By Mimi Teller
When you hear “American Red Cross”, chances are your mind defaults to blood donations, disaster sheltering or maybe even support for the Armed Services. Where your mind most certainly doesn’t go is Information and Planning, which is equal among the most vital volunteer support roles for the Red Cross mission.
Information and Planning volunteers support the Red Cross during both “blue sky” and “grey sky” periods: They help build emergency readiness and response capacity during steady state intervals and when disaster hits, they gather and assess data critical for the management of emergency response and recovery operations, including information on the scope of the event and the effectiveness of the response. Planning activities include disaster assessment and analysis, financial and statistical data and information dissemination. The facts and figures collected by Information and Planning volunteers facilitates the most effective disaster response service delivery and for that, we are thankful for volunteers like Anusha Kothandhapani.
In 2019 Anusha, an engineer by trade, found herself between jobs and sought a way to keep herself busy, with a preference toward humanitarian service. Analytical by nature, Anusha carefully considered her options through a prudent process of elimination: Growing up in India, Anusha knew of the Red Cross through its international disaster work; as an American resident she learned further of the organization through its life-saving Blood Services. Combined with the organization’s longevity and reputation Anusha chose to join the Red Cross volunteer workforce through the Los Angeles region. The next hurdle was to choose from over 30 volunteer roles.
Lacking full time access to a car limited Anusha’s options, but when she learned the Information and Planning position required only computer access along with strategic, analytical and tactical skills, Anusha found a position she felt could expand her professional competencies.
“I came to the Red Cross with a defined set of technical skills” Anusha shared, “Thanks to my work in Information and Planning I stepped into a leadership role within three months, interacting regularly with leaders at the regional and national level. This experience advanced my professional goals in people management and negotiations and as a result I am now interested in working as a program manager.”
In her role as Information and Planning Anusha is among the first people called when a sizable disaster hits. Once familiarized with the disaster action report, Anusha assembles and disperses the initial incident report which provides disaster response managers the information needed to determine the services and resources required along with the needed workforce. Within the first 24 hours of a disaster and continuing throughout the operation, Anusha collects, organizes and disseminates all operational and logistical information from shelter supply trailers to meals to communication channels to keep the response and recovery mission situationally current.
As is typical with Red Cross volunteering, however, Anusha’s experience is not limited to the information systems and data dissemination of the Information and Planning position. Her first disaster deployment placed the L.A. resident in Texas when the Red Cross was called upon to help the surge of children arriving alone at the U.S.-Mexico border. As a shelter associate with the mass care program, Anusha helped provide the children a safe place to stay along with a sense of comfort and friendship. As an immigrant herself Anusha worked hard to make things better for the unaccompanied minors, looking forward every day to interacting with them and understanding what they were feeling and experiencing. She even learned to speak a little Spanish, tossing the fear of inhibitions aside.
“When I deployed to the border, I felt so good at the end of the day and I slept well each night. It’s very different to just hear or read about working an emergency from being at the scene helping people in deep distress. That’s when I understood what it’s really like to be in service. I was also able to witness all the support Red Cross provides and why the organization is so trusted. The experience helped me grow mentally, emotionally and professionally.”