Written by California AmeriCorps Disaster Team Member, Elyse Tran
“My first two Red Cross deployments were in response to Hurricane Matthew. For my first, I flew out to North Carolina two days after the storm dissipated. Although most predictions indicated that (within the U.S.) Florida would be hit hardest by the storm, North Carolina ended up seeing far more destruction and deaths than any other state. So, I went there.
Then, in December, I was sent back again, this time to the Palmetto State—South Carolina. Before the storm, many citizens residing in the non-coastal communities of North and South Carolina were simply told to expect heavy rain. Some had not even heard warnings about the hurricane on the radio, news, or even out and about in their community. So, people living in these areas were simply not prepared for such a strong storm.
For both deployments I was assigned to do Damage Assessments. This means I spent most of my deployment days driving through primarily rural neighborhoods to assess, verify, and document the amount of damage sustained. Compared to my colleagues, who worked in sheltering and feeding, I did not have as many opportunities for client interaction. However, in the field, I was able to see the damage first-hand and occasionally hear personal heart-wrenching stories from people affected by the storm.
Damage Assessment is a fundamental step in post-disaster recovery because it allows an opportunity to compile information and map out the damage. This way, emergency response vehicles (ERVs) can head to the most heavily impacted neighborhoods first. And, in addition to providing direct aid to those who need it most, after damage assessments are made, we can also connect people with our partners. This way, they can distribute resources to people in need and, put them on a faster road to recovery.
I could write an entire book about the unforgettable experiences I had while on deployment after Hurricane Matthew. But for now, here are some of the highlights; some of the moments I will always remember:
I learned how to use an app called Survey123, to input data about each apartment, mobile home, and house that I visited.
I walked to a library, county jail, and police department in an effort to get an accurate map of a rural community.
I listened as a parent recalled the height of the water in his home, as it rose above the height of his son’s head.
I distributed informative flyers to people at many gas stations and fast food restaurants surrounding the local communities.
I watched as a couple celebrated our arrival, because they knew that soon after we finished accessing the damage, another team would come in and distribute warm food, cold water, and much needed comfort.
Some days, after working 9-5 at my office computer, I feel slightly disconnected from our Red Cross mission. But, the three and a half weeks I spent deployed after Hurricane Matthew reminded me how meaningful all our work is— in local neighborhoods and around the world.
Being deployed after Hurricane Matthew gave me a sense of purpose and reminded me why I joined the Red Cross. It reminded me why I want to do more Pillowcase Project presentations for elementary school students. It reminded me why I want to do Community Disaster Education presentations for adults. It reminded me why I try to identify vulnerable communities that can benefit from getting new smoke alarms installed during Home Fire Preparedness Events. And most importantly, it reminded me why I am proud to be working as an AmeriCorps Member with the American Red Cross!”