A taste of disaster response

A week ago this Friday, I woke up and expected to conduct five normal interviews with my executive director (Pat) to hire an office manager for the Watertown office. However, the day turned into much more.

The first interview went fine and I just thought I was in for a long day. The second candidate walked in, and in the course of her interview, told us there was a fire in her trailer court last night and the family would need assistance. We asked her to find the mom after the interview so she could call our office. We then went out for a quick lunch break.

From here on, I want you to imagine that you are there, real-time, in our shoes…

As we get back from lunch the phone is ringing. It’s the fire victim. Neither the director nor I are fully disaster trained (we both have only taken Introduction to Disaster) so we told them to come in and we’d do the best we can until another volunteer gets there.

As Pat looks for the paperwork in an office that is not familiar to us, I conduct an interview with a crisis counselor – so fitting! What’s more, the victim gets there about 20 minutes earlier than expected so in the open office we have a interview and disaster work going on. It was not an ideal situation but we made it work.

I am also slightly flustered because it starts to bring back memories for me. When I was in 5th grade my family lost our home to a fire, and knowing this family lost everything, I feel what they are going through.

When the volunteer arrives we turn the response over to her thinking she is fully trained. Pat and I go in the back to discuss the interview I had conducted. In a moment, I peek out and the volunteer calls for me: she just started doing this training, is only trained in mass care and is confused on the CAC forms! Between the 3 of us we figure out the forms with the help of phone assistance from our disaster coordinator.

While the volunteer tries to figure out the form with the disaster coordinator, the victim starts to tell me what happened…. and it really brings me back to our fire. My heart goes out to her.

When we call the hotel to get them lodging, they have not been paid for our last fire!! We had a recent change of personnel and the payment been lost in the shuffle. I get on my cell phone and call our disaster coordinator again and finally get an arrangement made. After an hour, we finally send the victim on their way.

As we conduct our last interview, the volunteer comes back. The last client had left a $43 phone bill with the hotel. We decide to leave it up to the disaster coordinator to figure out and decided we needed to get out of town before something else happened.

The office is part-time but the phone was ringing off the hook while we were there. We even had a girl come in and tell us she wanted to donate blood again. While we were excited, it was not our office and neither of us knew when the next blood drive was. I could only take her contact information.

With the chaos of the day, I was reassured that I’m a part of this organization for the right reasons. This was the first real opportunity to be hands on with assisting clients. Seeing how grateful the client was for our services really impacted me and made me extremely proud to be part of the Red Cross family.

Jessica Mueller, South Dakota

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  1. [...] from the Brookings County Chapter Chair Posted on March 11, 2009 by Jessica Mueller In my last blog post, I wrote about how I was faced with a disaster response situation – and I’m not disaster [...]

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