To say this year’s disaster season has been active is an understatement. Conditions throughout Washington and other Western states are sparking new wildfires daily, forcing people to evacuate in search of safe shelter. Volunteers with the American Red Cross are actively feeding, sheltering and providing emotional support to communities in their time of need. We are also helping survivors of large apartment fires in Spokane and Seattle, and individual home fires like the ones that displaced college students in my hometown of Pullman last week. Our disaster season started when the heat wave hit here in June and is expected to continue through September.
How does this work get done? The American Red Cross trains and supports a cohort of fire and disaster volunteers to respond to these types of disasters across the country, including our Greater Inland Northwest and Central and Southeastern Washington chapters, which includes about everything in Eastern Washington and North Idaho. In the last year, Red Cross volunteers within the Northwest Region responded to more than 900 disasters, helping more than 1,500 people impacted.
While we’re always looking to recruit new teammates, the Red Cross has a special need now for disaster action team (DAT) members, shelter volunteers and health professionals to help care for people in their time of need. Compassionate and committed individuals are needed to support our work this disaster season.
I wanted to share a couple of stories to help you understand the depth of commitment the Red Cross has to humanity. In my training about 20 years ago, an experienced Red Cross disaster team member said these telling words: “We are here to help people no matter what. Leave your ego on the shelf at home when you go out.” And I can vouch that the dozens of volunteers and staffers I have worked with in our area do just that.
Fast forward to March 2020. Normally, local volunteers will attend personally on site to the disaster, using the buddy system, getting the needed information from the client and providing them help. When the pandemic hit, and without any prodding from outside forces, the American Red Cross pivoted in a week to an all virtual, online, safe and secure system so that people could get the help they needed, often even sooner than sending a team to a rural address or small town. I’ve never seen any organization switch the entire system that fast and that well. And even with their skill level, they need you to help make it even better.
Red Cross DAT volunteers ensure that people affected by local disasters have relief and critical recovery resources, including a place to stay, food to eat and clothing. If you are team-oriented and want to help your neighbor, becoming a DAT responder is the thing for you. Shelter volunteers are needed to help support reception, registration, feeding and other important tasks inside emergency shelters. Health professionals are needed to assist with people’s health needs in disaster shelters and provide hands-on care in alignment with their professional license. Each one of these areas (sheltering, home disasters, health professionals) get its own specific training and on-the-job training. The Red Cross will provide all the training and support required. The training itself has helped to improve my life, just knowing how the Red Cross helps people and all the ways you can help yourself and others, even if you are only called to do so occasionally.
Volunteers are asked to commit to shifts of four, six or 12 hours each. There is no minimum requirement, and although we need help 24 hours a day, you work at your hours. You can be on call for 24 hours at a time, but in my experience most days have no calls, many have a couple hours’ worth and a few have several. The commitment is real but not onerous and the experience will change you forever.
There is nothing like seeing the face and/or hearing the voice of someone who has just had their life changed forever give you a big thanks for the help.
I am part of a Greater Inland Northwest Disaster Action Team and hope you will consider this opportunity to join me as we comfort and support people who are forced from their homes due to home fires and other emergencies, so they don’t have to face tough times alone. Help lift up the hearts of those who are unexpectedly faced with emergencies. If you are interested, please go to redcross.org/volunteer today to learn more and sign up. You can also contact me (John Mc) directly (you can easily find my contacts on social media or through the paper).
John P. McNamara, emeritus professor, WSU, Red Cross health and safety instructor, Red Cross blood drive manager and Red Cross Disaster Aid Team member.