A case for the American Red Cross

I was a young soldier in the US Amy when I first learned about the American Red Cross and it has been a lifeline when I needed them. I say them because the Red Cross has been almost always volunteers who sacrifice their time and energy to help someone in need.
In South Korea where I was stationed near the DMZ it was a welcome relief to see the Doughnut dollies from te American Red Cross come by to lift our morale. We would all gather around whether we were in the field or in our compound and have coffee and donuts and play games or just chat to hear about what’s going on in the world. They would traverse the countryside to meet with other units wherever they were. My impression was here they are looking after us and sacrificing their time in places of danger to bring a little bit of the US to us.
The Red Cross have come to my aid during my time in the Republic of Panama, Korea, Vietnam and Germany. They have come to provide information about my family when I wouldn’t or couldn’t write to them because of my circumstances. They would provide assistance to get me home when there’s a family emergency.
So, a year before I retired from the San Antonio School District as a School Social Worker, I attended an orientation about the Red Cross and I signed an application to volunteer. During that time before retirement, I attended classes about disaster services. When I did retire I quickly became an active volunteer. Actually, my wife declared that I wasn’t going to stay home and do nothing. So she pushed me out.
I took my volunteering seriously and my idea was to become a custodian or a janitor there. However, the director of disaster service asked me to work with shelters and assigned me to work with another volunteer who had set up the groundwork and I would just follow him to learn about getting agreements and conduct surveys. A month later, he quit and I was left alone. Fortunately, I had learned enough to take on the responsibility. Then came Hurricane Katrina.
It was my baptism of fire which taught us all that we weren’t as prepared as we thought. It brought a lot of changes in protocol and the use of manpower. The director asked me to join the Disaster Action Team (DAT) which I didn’t mind because the shelter management wasn’t taking too much time. I would take on a week and somebody else would take on the next week.
Being on the DAT opened my eyes as to the real work being done by volunteers. Being on alert for seven days and waiting for the phone call can be strenuous and the call was almost at night in the early morning. My wife had joined as a volunteer and she and I would venture out to answer the call. On those early days we had to do a lot of paperwork. Financial assistance and temporary lodging was provided by vouchers and we had to fill out all the necessary forms by hand. We didn’t mind because we saw the need of people in distress. The DAT became the place to be if you really wanted to help our fellowmen.
Later on we had a lot of changes in command and the way we were to conduct our services. After so many years working in DAT, I decided to stay with Shelter management. Protocol had changed and I had to relearn every aspect of procuring shelters. Technology had entered the picture and we were required to learn more about computers. A system called Volunteer Connection was started during my time in DAT and I used it to integrate the new volunteers as “ride alongs” and schedule themselves as to what date and what time they were available. We were still working one-week schedule with one DAT captain.
There were many classes in Disaster Services that we had to take to make us aware of the changes and the new technology that was being offered to make it easier to help our clients. Now, in DAT, we had credit cards instead of vouchers and laptops were carried to enter client information during a fire call. Almost everything was going digital and we had to be on the top with it.
In Facilities Management I had to digitize all my agreements and surveys that had been conducted in the past and bring them up to date with new forms that kept changing as we went along. The agreements along changed three or four times as well as the survey forms during my fifteen years. The job itself hasn’t changed. We still have to meet with the facilities owners and explain the agreement format and conduct a survey of the building.
Now, when there is Disaster Respond Operation (DRO) every aspect in Red Cross comes into play. Logistics is called to provide material and facilities, Mass Care is called to provide shelter and feeding of clients, Disaster Service Technology (DST) is called to provide communication within and outside the realm of the disaster. Other section is called to provide manpower, health services, and leadership.
The Red Cross has changed and it keeps on changing with time ready to serve. As long as we have volunteers who answer the call.

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