Red Cross volunteer Drew McNeil recently attended a 2-day disaster training course and tells his story.

Cal Tech training, Jan. 2016, big groupWhen there’s trouble, suffering, disaster, you name it, the Red Cross is there.
When everything around is chaos, the order, preparation, and effectiveness of what this non-profit brings to bear with its resources and manpower is extensive. As a society I think we have come to take these responders for granted; we assume that it is their duty to be there for us when we are in need, because that is what they do. We overlook that they are people too, who get fatigued, who have families, who feel devastation.

I have been one of those people who witness major disasters – tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes – and then see ads and telethons requesting support for Red Cross disaster relief efforts (“just $10 makes a difference!”). I think about donating but usually don’t, because that is what people like me do. I watch ‘average’ people leave their families at home and strike out to assist the other struggling members of their community, because that is what people like that do.

During the weekend of Jan. 23 and 24, 2016, the Red Cross Los Angeles Region held two full days of disaster training for Red Cross volunteers and employees at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The classes ranged from learning how to set up and run an emergency shelter to a class about the Red Cross international mission called ‘Born on the Battlefield,’ which defines our current mission and ethos.

I took a series of classes that, after some more extensive training from FEMA, will allow me to become a volunteer disaster government liaison, which coordinates Red Cross activities with those of other relief agencies. While my visons of being Tommy Lee Jones in the movie Volcano were dashed almost instantly in the class, I still think the role speaks to my strengths and interests (something the Red Cross encourages you to find).

A willing volunteer quickly becomes a busy volunteer, and time has flown by as my recent six month congratulatory email quietly reminds. Owning more tasks, coordinating between departments, increasingly inserting my opinion, gaining experience, are all things I have taken on, and following this weekend long event I can add ‘taking trainings’ to that list.

Cal TEch training, Jan. 2016, classroomBeing at this weekend event was the next step for me, but what didn’t strike me until part way through my first day of training for this new position was that, while there is still a low chance of deploying to a large-scale disaster in this role, I would have to be that person who leaves everything behind to respond to the needs of other people. That if I was incapable of carrying out the duties I signed on for because I was unprepared, or my family was unprepared, I would be short changing the relief effort to help thousands. I was committing to being responsible for the well-being of people during the toughest of times.

In starting to realize that I was becoming that person who drops everything and responds to the greatest need, because that’s just what I do, I started to see the other employees and volunteers around me as a sum more honorable than the do-gooder retirees or idealistic young people straining for that last strand of optimism. This applies to everyone, including the woman wearing plastic gloves and a hairnet passing out paper plates at lunch, who stays dedicated to the practices of maintaining sanitation and cleanliness in mass feeding (in this case hungry Red Cross staff).
The Red Cross consists of the people who do, and at a training weekend they have given up their precious weekend time with their friends, family, and football teams because they want to do more.
Because they know, as I am coming to know, that when the next major disaster strikes it is us on the other side of that camera. And we know that giving a little of yourself to those who have lost everything can make all the difference in someone’s life.

by Drew McNeil, L.A. Region volunteer for Communications/Development/ International Services/ Planning, Readiness, and Situational Awareness

See more photos by volunteer Roxanne Schorbach at American Red Cross Los Angeles Region.



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