By Alexandra Harbert, American Red Cross Communications Intern
The American Red Cross of San Diego/Imperial Counties has over 2,000 dedicated volunteers. Together, they donate thousands of hours each month to the mission of the American Red Cross – preventing and alleviating human suffering in the face of emergencies. In order to respond efficiently to disasters at a moment’s notice, volunteers must train year-round.
That’s why the local Red Cross began hosting a yearly Training Tournament. The tournament provides a chance for newer volunteers to take trainings they need and gives senior volunteers the opportunity to further advance their knowledge. Throughout the month-long 2019 Training Tournament, over 60 trainings were offered, ranging from workshops to classroom trainings to simulation exercises.
“Right now, although we’ve had a lot of rain lately, we haven’t had the same fire danger, so we don’t have any shelters open down here [in San Diego],” says volunteer Michele Earnest. “It’s a good time to get caught up and get ahead and be prepared for when disasters do occur.”
The local Red Cross responds to about one disaster every 24 hours, most commonly home fires. A home fire can take everything from a family and the recovery process can be overwhelming. If requested after a home fire, flood or other disaster, a Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) deploys to the location. DAT volunteers arrive on scene to offer assistance to affected individuals and families. Volunteers are trained in interviewing these residents and helping identify immediate needs, which generally include clothing and a roof over their heads for a couple of nights.
As part of the Training Tournament, a Disaster Action Team simulation took place on February 16 with approximately 20 Red Cross volunteers in attendance. Disaster Program Manager Dave Maloney split volunteers into teams based on their level of Red Cross experience, bringing a range of trainees, team members and team leads into each group. Some leads role-played as people affected by a disaster, allowing the other team members to interview them and assess their needs.
Rick Wall was one of those team-leads-turned-disaster-survivor role players. He has been a DAT volunteer for the past four years. “We go to serve a family or people who have been displaced by a disaster—it could be a fire, a flood, a vehicle crashes into a building sometimes,” he says. “We have a van full of things that we can give to them—sweats clothing, flip-flops, socks, dog food, cat food, a leash for their pets, blankets of course, toiletries items and a comfort kit.”
Training teams sat in Emergency Response Vehicles to hide from the morning cold or gathered in patches of sun for their interviews. The scenarios included common issues DAT volunteers face during a response, such as a missing family pet or roommates with no renter’s insurance. Offering comfort while providing assistance can feel overwhelming, but the volunteers handled it skillfully. They patiently walked through all the interview steps and explained the process to new volunteers. At the interview’s conclusion, those affected by disasters had money for their immediate needs and the assurance that a Red Cross caseworker would be following up with them to check in on their recovery progress.
Jennifer Weddington recently joined the Red Cross volunteer force. This simulation was her first experience with the Disaster Action Team. “I’m glad that I’m doing this before I actually get called on a real call. I feel like this is preparing me a little bit more,” she explains. “We’re here to let them know the Red Cross is here to be able to better support them, give them resources to help get them to planning [and] start thinking what’s their next step, what’s their next move. Everything’s not going to be okay, you just lost your whole home. But we’re here to at least ease that pain a little bit.”
Some volunteers, like Jennifer, hold full-time jobs while others, like Rick, are retired. Volunteers range in ages, experiences and backgrounds. The simulation that morning emphasized the importance of teamwork and how everyone can learn something from someone else. Disaster Action Teams are strong and effective because they are comprised of a diverse group of dedicated volunteers working together.
The Training Tournament aims to prepare the San Diego Region to face disasters big and small. Volunteers make up approximately 90 percent of the American Red Cross workforce, and having a well-trained volunteer base allows the local Red Cross to assist in other regions while also being ready to respond to incidents at home.
For more information on how to become a Red Cross volunteer, visit redcross.org/volunteer.