–submitted by Dave Nelson; photo by John Bonsett-Veal
When there is a natural disaster like Hurricane Harvey, volunteer organizations like the Red Cross, alerted by weather reports of a potential crisis, have already made preparations for the event. Food, water and medical supplies are packed and ready to be moved quickly to the disaster area by a corps of volunteers across the country who have also made their preparations in advance, and are therefore able to arrive on the scene within 24 hours. Volunteers share space in whatever housing is available; often sharing rooms with other volunteers. One effect of shared housing is it builds “esprit de corps” among the volunteers.
Red Cross volunteers of all types arrive, including those trained in disaster mental health counseling, ready with psychological first aid for those traumatized by the loss of homes, the separation from their families, temporary housing in a Red Cross shelter, and in many cases, risks to their very lives. Volunteers commit to staying in the disaster area for two weeks, and as they are organizing the disaster relief in shelters, they are already planning for the closing of shelters. In disasters, personal resilience is one of the most valuable assets, and the people providing disaster relief help to foster resilience by discouraging long-term dependence on volunteer services and volunteers.
In contrast to natural disasters that can often be predicted, mass murders like the recent one in Las Vegas, catch everyone by surprise and pose an even greater challenge to psychological counselors than events like hurricanes. In such events, there are often examples of great personal bravery by both victims and volunteers–strangers help to convey victims to hospitals; separated family members are cared for; and many donate blood.
What is the most important need of the Red Cross in disasters? “Faith, hope and love” said speaker Nancy Young, an experienced Red Cross volunteer. And from the audience: “blood, money, and yourselves as volunteers.”
If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.