When the call comes, Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) volunteers suit up and respond. They may drive across town, across the state or even across state lines. Their job description as the first line of care is to deliver comfort and compassion to those in need.
Home fires, floods, tornados and other events add up to approximately 64,000 disasters each year requiring the distribution of supplies, arrangements for temporary lodging, health services and canteen services for both emergency workers and those affected individuals. DAT volunteers are on the road soon after a disaster hits. Most of the responses are for home fires but can also include large-scale relief operations such as the recent flooding in Nebraska and Iowa.
For seven years, Ned Webb of Topeka, Kansas, has accepted the call for deployment with the DAT. In late March he spent two weeks in Omaha, Nebraska, working in the shelters that were part of the Red Cross response to the flooding of the Platte River, the Elkhorn River and the Missouri River. “Feeding and sheltering were the big need there,” he said.
No sooner had he returned home and a call came to respond to a gas tanker spill on I-70 in downtown Topeka. The thoroughfare was shut down for more than 10 hours. Red Cross met the need of feeding two meals to first responders and emergency workers.
It’s ironic that Webb’s first exposure to Red Cross was also over food. He and his wife traveled to Harveyville, Kansas, to help with cleanup following a tornado in 2012. The Red Cross was serving food to volunteers and he was recruited to the DAT over a simple bowl of chili.
“Every potential volunteer comes in with different skills,” Webb said. “The DAT comes in on the ground floor of an event and takes over in the chaos, but there are hundreds of other volunteer jobs for Red Cross.” He added, there is an enormous amount of training available to do any level of volunteer work that fits an individual’s needs.
Monya Bergman of Manhattan, Kansas, has volunteered with Red Cross and has served as a member of the DAT for three years. She enjoys being there to help people who are involved in an unexpected disaster. Fire calls occur more often, but responding to the flooding in Manhattan last fall was a “really rough call” with it being in her hometown. Disaster response “gives you a look at the good, the bad and the ugly.”
She originally went to Red Cross for a family volunteer opportunity to involve her children. “Helping those in need is definitely a way to give back to my community,” she said, “and a good way for us to appreciate what we have.”
Giving comfort, emotional support and hope are written into the DAT job description. Bergman’s DAT work covers a six-county area including Pottawatomie, Riley, Geary, Morris, Marshall, and Wabaunsee.
Successful volunteers come from all walks of life. Bergman is a foster mother and home-schools her children. Webb, now retired, had a successful career in economic development and city management.
Just as likely, a volunteer can be called upon to help prevent disasters such as in the Red Cross’s upcoming smoke alarm campaign, Sound the Alarm[MJ1] . The event is geared to save people’s lives by installing free smoke alarms, providing education and helping people make escape plans to avoid loss of life in a fire.
Interested in joining the DAT? No previous experience is required. Volunteers are trained by Red Cross to respond to a disaster scene and properly assist those affected. Potential volunteers must have an interest, availability and compassion to respond at a moment’s notice.
Learn about Red Cross volunteer opportunities and register as a volunteer at www.redcross.org/volunteer/become-a-volunteer.html.