By: Kim Mailes
American Red Cross
The pandemic changed everything, and many fundamental services of the American Red Cross are being adapted. IT communications and virtual meeting capabilities have become critical, and no one is better equipped to meet the challenge than longtime volunteer David Sewell. You might say the moment has met the man.
He began volunteering over thirty years ago as a Disaster Action Team worker. Forty deployments later, he serves as Disaster Services Technology Chief and as a member of the international Information Technology and Telecommunications disaster response team. But he retains the excitement of a new volunteer.
“You’ll work long days,” he said recently, “but it’s the best exhaustion you’ll ever have. You'll benefit far more than the people you serve.” Current assignments take him around the globe, but he emphasizes that day-to-day work at home with the Red Cross is just as important as big-time, faraway events. “Volunteering on local efforts hones your skills so you’re ready for the big one.”
He advises new volunteers to be flexible. A recent deployment to the U.S. Virgin Islands seemed unnecessary when Tropical Storm Isaias turned out less severe than anticipated. But seizing the opportunity, he and a colleague enhanced local satellite internet connectivity and laid the groundwork for an interconnected radio repeater network. They reprogrammed radio systems on St. Croix and St. Thomas, enabling the Red Cross to better serve the region, both now and into the future, in good weather and bad.
Multiple Red Cross volunteer opportunities exist in IT and communications. “Go online and fill out the application and look at the opportunities. Practically all potential IT volunteers have another specialty they do at home as well.” Volunteers are needed in Disaster Services Technology and to maintain operational IT in an ongoing disaster. Others are needed to provide technical support to volunteers navigating the increasingly important American Red Cross web-based capabilities. “Support a chapter with your IT skills,” he recommends. "These skills can be transferred to emergency situations in the future.”
Asked to identify the greatest current need for volunteers, he responded immediately: “We need people willing to help with sheltering.” The pandemic may have reshaped some of the ways shelters are organized, "But so many tasks simply cannot be done virtually; we need people onsite to fulfill the mission of the Red Cross.”
With a record hurricane and wildfire season looming, shelter volunteers are needed more than ever. “At least give it a shot and see what you can do," Sewell urges. "Get excited about going and helping people in other places. Your motivation and excitement will be contagious, and local folks will step in when you have returned home.”
After all the years of service, Sewell remains focused on the core mission of the American Red Cross. Stressing immediacy and individual effort, he urges volunteers to get involved.