feeding routes. This meant moving to another motel room (a very nice one thankfully) so the ERV drivers would not need to spend as much time commuting back and forth to the job. We shared the church offices with the Southern Baptists who were there to cook the food that the Red Cross ERV’s delivered. There were 20+ ERV’s working out of this kitchen and the collaboration between Red Cross and Southern Baptists was run like a fine tuned machine!
I had an opportunity to ride on two different ERV runs and see some of the people who were affected by the floods—many of them had nothing much before the floods. They were very appreciative of the two meals a day Red Cross was delivering to them. I was glad that I had attended the “Ready Set Roll” ERV class because I was able to help in a productive way instead of being a third wheel. I knew what to look for when the drivers asked for a spoodle!
After ten days, Red Cross had met the needs of the residents and it was time for everyone to head back home. We out processed all of the drivers and after their ERVs passed the road inspection 20+ ERVs headed back home to places all over the South.
I stayed another three days to finish my assignment at Red Cross Headquarters. Yes, this meant moving to a fourth motel. Then I returned home where I crashed for two days (a given after a deployment) and now I am ready to deploy all over again!