In Montana, the American Red Cross relies on a network of volunteers to deliver shelter, food and hope to people facing disaster in even the remotest counties and Tribal Lands.
Disasters do not stop, and neither do Red Cross disaster volunteers. Last year in Montana (the nation's fourth largest state) the Red Cross responded to 170 emergencies, providing food, shelter, health services and mental health support to more than 260 families.
With only one paid disaster staff member in the state, the Red Cross relies on a network of trained volunteers to ensure that Red Cross response and recovery services get to the most remote Montana counties and Tribal Areas.
Setting Up a Network
Last year, volunteer David Kunzelman partnered with Montana’s one paid Red Cross disaster employee, Colleen Tone, to develop a program to cover the state with response and recovery services. The program provides a way to deliver disaster services to people in the state, whether a Red Cross office is one mile or 500 miles from their home.
The Duty Officer program has two simple parts: a way for people to let the Red Cross know help is needed; and a way for the Red Cross to deliver that help.
A toll-free, widely-promoted disaster help line is answered 24/7 by volunteers who serve on rotating shifts. Prior to the help line many communities did not realize the Red Cross could support them, so they did not call for assistance. Now the Red Cross receives calls from areas that were never before heard from.
Secondly, layers of volunteers were trained, from leadership who provide high-level guidance and support, to disaster action teams whose members leave their homes day or night to help people affected by disaster.
Volunteers Make it Happen
Sometimes getting the job done requires disaster volunteers to work full-time—and beyond. For example, the Yellowstone County Disaster Action Team recently provided Red Cross services to areas in south-central Montana. Day after day, these volunteers set up and managed shelters, provided food, casework and supplies, coordinated with community partners and provided health and mental heath services.
Although exhausted, they did not stop until the last shovel and mop were delivered to help a homeowner clean up. During one string of disasters, the 33 members of the Yellowstone County Disaster Action Team were active for 91 days straight. At the same time, they were responding to small-scale disasters such as home and apartment fires and recruiting and training new disaster action teams, including the first Tribal disaster action team in Montana on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.
The system of Red Cross volunteers was built and continues to run to ensure disaster services to any Montanan needing them is nothing short of phenomenal. They won’t be stopped.