When Hurricane Harvey struck, Phoenix resident Derek Weber knew it would be bad.
As a child, afraid of tornados, Weber had become an avid weather watcher so he had followed Harvey from its inception.
“I thought of donating money then realized I had the time and the folks needed help,” he said.
Within hours, Weber, 35, jumped into action joining the Red Cross. Within days, Weber was trained and ready to deploy.
Weber arrived in Houston on the night of Sept. 12. At first, everything appeared normal. It wasn’t until he got to his destination that he felt the severity of the situation.
“There were hundreds of Red Cross workers walking around fast and with a sense of urgency – workers coming in from a shift and others going out,” he said.
The next day, after receiving a disaster briefing and additional training, he was ready to work for the next 13 days at the Houston NRG Convention Center. This shelter would eventually be home to as many as 2,500 people at a time and serve an average of 3,000 meals per day. “There were a lot of stressed peo-ple, confused people,” he said. “I just worked hard, stayed positive and did what I could.”
Growing up in and out of homeless shelters, Weber developed a compassion and exemplary emotional composure for this kind of situation. He stayed calm and worked hard to “fill the gaps” making things run smoother. He organized the kitchen to ready food and water so lines would be shorter and people would get their food and water faster. During his time in Houston, Weber also served on a Red Cross outreach team tasked with distributing meals, cleanup kits and MREs (meals ready to eat) to people in the com-munity.
“A lot of people lost their homes and just needed to vent their frustrations. Being a good listener was an-other way I could easily help,” he said.
Looking back on his first deployment experience, Weber said one of the biggest challenges for volun-teers in this type of situation is that it’s physically taxing - most people work 12-hour to 15-hour days. “Keeping fit, getting enough sleep, drinking water and being mindful of your limitations is the key.”
Since Weber’s return from deployment, he has continued to volunteer with the American Red Cross dis-aster team of the Greater Phoenix Chapter, logging more than 45 hours. He attended specialized training and is now certified to drive Emergency Response vehicles, he worked on the nationwide Sound the Alarm campaign - installing free smoke alarms to prevent home fire deaths, and has also been assisting with home fire responses. As he said, “…the folks need help.”