justin kim, nprc, 2014by Justin W. Kim, AmeriCorps, National Preparedness Response Corps Board Member

Community Outreach and Faith Based Specialist, Community & Volunteer Engagement

It was dark and rainy on December 12, and I wondered how long this not-very-L.A. weather would last. I was biking to work getting splashed by traffic, but I wore a sunny disposition, along with my rain coat. The Red Cross West L.A. Chapter was holding its staff holiday luncheon, and the thought of free food was my companion on the ride. After a flurry of work and an AmeriCorps monthly meeting, the luncheon began.

Just as I was about to dive into the copious amounts of food, Disaster Program Specialist Jeannie Woo ran in the room to find me.  She said a tornado had hit L.A. and several people needed our help. This was my first Disaster Action Team (DAT) call, so I put on my vest, but then the questions started: “Did I hear that right? A tornado? In Los Angeles?” The probability of such a thing happening would be akin to calling Sharknado a candid and compelling film about freak weather patterns. Jeannie succinctly answered my questions with a yes and told me the tornado had touched down somewhere south of USC.

After filling several plates with holiday lunch goodies (blueberry pie, coconut topped cookies and various assortments of _DSC2844sweets), the other DAT members and I promptly headed toward the tornado site. We reached the site at approximately 12:30 in the afternoon. I was, by this time, quite lively. One of the other DAT members was a volunteer and disaster preparedness enthusiast named Nigel. Originally from England, Nigel is a businessman and is very enthusiastic about everything.

We surveyed the damaged homes and worked with the Department of Housing to determine whether we needed to provide shelter for the affected families. The tornado had only touched down briefly, but two apartment buildings were hit, a tree had been knocked down, and an advertising billboard was damaged.

Perhaps the most stressful moment was when an unsuspecting family had driven over to look at some vacant apartments and unknowingly put themselves in danger by walking through the disaster site. One of the daughters, the youngest of three, had stepped on a rusty nail and the mother and _DSC2883child were crying and screaming loudly. We quickly positioned ourselves: I brought a children’s Disney comfort kit, Vilma Duran had a first aid kit, and Jeannie carefully removed the child’s shoe. Fortunately, the nail had not punctured the skin; the thick sole of the shoe had stopped the rusty point from entering the girl’s foot.

When we finally made it back to the office, I devoured the turkey, mashed potatoes, and whatever else was left from the potluck. I started off the day looking forward to a holiday luncheon, but I ended it with more than just a full stomach because I was able to actively participate in the Red Cross’ mission to alleviate human suffering.


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  1. Thanks for sharing Justin! Amazing. I’m pretty sure that very few in LA can say their first DAT call came after a tornado. What an experience. Thanks for volunteering and helping this family get through such a challenging experience in the holidays.

  2. Thanks for sharing Justin! Amazing. Not many in LA can say their first DAT call came after a tornado.Thanks for volunteering and helping this family get through such a challenging experience.

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