New and Seasoned Volunteers from Los Angeles Region Head into the Storm

By Anna Laine, PIO

Saturday, October 8, 2016



By Saturday afternoon sixteen new and seasoned disaster workers from American Red Cross Los Angeles Region have been deployed to Hurricane Matthew in Florida and South Carolina.

One of them, Ken Dieball, Sheltering and Mass Care Lead Volunteer from Ridgecrest (T1), answered to the first mobilization call earlier this week and already left for Florida on the last flight to Tampa on Thursday, before the flights to the area were grounded. He has been stationed at the Sarasota Headquarters. Ken is one of the most seasoned disaster workers in the Los Angeles Region, with over 80 deployment days in 2016 alone. He received the Disaster Preparedness & Response Award at the Centennial Volunteer Excellence Awards event on Saturday September 24, shortly after coming back from Louisiana, where he worked as a Shelter Manager.

Less than two weeks later, Ken was already on his way to the next operation.

“I am currently waiting for a new assignment and flight booking to continue to Atlanta, Georgia early tomorrow morning, where I will pick up a vehicle from the airport and continue to wherever they need me next. I am hoping to meet another Los Angeles Region volunteer Michelle Santiago in Georgia, in order to mentor her as a Shelter Supervisor. This will be her second national operation and response after our local Sand Fire in July. Pairing with her on this operation would be a great opportunity as it would help us build our leadership capacity back home in the Northern Valleys.”


Red Cross Disaster Response Operations are organized under a standardized Incident Command System, which establishes a clear role for each disaster worker. Disaster Volunteers spend much of their time in “blue skies” updating their training for what Red Crossers call “grey skies” disaster operations. Many of the training sessions are available online, and field experience is required for promotion.

Regional Volunteer Advisory Council Member and Disaster Training Volunteer from Arcadia (T2), Pam Haner, has been working behind the scenes since midweek on a call-down to help volunteers check and register their training qualifications and update their disaster responder availability.

“New volunteers don’t always know how to check whether their qualifications are up to date – and may miss out on an opportunity to deploy if their paperwork isn’t complete. I have been training our new disaster volunteers on how to do all these things, so that they can deploy.”

Los Angeles Region receives over a thousand new volunteers each year, and offers frequent training sessions across the county, in order to grow the reserve of trained disaster responder volunteers for quick deployment, but the process isn’t always easy.


Helen Lemich, Disaster Program Specialist in Whittier (T5), is currently helping staff logistics teams for the cross-continental mobilization.

“Currently the greatest need is for Emergency Response Vehicle drivers. We are moving some of our local fleet across the country to support the recovery operation that will be starting next week. We are looking to dispatch ERV Teams on Monday, but I can only send out folks who have completed their Defensive Driving Course, Basic Food Safety Course, have Red Cross Emergency Vehicle Driver Authorization and a current CPR/1st Aid Certificate. To deploy teams, we need at least two qualified responders as the drive to the East Coast is at least 3-4 days long. There are a lot of people who want to deploy but can’t – luckily there are a lot of ways to help at home.”

Disaster Staffing Lead Volunteer Mary Hughes from Long Beach (T4) has been busy assigning volunteers to various parts of the multi-state operation and making travel arrangements for those ready to serve.

“I personally not able to deploy for 14 days, but I am certainly happy to do my part to help the team out here, which is staffing services.”

A volunteer lead team of logistics volunteers have also been active all day Saturday moving Emergency Response Vehicles to a central site near Bell for inspection. They are continuing the preparations tomorrow by inspecting and packing the rigs for the teams heading out on Monday from West Los Angeles.


Jeanne Woo, Disaster Program Manager in Santa Monica (T3) has been busy with a call-down to recruit ERV Teams, but she also spent a good bit of time in the afternoon briefing Norma Vega, Regional Chief Strategy & External Relations Officer for her first deployment tomorrow morning.

“We always make sure to coordinate with staffing teams prior to deploying new responders on their first operation, to set expectations and help them prepare for what they are going to face once they check-in at their assignment in an affected area.”

Jeanne and her team of volunteers have also been maintaining a stand-by level readiness to respond locally.

“We had a Red Flag Warning or Fire Weather Warning issued last week, and since then we have been working to build stand-by sheltering teams here in Los Angeles Region in case of local evacuation orders. In addition, we have had multiple Disaster Action Team responses on Friday and Saturday, so independent of the operation on the East Coast, we also have responsibilities at home that we have to be ready for. The region leadership is consistently building capacity by training more leadership volunteers to maintain stand-by capacity to cover both regional and national operations simultaneously.”


Red Cross Los Angeles Region has five local Response Territories with 24/7 on-call teams ready to respond day and night to home fires and other disasters in the Los Angeles area. The local responses provide a training ground for participation in larger operations. Disaster Action Teams train volunteers on an apprenticeship model, where only 2 hours of classroom training is required to qualify as a trainee.

Michelle Santiago, a long time Disaster Action Team member in Lancaster (T1) was in Dallas on Saturday afternoon, waiting to board a flight to Tampa to head towards her second national assignment.

“I was shaking in my boots when I left home, but once I got to the airport everything has been going really smoothly. I am just hoping to get out there and help as many people as I can, and I am very excited at moment. I don’t have my assignment yet, but will be calling in to get one once I land to Tampa later this evening.”

By Saturday evening, the storm had lost some of its strength, but continued wreaking havoc on the coast of North Carolina. However, the Red Cross work is still only beginning, as disaster assessment start coming in and the teams will begin recovery assistance in the four states.

Los Angeles Region is organizing a free training weekend in December 3-4 open for anyone who is looking to train & deploy as a volunteer disaster relief worker in the future. Start your application today.


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