In 31 years as a police officer, Kevin Austin has seen a lot. But the former police officer said he was amazed at the resilience of the people affected by the recent Washington State landslide, which killed more than 40 people.
Kevin, an American Red Cross Silicon Valley Chapter volunteer, said emotions were running high when he arrived in Darrington, Washington, a community of less than 1,400.
“It was a week after the slide, and they were still waiting for word on their loved ones. They were probably also experiencing survivor guilt.”
Kevin said one individual survived through sheer luck. “This lady was driving down a road that was later destroyed, and stopped for gas. A few minutes later, that road was wiped out. That delay saved her life,” he said. “Talking with these people was very emotional.”
Kevin, who retired from the Campbell, California police department in 2004 with the rank of Sergeant, said he became a volunteer with the Red Cross following his retirement from the police department. “I’m lucky enough to be retired and I still wanted to help people.”
“I teach at the Police Academy, but I wanted more” said the nine-year veteran of the Silicon Valley Chapter, who has deployed to disasters across the nation seven times since 2005, and also responds to local Disaster Assistance Team (DAT) calls.
Kevin is a Red Cross Life Safety & Asset Protection (LSAP) specialist, one of the lesser known jobs in the Red Cross field. LSAP volunteers provide technical expertise and guidance on life safety and asset protection issues during a disaster relief operation.
“We work closely with law enforcement. My experience as a police officer is an asset in this job,” he said. “I speak their language and don’t try to tell them what to do.” Kevin said his duties included daily inspections, liaison with law enforcement and fire officials, troubleshooting, and making public relations contacts.
Kevin said he experienced a gamut of housing during his deployment, including hallways, churches, shelters, hotels, and even a forestry bunkhouse. He spent the first week of his deployment in Everett, Washington, on the east side of the gigantic mudslide. Later he moved to Marysville, a town of about 12,000 residents on the west side of the slide.
“These communities are very small. Everyone knows everybody, and there is a lot of suffering going on,” Kevin said.
Asked about what he has leaned through his volunteer experience, Kevin said “it reaffirmed my belief that Americans are great people, especially under tough conditions. And that the Red Cross is amazing.”
Asked for his advice to new volunteers when they deploy the first time, Kevin said “it’s a great experience, but you must be flexible, patient, willing to work long hours, and be able to roll with a variety of changes and personalities.”